CLARKE COUNTY, Ga. - People are protesting an officer's new position with a nearby police department. He was fired from a different agency after body camera video showed him hitting a suspect.
Sheriff David Gabriel told Channel 2 Action News he stands behind his decision to hire the new deputy and accuses the organizer of trying to make it impossible for his new deputy to provide for his family.
In the police body camera video that cost Athens police officer Taylor Saulters his job, Saulters is seen striking fleeing fugitive Timmy Patmon.
Police Chief Scott Freeman told his officers on secretly recorded audio that Saulters didn’t intentionally hit Patmon, but nevertheless, he was fired for excessive use of force before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has even finished its investigation.
Channel 2’s Wendy Halloran asked protest organizer Antwon Stephens what he thought about the secret recordings she obtained. He said, “That’s part of the problem that the police chief actually said that he was going around acting like he was this savior that he fired him because he believed he did it and all of a sudden the recording comes out and it’s a different story so many people in Athens Clarke County are mad right now.”
Two days after he was fired, Oglethorpe County Sheriff David Gabriel hired Saulters.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that this was a good decision. He will serve this county very well," he said.
Gabriel said Saulters already made an impression the second day he was on the job. They received a call about an 11-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who was in cardiac arrest. Gabriel said Saulters jumped in and tried to perform CPR on the child and said when the ambulance got there Saulters actually drove the girl to the hospital.
“Everybody commented on how professional, how great a job he did and that’s what we want people who are going to jump in and serve this community equally,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel defended the maneuver Saulters used to try to stop Patmon from running away from Officer Hunter Blackmon. It’s important to note, Gabriel worked at ACCPD for more than two decades.
“I know the technique he was trying to use. It’s very common. It’s been used for decades nobody is saying that which I think is somewhat of an issue. I don’t want to judge Chief Freeman and his decision, that is his decision that he made and he stands behind it. What I will say, is that I don’t think it was intentional. I think Chief Freeman has said as much to his people. My concern with that, if it’s not intentional, it’s not a use of force. You can’t unintentionally use force. Use of force is a decision you make to use a certain amount of force to create a certain result,” Gabriel said.
The Sheriff went on to say other law enforcement officers he’s spoken with agree with his assessment. He furthered by saying, “I think it was incidental contact.”
Gabriel showed Halloran hate mail he received from a woman in Southern California. We redacted her name and address. He also showed Halloran correspondence from people who agree with his decision.
"This is no longer a black and white thing, it’s a black and police thing," he said.
Halloran spoke with Stephens during the demonstration.
“I don’t believe race has much to do with it, honestly. If you were to go out and hit somebody deliberately, you don’t get a job you go to jail. Why are officers above the law?“ he asked.
He and the protestors are calling for Gabriel to fire his new deputy.
"Sheriff Gabriel has created an atmosphere to where officers feel condoned that they can do police brutality with the hiring of Taylor Saulters," he said.
Gabriel adamantly defended his decision to hire Saulters while questioning protesters and Stephens' motivation for holding this protest. Among those listed to speak included former Athens mayoral candidate and attorney Sam Thomas as well as Democratic congressional candidate Tabitha Johnson-Green who is running for the District 10 U.S. House of Representative seat.
He said, “I feel like they’re trying to make this a race issue for their own political gain.” He characterized them by saying: "Headliner chasers, people trying to make a name for themselves they come down here it’s where the next big topic is so they can get exposure," Gabriel said.
Saulters' attorney, Phillip Holloway, sent Halloran this statement in response to the protest:
Deputy Saulters agrees that there is there is no place in law enforcement for racism nor excessive force.
Unfortunately Chief Scott Freeman caused the false public perception, by his rush to judgment, innuendo, and releasing erroneous reports to the media, that elements of both exist in this case.
Chief Freeman has yet to publicly state what he told his officers he believes: that there’s not a fiber of his being that believes this was an intentional act.
If it wasn’t intentional then it cannot possibly be excessive force. Further there’s never been any allegation that race played any role in the incident with Mr. Patmon.
If Chief Freeman can’t step up and do the right thing now and tell these protesters that they are operating under false information then he needs to resign immediately.
The men and women of ACCPD deserve a competent leader who supports his officers and doesn’t allow false narratives that lead to situations like this one.
The GBI is still investigating to determine if Saulters actions were criminal.
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