JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Three Johns Creek police officers are off the job after an internal investigation found they gave a reporter information that they hoped would discredit a member of the command staff.
First Amendment advocates told Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik they worry the firing sets a bad precedent.
Petchenik obtained dash cam video that was recorded during two different Johns Creek police pursuits in 2017.
The videos don’t show the officers taking part in the pursuits but instead, investigators said they were used for pursuing a reporter to air alleged dirty laundry against a member of the department’s command staff.
The captain behind the wheel on the video was a close ally of former ousted police Chief Chris Byers.
After a reporter made what top brass believed was a random Open Records Request last fall for the videos and police reports, it triggered an internal affairs investigation.
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It found Lt. Robert Russo, Cpl. Duane Ferree and Sgt. Michael Koorey violated 17 department policies.
The biggest among them was the unauthorized release of information to the media and violation of the department’s code of conduct.
“There’s little protection for whistleblowers, or tipsters,” said Richard T. Griffiths with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.
He worries about the precedent of firing officers for sharing information with journalists.
“It will have a chilling effect on police officers coming forward,” Griffiths said.
Johns Creek business owner Satish Mudaliar agrees with the department’s decision to fire.
“I would say it’s an internal matter and they’ve got to do what they think is right,” Mudaliar said.
The city won’t comment on its decision to fire the officers.
One of the officers responded to Petchenik saying that while he doesn’t agree with how his firing happened, he’s at peace with it.
As for the police pursuits in those videos the reporter requested, the internal affairs report said top brass didn’t find anything wrong with how the officer handled them at the time.
Griffiths said the Freedom of the Press Foundation provides tips for whistleblowers and how to connect with journalists anonymously.