JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Texts obtained by Channel 2 Action News show the former Johns Creek Police chief was holding out for a bigger settlement and didn’t want to keep quiet about his disdain for city officials.
Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik first reported Friday that Chief Chris Byers received a $325,000 confidential settlement from the city council at the conclusion of a third-party investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.
Records obtained by Petchenik show that lawyers for a firm hired to conduct the investigation determined Byers violated the city’s harassment policy when he made lewd comments to a female subordinate.
“It was something that she initiated,” said Byers’ lawyer Darryl B. Cohen, of the woman who claimed to have been harassed. “She was known for initiating that. She’s good people but she was one of the guys. Not one of the women and guys.”
Byers told investigators he didn’t use vulgar language in his conversations with the female employee and said it was a “running joke” between the pair.
“If he had done anything that was alleged, would he have come away with this type of parachute?” Cohen asked.
The investigation was only launched after Byers posted a controversial criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement on his personal Facebook page.
After the comments sparked protests and calls for Byers’ job, the city claimed allegations of sexual harassment came up during department listening sessions.
When Byers was on administrative leave, text messages to some of his command staff indicate he knew the city was likely trying to get him to leave and that he was waiting on a good offer before accepting it.
“Oh I’m sure I got cleared which is why they made the offer. No other reason to make it,” he said in one text.
In another, Byers texted a colleague that he learned the city attorney had been authorized to negotiate with him, but had made a “crap offer.”
Byers: “And it says I can’t make any comments about any city employees or elected officials. Yeah … right. LOL.”
Colleague: “That would be fine if they would give you what you asked for.”
Byers: “I won’t take 2 million to shut up! First amendment is what started this whole damn thing.”
Colleague: “I hear ya. Why do they want you not to make comments.”
Byers: “Cause they know I’m going to rip them. LOL.”
The texts in question were sent from Byers’ personal phone to a city phone, which is why they were released under the Open Records Act. The city clerk told Channel 2 Action News that Byers’ phone was “wiped clean” when he returned it to the city.
Richard Griffiths, spokesman for the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said depending on the timing of that wipe, there could be an issue.
“The responsibility is to preserve that content,” he said. “If the phone got wiped after the open records request act was sent, after the person who had the phone knew about the open records act request, that’s a very big deal.”
Cohen told Petchenik Byers did nothing wrong and fully cooperated with the city.
“He didn’t wipe anything,” said Darryl Cohen. “The clerk is dead wrong. He did a factory reset and he’d be delighted if they did a document dump.”
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