BOC threatens to remove Turner as police chief

By Joel Hall


The Clayton County Board of Commissioners has given Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner until Monday to respond to an internal audit, which calls into question his ability to lead the department.

The board announced it will hold a special, called meeting on Monday at 6 p.m., to decide the fate of Turner's employment.

On Tuesday, the board expressed its intent to remove Turner as police chief and reassign him to lead the county's police academy, effective Dec. 29 -- if Turner is unable to convincingly answer more than a dozen separate allegations of mismanagement. Turner will have until 3 p.m., on Monday to respond to the board with a written answer to the allegations.

The terms of Chief Turner's possible termination were unanimously approved by the board. The motion was made by Commissioner Michael Edmondson and seconded by Commissioner Wole Ralph.

Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas, who headed the audit, said before the board on Tuesday that "despite the serious incidents which have occurred, the Clayton County Police Department is made up of many courageous and dedicated officers, who risk their lives daily to keep our community safe. However, it cannot be denied that the referenced issues are serious enough to call into question what organization and administrative controls are in place at the Police Department."

Incidents cited in the audit include:

* A Sept. 10, 2007 incident, in which a Clayton County officer was arrested for attempting to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity, with the aid of a police department laptop computer.

* A Dec. 7, 2007 incident, in which a Clayton County officer was terminated after admitting he had engaged the services of prostitutes both on, and off, duty. The audit claims that in October 2007, "allegations were lodged" against the same officer for allegedly having sex with a female suspect prior to transporting her to jail.

* A May 2008 incident, in which a female detective lodged a compliant of sexual harassment "to her immediate supervisor" and subsequently filed a sexual harassment suit against the county.

* An Oct. 8, 2008 incident, in which a sexual harassment complaint was lodged by a female police department applicant against a sergeant. The audit alleges that Turner "diminished the serious nature of the offense" when reporting the incident to BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell, and had failed to follow a county ordinance "regarding proper notification of sexual harassment allegations."

* Chief Turner allegedly ignoring directives from the county by promoting certain officers to the rank of lieutenant in the spring of this year.

* Chief Turner allegedly not sharing vital crime statistics with the Sheriff's Department. The audit claims Sheriff Kem Kimbrough lodged "several complaints" about the matter in the summer of this year.

* Chief Turner and certain staff members allegedly admitting that the department has paid more than $109,000 to a vendor for hardware and software, of which no "deliverables" have been received by the county.

* An Aug. 25, 2009 incident, in which a Clayton County police narcotics agent used a county vehicle to visit a female acquaintance. During the visit, the female's boyfriend allegedly came to the residence, and while "fleeing the residence in panic," the officer "ran into his own vehicle with his weapon drawn and shot [a] hole in it."

* A Sept. 7, 2009 incident, in which two machine guns were stolen from the trunk of an officer's car.

* A Sept. 9, 2009 incident, in which a police officer engaged in a high-speed chase with a male perpetrator suspected of soliciting sex from a prostitute. The chase ended in a crash on Old National Highway in Fulton County, which killed two innocent, female motorists.

* Reported "allegations of serious misconduct," which Internal Affairs officers say come from a "credible witness." Cohilas said the "allegations of wrongdoing are of such a serious, sensitive, and far-reaching nature that they [could not] be discussed" during Tuesday's meeting.

* Reports of 138 unaccounted weapons, 85 undocumented firearms used by police officers, and a narcotics evidence room "in disarray" and "overflowing" with more than 2,000 pounds of drugs, "much of which have destruction orders dating back to 2008."

Cohilas said he completed a similar audit of the Sheriff's Department in February of this year, and said the audit of the police department is "routine."

"After we did all those things [in the Sheriff's Department], I told the police chief we were going to do the same thing there," Cohilas said after the meeting. "We're doing it [an audit] currently in Parks and Rec [the Parks and Recreation Department.]"

Turner, who was present at Tuesday's meeting, said he is being treated unfairly and punished for the actions of a few. He said he had asked for a copy of the audit report from the Chief of Staff for "several weeks," but was denied, until it was brought before the public on Tuesday.

"The last time an audit was done [on the police department] was 20 years ago," Turner said. "It sounds like I am being held responsible for 20 years of lost weapons. If you have a department of 450 or 500 people, everybody is not going to do the right thing. Everything he [Cohilas] mentioned, we did something about. Those people have been terminated or disciplined.

"The audit report has several inaccuracies. There are lot of reasons why guns go undocumented. Some of the previous police [administrations] have issued judges guns. We have submitted forms to the District Attorney [to destroy seized drugs], but we can't move dope without a judge's signature. I feel like they did me wrong."

David Clark, a Clayton County resident, questioned the board's motives during the public comment period.

"This county was getting on the right track, until what just occurred," Clark said. "Chief Turner has a three-year stretch of good service to this county. Crime [is] down 7 percent, murder rate, down 50 percent ... this is an abomination."

Bell, who voted in favor of Turner's hearing, said the audit wasn't personal, but rather "good management practice." He said he hasn't taken a side.

"While they [the allegations] are serious, they need a thorough sifting," Bell said. "This is not an occasion to throw anybody under the bus. We'll give him until the 28th to respond. That is fair."