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Former police chief to fight for job

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Former Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner said Wednesday that he will challenge the Clayton County Board of Commissioners' recent decision to reassign him to the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy.

Turner said he intends to file an appeal with the Clayton County Personnel Department, which he hopes will ultimately come before the Clayton County Civil Service Board.

"I've been getting overwhelming support from the community ... calls, texts, e-mails, people walking up to me in the street, saying that they want me to be their police chief," Turner said Wednesday. "That overwhelming show of support solidified in my mind that I need to fight for the job. Some people have even asked me, 'Why fight for a job where your bosses don't appreciate you?' The people appreciate me and that means a lot to me."

Turner said that by next week, he plans to submit an appeal to Clayton County Personnel Director Renee Bright. He said Bright will determine the merit of the appeal, and that if it is found to have merit, the appeal would be placed on the hearing calendar of the Civil Service Board.

Turner said he believes the way in which his transfer was conducted gives him a basis for a valid appeal.

"They're [the BOC] the bosses and they have a right to have concerns," Turner said. "[However] I feel like I was unjustly transferred, because it was an involuntary transfer. Also, I feel my reputation was tarnished, [because of] the way the presentation was done in public."

Turner's attorney, Keith Martin, said Tuesday that the board's recent decision to reassign Turner to head the county's Regional Law Enforcement Academy, and to make the academy a separate county department, takes away Turner's status as a peace officer. Martin said he is researching what impact the board's decision will have on Turner.

"What that move did was take the entire staff [of the law enforcement academy] outside of the police department and out of a law enforcement capacity," Martin said. "Also, this is a regional academy, so there are other authorities and boards that have some impact on his ability to do his job. We're exploring the local civil service rules. The second thing we are exploring is, what is the effect of taking him from a purely county position to one that is a hybrid.

"He [Turner] said he would pursue any available means to get his job back," Martin added. "We're still researching [and] looking at some options."

On Monday, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to establish the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy as a county department, separate from the police department. The board voted 4-1 (Chairman Eldrin Bell opposed) to reassign Turner as the director of the academy and to appoint Deputy Chief Tim Robinson as interim police chief.

On Monday night, Commissioner Wole Ralph told the Clayton News Daily that "the chairman [Bell] indicated he wanted to fire Turner and the board wanted to utilize his best assets by reassigning him."

"In January, the Board of Commissioners created a new position, Chief of Staff, to represent and answer to the full Board. As such, Chief Alex Cohilas has the responsibility for the management of County Department Heads," Bell said in a written statement released on Tuesday. "The situation concerning Jeff Turner is a personnel issue and one that I am not at liberty to discuss. Thus, my vote will have to speak for itself."

Bell could not be reached for further comment on Wednesday.

Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas said "the board made the decision" to reassign Turner and that there were no personal motivations behind a recent audit of the police department. The audit was presented to the BOC on Dec. 22, with a report critical of Turner's management of the police department.

"That was a compilation of facts," Cohilas said. "Eight out of 12 of them [points listed in the report] were public record. We have verifiable issues that need to be cleaned up. Chief Robinson is going to move aggressively to combat the problems that have been highlighted."

In the midst of Turner's transfer, the Clayton County Police Department has been working to achieve national accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Turner said that on Dec. 15, the police department received a "favorable recommendation" from a CALEA assessor, to become a nationally accredited agency for the first time.

Turner said that in March, a representative of the police department is scheduled to meet with the CALEA commission in Dallas, Texas, where the commission will ultimately determine whether the department should be accredited. He expressed concern about the possible impact of the Board of Commissioners' recent decision on CALEA's decision.

"In the police world, getting that accreditation is a big deal because it means you have a professional police department," Turner said. "Two [previous] chiefs have attempted [to get CALEA accreditation] and it fell to the wayside. I would hate to see this opportunity lost because of some of the decisions our bosses made."

Dennis Hyater, the CALEA program manager assigned to the Clayton County Police Department, said he has yet to receive the report from the assessor he assigned to evaluate the department's policies and procedures. While he said he was aware of recent news reports about the department, he said he is not aware of any actions by the department that fall outside of CALEA standards.

"Based on the preliminary comments I have received from our assessor, those things that are standard related are compliant with our process," Hyater said. "If a police department was sacrosanct, you wouldn't need Internal Affairs. [An] officer was fired after engaging in sex with prostitutes. The agency took action against the sergeant [accused of sexual harassment of a female recruit] and demoted him. When [officers] act up and you take positive action, that falls within our standards."

Hyater said the CALEA commission will make a decision on whether to accredit the Clayton County Police Department based on its assessment of the department, which he expects to receive next week. He said the report will address policies and procedures of the department dating back to Feb. 27, 2009, when the department began the "self-assessment phase" of the CALEA accreditation process.