By Joel Hall
As of 8 a.m., today, former Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner will be allowed to return to his current job as director of the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy.
On Wednesday, the Clayton County Civil Service Board denied a request by the Board of Commissioners (BOC) to keep the former chief on unpaid leave, while the county conducts an administrative investigation.
On Dec. 28, the BOC voted to reassign Turner from police chief to director of the county's police academy, after Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas brought forward accusations that Turner had mismanaged the police department.
On Jan. 5, less than a week into his new job, the BOC voted unanimously to place Turner on unpaid administrative leave from the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy, for up to four weeks, while Cohilas conducted an internal investigation into Turner's use of an electronic tracking device owned by the police department.
With Turner's four-week unpaid leave period set to end Wednesday, the BOC asked the Civil Service Board on Wednesday morning to allow the county to place Turner on an additional four weeks of unpaid leave, while Cohilas' administrative investigation continues.
According Clayton County Human Resources Director and Civil Service Board Executive Secretary Renee Bright, the Civil Service Board voted to "deny the request of the Board of Commissioners to extend the administrative leave of Chief Turner."
Bright said Turner would report for work at 8 a.m., today at the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy.
Turner's attorney, Keith Martin, said that as of Wednesday, Turner had 112 hours -- less than three weeks worth -- of accrued annual leave before his regular pay would be affected. Despite the fact that the county's investigation into Turner will continue, he said Wednesday's ruling by the Civil Service Board was "a major victory."
"Anytime we can put a paycheck in a husband's and father's wallet, we consider it a major victory," Martin said. "The chief staff attorney [of Clayton County] said this morning that because of the close relationship between the police department and police academy, that Turner needed to stay on unpaid administrative leave, although they are two separate departments. I don't know what the logic was ... he'll [Turner will] just be working as the department head of the police academy while they proceed with whatever else they want to investigate."
Clayton County Staff Attorney Michael Smith could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
On Dec. 28, the same day Turner was reassigned to lead the law enforcement academy, the county also voted to separate the academy from the police department, making the academy a separate county department.
On Wednesday, Cohilas, who is conducting the investigation, said the board requested that Turner be placed on extended unpaid leave, due to the "potential ramifications" of Turner being found guilty of administrative or criminal wrong-doing.
"There's an ongoing criminal investigation to see if any criminal law of Georgia has been violated," Cohilas said. "They [the BOC] were concerned about the potential ramifications to the academy if it turned out that, in fact, Turner was found to be guilty. There are concerns about the impact on the law [enforcement] academy and its credibility.
"The Board of Commissioners did not make the request lightly," he continued. "While the Board of Commissioners may have wished for a different outcome ... the Board of Commissioners will abide by the ruling, and Jeff Turner will return to work as director of the regional law enforcement academy. It does not change the factors involved, and the investigation will continue."
Turner said the current class of police academy recruits began their training on Jan. 24. He said his first priorities will be to learn about the new recruits and the budgetary needs of the academy. "I was on suspension when the first class started," he said. "I'm behind the curve ball right now, but I'm a fast learner. I'm going to get caught up and proceed on.
"It's budget time," he said, "so I will need to get caught up with the budgetary needs of the department, as we are now a stand-alone agency. I was happy to receive the decision from the Civil Service Board. I am thankful for that and ready to get back to work, and resume my duties."