By Joel Hall
Former Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner may not get the chance to go before the Clayton County Civil Service Board and ask to have his old job back.
This week, the Clayton County Department of Human Resources denied Turner's request for an appeal before the board.
According to an appeal form received by the Human Resources Department from Turner on Jan. 7, Turner asked to appeal his "involuntary transfer from [the] position of Chief of Police to Director [of the] Police Academy." Turner added that "unsupported, false accusations were used in a public meeting to justify the above transfer," and he requested "reinstatement as Chief of Police."
Via e-mail on Wednesday, Clayton County Human Resources Director Renee Bright said: "Mr. Turner's appeal was denied, because it seeks to appeal an action that is not appealable under the Civil Service Rules and Regulations.
"Civil Service rules and the Civil Service Act define what actions are appealable," Bright wrote. "If an appeal form is filed late or seeks to appeal an action which is not appealable, the Human Resources Director will deny the appeal. The actions that may be appealed are set forth in section 11.301 of the Civil Service Rules and Regulations. If an action is determined to be appealable, it is the Civil Service Board that decides the merits of the action."
Bright could not be reached by phone or e-mail later on Wednesday to clarify which actions are considered appealable. A copy of the civil service rules and regulations could not be obtained from the county on Wednesday.
However, Clayton County Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas said, "Terminations, demotions, and suspensions are the only things appealable to the Civil Service Board."
Turner said Wednesday that he had not been informed by the county that his appeal had been denied by the Human Resources Department. "Nobody had been in contact with me, telling me that it was denied," he said. "I'll have to consult with my attorneys and figure out the next step."
On Dec. 22, the Clayton Board of Commissioners threatened to reassign Turner after Cohilas read, publicly, a lengthy audit, critical of Turner's management of the department.
On Dec. 28, the board voted 4-1 ( with BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell opposed) to reassign Turner to lead the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy, and to appoint Tim Robinson as interim police chief.
On Jan. 5, the BOC placed Turner on unpaid leave, pending the results of an administrative investigation into allegations that Turner illegally used surveillance equipment owned by the police department. After being asked by Cohilas to review the merit of possible criminal charges against Turner, District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson recused herself from the matter, and asked State Attorney General Thurbert Baker to assign a special prosecutor to determine if criminal charges against Turner are warranted.
On Wednesday, Turner's attorney, Keith Martin, said he was not made aware of the denial of Turner's Civil Service Board appeal, prior to speaking to a newspaper reporter. He said he disagreed with the denial, and the method in which Turner was being informed about it.
"Say, you're charged with a speeding ticket, and you want a trial," Martin said. "That is like an employee of the court saying, you don't deserve a trial, go to jail. Once again, they have notified the media and public before they notify the employee. That is becoming the new paradigm for Clayton County."
When asked what their next steps would be, Martin said he and Turner "are not going to telegraph our punches."
Cohilas would not comment on the status of the administrative investigation being conducted in relation to Turner. He said Wednesday that "it's ongoing" and that "there is a process that has to be followed, and when we get to the end, we'll get to the end."
Russ Willard, a spokesperson for the State Attorney General's office, said, as of Wednesday, the office had not assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the merits of criminal charges against Turner.
"We have not appointed a replacement prosecutor, yet," Willard said. "There should be something from our office soon. There is not a definite timeline, but we are in the process of appointing a replacement prosecutor. The replacement prosecutor will be exercising all the powers and discretion that the district attorney would have, had she not recused herself."