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DeKalb prosecutor closes Turner probe

By Joel Hall

The office of DeKalb County District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming announced, on Tuesday, the completion of its investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing by former Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner, and said the probe "did not reveal evidence of any crime."

"Our investigation did not reveal evidence of any crime committed by Chief Turner and the investigation is now closed," DeKalb County District Attorney Spokesperson Orzy Theus said in an e-mailed statement.

On Dec. 28, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted to remove Turner as police chief and reassign him as the director of the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy, following a report by Clayton County Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas critical of Turner's management of the police department.

On Dec. 31, Cohilas wrote Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson to request that Lawson investigate the possibility of criminal charges against Turner, over his use of a police department tracking device. Turner's attorney, Keith Martin, has said that in order to test the battery life of the device, Turner gave the device to his wife, who temporarily kept it in the glove compartment of her car.

On Jan. 5, following the transfer, Turner was placed on four weeks of unpaid administrative leave, pending an internal investigation.

In late January, Fleming was assigned as a special prosecutor in the criminal investigation of Turner, following Lawson's recusal of her office from the case.

Turner said Tuesday that he was "happy to hear about the outcome of the investigation."

"I'm pleased that the DeKalb County district attorney has conducted a thorough investigation," Turner said. "My family and I appreciate all the people who have supported us through this ... we thank them for the many prayers that were sent up on our behalf."

Turner deferred all other comments to his attorney.

Martin said "we knew all along that this was going to be the result."

"Jeff hadn't committed any crime," Martin said. "We are very grateful to Gwen Keyes Fleming for her time and effort. This whole thing could have been, and should have been, avoided by simply talking to two people -- Jeffrey and Darlene Turner. Eventually, they [the DeKalb District Attorney's Office] talked to Jeff and Darlene, but neither the Clayton district attorney, the administration, or the police asked to speak to any one of them.

"This investigation was brought about as a deliberate attempt to undermine the community's confidence in him [Turner] as a law enforcement officer and a leader," Martin added. "He is thankful to the community that supported him and his family."

Lawson said Tuesday that she recused her office from the investigation to preserve neutrality.

"We were presented with some facts that warranted an investigation but we couldn't do it because of there being a conflict, so I requested Attorney General [Thurbert] Baker do the investigation and his office assigned it to the DeKalb County District Attorney's office," Lawson said. "We supplied them with all the information we had been provided and they conducted the investigation. It's not unusual for the Clayton County District Attorney's Office to investigate matters which do not result in criminal charges against any individual.

"I'm grateful that the system provides a mechanism for neutrality when there would be a conflict in conducting an investigation by the county's district attorney's office," she added.

Despite Turner being reinstated to the position of police academy director on Feb. 4, the administrative investigation into Turner's actions as chief of police is still ongoing, according to Cohilas. He said the results of the criminal investigation would have "no impact" on the county's internal proceedings.

"We're probably about 90 percent complete," with the administrative investigation, Cohilas said Tuesday. "The administrative investigation will reveal if there were any potential violations of rules. We're running on two different rails, two different burdens of proof, and two different objectives."

Martin said that Turner is happy with his position as director of the police academy and will not seek reinstatement as police chief. He said at this point, Turner is simply waiting for the results of the county's internal investigation.

"When they [the Board of Commissioners] decided to make the police academy a separate department, they could involuntarily transfer him over there ... he doesn't have a right to appeal," Martin said. "His goal is to proceed and flourish as the academy director. He's applying the same integrity and energy to supplying training to over 50 agencies in over a dozen counties that he did as police chief. We're waiting to see what the administrative investigation reveals."