Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Richard Sheehan (left), Michael Brayton and Benjamin Hernandez (right) look over a volume of notes and reports pertaining to their case.
Three Clayton County police officers fired in January for excessive use of force during an October arrest said they want their jobs back and for the public to know the truth about what really happened.
Michael Brayton, 26, Richard Meehan, 34, and Benjamin Hernandez, 30, were fired after an Internal Affairs investigation into the Oct. 24 arrest of Taymar Frederick Williams, 30, of Riverdale. A fourth officer got a letter of reprimand and a fifth got a reduction in rank and suspension without pay.
The three fired officers have more than 20 years’ experience in law enforcement among them.
“I’ve wanted to be a police officer since I was a little boy,” said Hernandez, who served in the Marines after high school. He was fired 42 days shy of seven years with the Clayton department.
Williams, who has a long criminal history in Clayton County, was known by officers to try to sneak drugs into the jail, according to court documents. When he was arrested in October, officers said they observed him slip his cuffed hands from behind his back to under his calves so he could access his rectal area.
Brayton said he saw Williams partially expose his buttocks, remove something from his rectal area and put it in his mouth. Officers determined the item to be marijuana in a plastic bag. They said they found bits of plastic and green leaves along his teeth and gums. Williams reportedly clenched his teeth when the officers tried to access his mouth to remove the alleged drugs.
It was when they used a plastic flex cuff to to try to force him to open his mouth that investigators determined they crossed the line.
“In an attempt to retrieve the suspected marijuana from the violator’s mouth, the officers restrained the violator and physically attempted to force open his mouth by applying pressure points and inserting a plastic flex-cuff into his mouth,” according to the official statement from the Clayton County Police Department.
But Meehan said the use of force in trying to get the suspected dope from Williams’ mouth was justified.
“Using pressure points and joint manipulation was the force used to get the dope from his mouth,” he said. “He wasn’t compliant and kept pulling away.”
“We didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “We did our jobs.”
The officers point to the fact that Williams refused medical treatment as proof that whatever force they used had no lasting effect on him.
“They make it seem like we beat the guy senseless but we didn’t,” said Meehan. “There were things omitted from the Internal Affairs investigation.”
Since the firings, none of the men has found work. They also can’t get unemployment insurance.
“Once you get fired, it is almost impossible to get another job,” said Meehan.
The publicity hasn’t helped.
“Especially when they slander your name in the news,” said Brayton. “It’d be different if all this stuff were true, but it’s not.”
Jonesboro attorney Keith Martin represents the three in their fight to get their jobs back. Clayton County uses a Civil Service Board, so hearings are held when a county employee is terminated. There is a wait of 12-18 months for a hearing. Martin said he is hopeful the men can return to work.
“We’re still proceeding at a pace to protect every bit of interest they’ve got,” he said.
The three officers were attached to the now-defunct Special Operations Unit. According to use of force documents, obtained by the Clayton News Daily under the Open Records Act, all other investigations into the officers’ use of force during 2011 were ruled to be justified.
Williams served two stretches in Georgia state prisons in 2005 and 2006 for drug convictions. Records show he’s been arrested in Clayton for fleeing from police, simple battery, family violence, crossing the guardline with marijuana, fighting, drug possession and tampering with evidence.
Clayton County State Court records show he was cited Jan. 5 for driving without a license. The case brought against him in October remains open.
Chief Greg Porter disbanded Special Operations in November in favor of the Strategic Methods Against Street Harm unit, SMASH.
Porter, who terminated the three, declined to comment, citing possible litigation. However, he zeroed in on one aspect of the methods the men took to subdue Williams.
“You can’t stick something in someone’s mouth,” he said. “You just can’t do it.”
But the officers stand by their version of events.
“We want people to know we are not horrible rogues,” said Brayton.
Hernandez echoed that sentiment.
“We’re not loose cannons,” he said.