FOREST PARK — Saying "It's a new day in Forest Park," Mayor Angelyne Butler shared details of Chief Nathaniel Clark's internal investigations of alleged police misconduct with the News Thursday.
Police surveillance of Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells and Councilman Dabouze Antoine took place from 2014 through 2017, when the two were the city's only African-American elected officials. Later, Butler said, "We do know that there were three people of color on the council at that time. But based on the investigation, again, it was just the two that have been mentioned that were under surveillance."
Butler said "we are unaware" as to who made the original allegations to police that Antoine and Akins-Wells were involved with drugs or voter fraud activity, allegations that were apparently the basis of the surveillance, nor why police found the allegations credible in the first place.
In October 2015, a source sent social media posts and photos of Akins-Wells referring to recreational drug use to local news outlets. Akins-Wells told the News at the time, "That’s from when I was younger. If you look, you can see those are very old photos. That’s my past and I’m done with it." Akins-Wells, who first took office in 2012, was re-elected to her Ward 4 seat the following month.
Butler said Chief Clark learned of the surveillance "in the past couple of weeks. It was very recent" and that someone within FPPD had brought it to his attention. She said the timing of the investigation was not related to the upcoming election, which has featured a fierce Ward 4 race between incumbent Akins-Wells and challenger Yasmin Julio.
She said she did not know how often FPPD monitored Akins-Wellls' and Antoine's movements or whether it was done 24 hours a day: "We don't know the specifics of how that was done."
David Lockhart was mayor at the time. However, Butler said there has been no indication that Lockhart was involved: "So far, nothing to that magnitude has come out in the investigation."
She said she did not know precisely when in 2014 the surveillance began nor the exact types of cameras and their placement other than outside the councilmembers' homes. "That's one of the things the GBI is investigating," she said. "As of this time, we don't have any records on the locations of the cameras."
Butler acknowledged that both Akins-Wells and Antoine have been vocal critics of FPPD. "They have a strong stance as pertaining to law enforcement and the Police Department in Forest Park," she said.
Asked whether she knew of any other African-American city employees that had been similarly spied on, Butler said, "Not at this time, not to our knowledge."
Butler also addressed the firings of Major Chris Matson and Hobbs' former assistant Susan Ridling following an external audit by Mauldin and Jenkins. The city says Ridling did not properly acocount for thousands of dollars in cashed checks and that Matson sold practice ammunition to officers.
Butler said no one has been charged with any criminal activity at this time and that Matson's POST certification has not been affected, pending results of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe.
Butler acknowledged that both citizens and council members have engaged in a degree of racial innuendo and sometimes outright accusations of racism during meetings.
"I acknowledge that the sentiment of racial injustice has been lingering for too long," Butler said. "While perception might point in the direction of racial injustice. I will not invalidate anyone's feelings, and I stand in solidarity with those wanting to remedy all aspects of racial injustice."
When asked to address how the investigation is affecting officer morale within the Police Department, Butler said, "You know, no one wants to hear initially that the department that they work for (is) going through anything of this magnitude. I do know that a lot of residents in the past have spoken to something of this nature.
"However, I will say that when I have been saying 'it's a new day in Forest Park,' I mean that truly it's a new day in Forest Park. I'm grateful for Chief Clark for being on board and that we share the same sentiment in that we want to restore and rebuild the highest level of trust between the citizens of Forest Park and the Police Department. And we're committed to doing that, and being transparent and making sure that the Police Department is truly there to serve and protect is of our highest priority."