Athens-Clarke County Police Department’s top two officers resigned in the past couple weeks, revealing a culture of dissatisfaction among officers on the force.
Since June 1, at least 12 officers resigned ACC Police Department, according to documents obtained by an open records request. Seven of the 12 specifically cite management problems or Chief of Police Scott Freeman as either the reason they left or a significant problem in the department in exit interviews.
Freeman was asked to resign on Sept. 13 by ACC manager Blaine Williams, for reasons that included “personnel loss of trust and confidence," and increasingly low retention rates, according to documents obtained by The Red & Black.
About a week later, Deputy Chief Justin Gregory put in his two-week notice, a move he said was unrelated to Freeman’s forced resignation.
“The Chief’s resignation was between him and the manager … [My resignation] doesn't have anything to do with [Freeman’s] resignation. It’s just a personal choice,” Gregory told The Red & Black on Sept. 24.
ACCPD interviews with previous employees reveal complaints about the command staff’s leadership and distrust in Freeman, specifically after a June incident which caused now-Oglethorpe County officer Taylor Saulters to be fired from ACCPD.
Saulters was fired for excessive use of force after he hit a fleeing suspect with his patrol car on June 1. Within three days, he had been fired by ACCPD and hired by Oglethorpe County, a turn of events that didn’t sit well with other officers.
ACCPD employees who resigned filled out a four-page exit questionnaire and participate in an exit interview in order to improve "the way we manage/do business." The questions included asking why the officers were quitting, what was done well and poorly, how the pay and benefits were and what outgoing officers would have done as chief of police and city-county manager.
One officer of almost three years suggested the county manager look into the Saulters incident, calling the decision “a knee-jerk reaction because of a certain ‘community leader,’” according to his August exit interview.
This officer’s reason for leaving was officially family related, but he said: “When the incident happened, I saw the writing on the wall and new (sic) I had to leave sooner. I did not want to make national news on an issue that should not have been handled the way it did.”
Out of those who have quit since June, five officers said in their exit interviews the Saulters situation was handled poorly.
One officer, who worked for ACCPD for six years, said if he wasn’t already looking for other employment before the Saulters incident, he would’ve been after it took place this summer.
“When the incident happened, I saw the writing on the wall and new (sic) I had to leave sooner. I did not want to make national news on an issue that should not have been handled the way it did.”
- Former ACCPD officer of three years
“Peers say it’s been the lowest they’ve seen morale,” the officer said in his exit interview documents.”People are unmotivated. People are afraid of making mistakes.”
From all 22 officers who have quit in 2018, six mentioned wanting better working conditions.
The same officer who quit in August referenced above said “politics” was what he liked least about ACCPD. He would have felt better “knowing that if something goes wrong we would have someone that would have our backs until a full investigation was complete,” according to his exit interview.
This sentiment was echoed by other officers, with some saying there was a divide between standards of the command staff and the rest of the department.
An officer of 14 years recommended for the chief of police to “refrain from using smoke and mirror tactics,” in her June exit interview.
An officer of 11 years said the Chief’s recent actions and comments “have proven he has been dishonest and is in violation of his oath of office.”
“My sole reason for leaving is based on the actions of the chief and deputy chief,” he wrote in his July exit interview.
“Peers say it’s been the lowest they’ve seen morale. People are unmotivated. People are afraid of making mistakes.”
-Former ACCPD officer of six years
Deputy Chief Justin Gregory, who has worked at ACCPD for more than 15 years, submitted his two-week notice on Sept. 21, eight days after Freeman’s involuntary resignation.
Gregory said his resignation is a retirement from law enforcement and was a “life decision” rather than prompted by anything related to the police force.
Four ranked ACCPD employees said they thought Freeman promoted Gregory “prematurely,” according to documentation of a conversation between those employees and human resources.
According to that interview, officers thought Freeman promoted him “without getting to know the Department or personnel.”
Gregory’s last day is set for Oct. 5, and no interim deputy police chief has been appointed. Capt. Mike Hunsinger is acting as the interim police chief after Freeman’s resignation.
Williams said Hunsinger might appoint an interim deputy chief, but a permanent one would be selected after the new chief’s hiring.
Hunter Riggall contributed to this article.