ACC agrees to pay $250,000 to settle the lawsuit brought by a former police officer.

Former ACCPD Officer T. Saulters

Former ACCPD police chief Scott Freeman’s decision to fire officer Terry Saulters spawned a lawsuit which the county just settled. Freeman’s actions in firing Saulters, without waiting for the results of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the officer’s pursuit of a fleeing suspect, has resulted in a $250,000 hit for Athens taxpayers.

As reported in the AJC, Officer Saulters was cleared of both criminal wrongdoing and excessive use of force in an investigation conducted by the Georgia State Patrol SCRT (Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team) and by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia.–law/just-athens-police-chief-asked-resign-county-manager/iCwvZ3MT9weGBVC38CTphI/

ACC Commisioners

The commission voted 5-2 to approve settlement of the lawsuit brought by Saulters for the sum of $250,000.

In an official statement, County Attorney Bill Berryman laid out the facts supporting the decision to settle the case. His statement made these salient points,

(1) following an investigation by the Georgia State Patrol …found that former Officer Saulters was not at fault;

(2) following an investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the Georgia Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, which would have been responsible for prosecuting any criminal violations arising out of the incident on June 1, concluded that no criminal prosecution of Mr. Saulters was warranted and, further, that Mr. Saulters’ actions constituted a reasonable use of force;

(3) the ACCPD internal investigation issued two days following the incident, was not consistent with the department’s typical timing or procedure for such reports and did not have the benefit of the later investigations by the Georgia State Patrol and the GBI and Prosecuting Attorneys Council.

Former ACCPD Police Chief Scott Freeman, who was recently “mutually resigned” as a result of his allowing an “erosion of confidence” in the ACCPD, made the decision to fire Officer Saulters without waiting for “the benefit” of investigations conducted by the GSP, the GBI, and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council.

As I said in a Facebook comment about this situation and how it was handled, when you reach conclusions, announce them, make personnel decisions based on them all before you complete the investigation you end up with this type of outcome.

It is bad enough to reach conclusions before investigating but to take the extra, ill-advised step of publicly running with those conclusions is scandalously bad… will go a long way toward helping to get you fired and it will cost your organization (and in this case taxpayers).

Having spent the last 20+ years as a prosecutor and defense attorney, I have seen what happens when law enforcement reaches conclusions without waiting to conduct a proper investigation. It is rarely a correct result and never the correct process.

-Mo Wiltshire