Five Dawson County Sheriff’s Office patrol officers have been reprimanded after video surveillance from the local middle school showed all of the officers engaged in a late-night game of badminton in the school gym, leaving no officers on the streets.
The game occupied two of the officers for a little over an hour as the group waited for everyone to arrive at the school at Ga. Highway 9 and Dawson Forest Road for training, and lasted approximately 35 minutes after the fifth and final officer arrived.
Security footage of badminton game between officers
Sheriff Jeff Johnson said Monday, Dec. 17, that shift supervisor Sgt. Donna Bennett was demoted from her probationary status as sergeant to a corporal position after the incident.
Cpl. Casey Honea, Cpl. Chad Mobley, Deputy Richard Martin and Deputy Cory Gearin each received a disciplinary notice and their pay is being docked for the time spent playing badminton.
Surveillance video shows two patrol officers entering the gym around 1:45 a.m. Dec. 12 and striking up a game at 1:54 a.m. The other three officers slowly filter in over the course of an hour and join in the game.
The game lasted until 3:03 a.m. when the officers walk off screen, presumably to put their rackets away. The group can be seen walking out of the gym at 3:08 a.m. after a brief huddle, and at 3:25 a.m. one of the officers re-enters the gym to retrieve a jacket that had been left.
Johnson said Dec. 12 that he had received a report of inappropriate behavior by patrol officers who were on duty early that morning, and that the patrol shift met at the school to conduct building clearing exercises.
Though Johnson could provide no documentation of a planned training, other video surveillance from the rest of the school shows the officers conducting a building clearing training upon leaving the gym at 3:09 a.m.
Though the footage is dark, it shows what appears to be training activity until around 3:30 a.m. There is no more visible activity until the officers appear to leave the school around 4:30 a.m.
Johnson acknowledged that the badminton game was inappropriate behavior for officers on duty, but has not addressed the more serious issue of all five of Dawson County’s on-duty patrol officers being pulled from their assigned zones at the same time.
Patrol officers are assigned to specific zones throughout the county, which they can leave to assist other officers when calls come in. The expectation, however, is that there will always be at least one patrol officer covering each zone in the county.
“As your sheriff, I apologize to our community for this occurrence. We strive to build trust within our community and unfortunately incidents such as this serve to undermine that trust,” Johnson said Dec. 12. “I am very disappointed in this behavior as I know it is not indicative of our staff as a whole. I want to reassure our community that we truly have exceptional professionals serving our county.”
Officers are able to access school buildings at any time with electronic key cards in case of emergency. Johnson said Dec. 13 that officers are encouraged to learn the layout of the schools, even if they are assigned the night shift.
School Superintendent Damon Gibbs previously said he had no comment on the incident.