By Megan Reed
and Nick Watson
Hall County’s former 911 director resigned effective Oct. 21 after an internal affairs investigation into her unauthorized use of a state crime information database to check the status of warrants on her husband.
Kim Nelson, who had worked for the county since 2001, had been the 911 director since August, following the retirement of previous director Gail Lane. She was promoted within the 911 division several times during her 18-year career with the county and served as the operations manager before becoming director.
A report obtained by The Times details the month-long investigation into Nelson’s behavior, including unauthorized use of the Georgia Crime Information Center, a statewide database for public safety officials, to check on her husband’s warrant status about 60 times.
Dispatchers can use the information to update a first responder about the situation they are entering.
“If a call is coming in, they will look things up in 911 so they can advise the officers of, there’s a known felon at the residence (for example), so they know what they’re walking into or responding to something,” Assistant County Administrator Lisa Johnsa said.
Nelson’s husband was pulled over for speeding by a Gainesville Police officer on Dawsonville Highway the morning of Sept. 19. The officer found he had a warrant for his arrest, then placed him in handcuffs and brought him to the back of the patrol car. Nelson’s husband identified his wife as the director of dispatch and said Nelson had just “checked” his warrant last week. He asked to call Nelson and the officer allowed it.
The call between Nelson and her husband was on speaker phone and recorded on the officer’s body camera. Nelson confirmed to her husband that “there shouldn’t be anything because that was handled because of the court date.”
Nelson left work and soon arrived at the traffic stop. She was dropped off by another county employee driving a county vehicle. She approached the police officer and showed him the waiver for the warrant on her phone. She then received a call from her husband’s probation officer, who said the warrant should have been resolved because he sent in a waiver.
The police officer then called his supervisor, and they agreed that the officer should check the warrant again. The officer learned over radio that the warrant was no longer valid and then released Nelson’s husband, who was issued a citation for speeding.
A police radio tuned to a Hall County Sheriff’s Office patrol channel was also found in Nelson’s husband’s car.
The same day as the traffic stop, county administration requested the Hall County Sheriff’s Office investigate the incident. The investigation lasted for about a month, with Lt. Dan Franklin of the Sheriff’s Office interviewing Nelson at 10 a.m. Oct. 21. By 12:30 p.m. that day, she had resigned from her position.
Nelson declined to comment for this story through an attorney.
Nelson told the Sheriff’s Office she had not used the information in the database but had been checking for her own benefit to see if her husband had any warrants. She had also looked up someone her husband knew who she viewed as a negative influence, although she said she did not share that information with anyone. Nelson had searched for a third person in the database as well, someone she had seen in a news article but said she did not know personally.
The police radio found in the car with her husband was an oversight, Nelson said — she had previously forgotten it in the car when she had driven to the grocery store, she told Franklin. The radio had been issued to her by the county in 2017, according to records.
The investigation by the Sheriff’s Office found that the radio had been switched on at 10:42 a.m. the morning of the traffic stop, minutes before Nelson’s husband had been pulled over by the Gainesville officer.
Bill Moats, the county’s human resources director, said Nelson’s radio has been returned to the county.
Johnsa said the radio being left unattended raises some of the same privacy concerns as the unauthorized use of GCIC.
“There are things that go across the radio that are information that a layperson does not need to be privy to,” Johnsa said.
Nelson could have been charged with computer invasion of privacy, and District Attorney Lee Darragh told Franklin he would back a prosecution if the victim wanted to pursue charges, according to the report.
According to Georgia law, “Any person who uses a computer or computer network with the intention of examining any employment, medical, salary, credit, or any other financial or personal data relating to any other person with knowledge that such examination is without authority shall be guilty of the crime of computer invasion of privacy.”
The Hall County government would have been the victim in this case, since the county owned the computer network that Nelson accessed without authority. But the county decided not to pursue criminal charges against Nelson.
“A victim’s views in any case are always considered seriously, and some cases do not go forward in the light of a victim’s wishes, but whether to prosecute any violation of law is the prosecutor’s responsibility only,” Darragh told The Times in an email.
Moats said it was an employment issue.
“We were looking at this strictly from an employment standpoint, because of the policies that were violated. So from my standpoint, this was just employment in nature alone,” Moats said. “What the District Attorney may or may (not) have done, that’s not something we or I would have gotten involved in.”
County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said the county looks at issues on a “case-by-case basis.”
Moats said the nature of Nelson’s behavior also factored into the decision.
“This wasn’t a crime against a person. It’s not like there was any abuse, domestic violence involved or anything like that,” Moats said. “This was, as best as we could get to it, was computer-related, so it wasn’t any crime against people … theft or anything like that.”
When interviewed, Nelson told Franklin she had not realized that she was breaking the law, but she did not condone her own behavior. She said she would not have approved of one of her subordinates doing the same thing.
Johnsa said that admission shows Nelson understood she was violating policy.
“Kim knew what she was doing was inappropriate. It would be different if we thought she did not understand that she should not be running that information,” she said.
Moats said the incident was the first issue involving Nelson during her time of employment.
Communications officers are certified through the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, a state agency. County officials sent P.O.S.T. a copy of the investigation report on Nov. 1. Ryan Powell, the deputy executive director of P.O.S.T., said Nelson’s certification was still active on Nov. 14. P.O.S.T. had not begun its own investigation and had no plans to open one. The agency investigates cases when an official has been arrested, indicted or been fired, he said.
Following Nelson’s resignation, supervisors have had discussions with staff about the issues.
“It has brought a heightened awareness to proper use,” Moats said.
Amanda Letson, previously operations manager, is acting 911 director.
The county is looking for a permanent 911 director, and Johnsa said both internal and external candidates are being considered.