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Troubling cases lead to attrition on Sheriffs Office staff
New directive requires on-call availability to fill shortages
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While significant attrition at the Hall County Sheriff’s Office over the last two years has largely been filled by new hires, recent staffing shortages in the patrol division have prompted a new directive subjecting officers to 24-hour availability.

And though the reasons for the turnover vary, documents obtained by The Times reveal that reasons behind some recent resignations and terminations range from sexual misbehavior and questionable courtroom conduct to the falsifying of records and criminally excessive use of force.

The numbers are worrisome and concern Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch.

Eighty-four employees lost between July 2012 and June 2013. Another 64 between July 2013 and June 2014. And an additional 21 since July 1.

During the past 28 months, the Sheriff’s Office has suffered 169 departures in all — deputies, sergeants, jailers and clerks, among others — according to Human Resources records.

The majority of the attrition is due to resignations (115), followed by terminations (42) and a scattering of retirements (12).

The department currently has about 430 employees, about 80 in administrative positions. The patrol division and detention center account for the largest share of officers.

Couch said resignations often are prompted by the fact that sheriff’s departments and law enforcement agencies in neighboring counties, such as Forsyth and Gwinnett, pay better than Hall. He said county officials will need to address this issue, particularly as new growth comes to Hall, bringing with it more residents and, subsequently, increased demand for law enforcement services.

Couch added that new development would expand the tax base and, ideally, help raise pay rates.

Many of the departures come from the Hall County Jail/Detention Center, which Couch calls the “ground floor” for starting a career with the Sheriff’s Office.

But because many officers in the jail are new to the job, the tough professional standards and high demands sometimes lead to mistakes and disciplinary actions, Couch said.

For example, Dana McCloud, a classification officer, and Franklin Morrow, a jailer, both were fired last month for falsifying records.

According to internal documents obtained by The Times, McCloud and Morrow failed to properly conduct and verify security checks on inmates, while also deliberately fabricating the information in security logs.

Then there’s the prominent case of Dustin Charlton, a former jailer who pleaded guilty in August to misdemeanor battery charges relating to an incident in 2012 when he punched a handcuffed and subdued inmate.

Departures from the patrol division, meanwhile, have been less significant in recent months, though no less troubling for the Sheriff’s Office.

To address staff shortages, a rotating on-call schedule, which applies to patrol deputies and supervising sergeants, was implemented recently. The purpose, Couch said, is to ensure staffing levels are adequate at all times, particularly when emergencies require all hands on deck.

Some officers, however, are reportedly upset about the new directive.

In some ways, Couch said, the directive is “standard operating procedure” in law enforcement.

For example, Couch said, investigators and other personnel have long been subject to a similar on-call mandate.

Couch said he knows how difficult the directive can be on officers. He recalls working shifts on Christmas and other holidays.

Couch said on-call scheduling is often applied based on specific needs, and added that it would likely be scrapped, except in critical situations, once a handful of patrol division vacancies are filled.

The staffing shortages stem in part from the recent firings and resignations of several officers in both the patrol and special operations divisions.

In one case, Deputy Robin Lee Hoffman resigned in August in lieu of pending termination due to repeated absenteeism. Hoffman told The Times her abseentism was due to medical issues.

Sgt. Stephen Edward Mickels resigned in October following an August incident in which he raised the ire of department officials. He had resigned his assignment as a tactical flight officer attached to the Georgia State Patrol aviation unit stationed at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville in a heated email to GSP command and staff members that explained his many frustrations.

But Mickels had not notified his supervisors in the Sheriff’s Office about his intention to leave this post. His actions concerned Sheriff’s Office management, according to internal documents, who worried their relationship with the State Patrol might be harmed.

Mickels later said he regretted sending the email, but disciplinary action was to be taken against him.

In another case, Deputy Michael Wester was placed on paid leave in September and fired with cause in October, according to internal documents. Trouble had been brewing for Wester since May when he appeared in uniform at a Gwinnett County civil court proceeding along with Cynthia Brown, part owner of Big Creek Tavern in Buford, in a case involving Brown and a temporary restraining order against Jeffrey Gimotty. Wester reportedly stood up in the gallery at the hearing and asked to speak on Brown’s behalf.

Douglas Fox, Gimotty’s attorney, filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office stating his belief that Wester had abused his power and tried to intimidate the court in a matter that did not involve Hall County. Fox said it appeared Wester was acting as Brown’s legal adviser.

Wester knows Brown from working weekend security shifts at Big Creek Tavern, an off-duty detail the former deputy had not been granted permission from the Sheriff’s Office to perform.

In a separate incident that led to Wester’s ouster, he improperly responded to the scene of an incident involving Brown, according to county officials.

Finally, there is the case of Sgt. Jacob Haney and his relationship with Flowery Branch Police Officer Laura Anderson.

According to internal affairs investigations obtained by The Times, the story began when top officials in the Flowery Branch Police Department began suspecting Anderson was engaging in on-duty improprieties and began tracking her movements via GPS.

Between mid-August and mid-September, Anderson was repeatedly unresponsive to calls for service and backup, and lied about her whereabouts to supervisors.

On Sept. 8, for example, Anderson left her jurisdiction and was reportedly eating lunch for about a three-hour period. During that time, 911 calls came from Kohl’s department store reporting a fire. The store was evacuated, but Anderson did not respond to calls for assistance until she was phoned by Police Chief David Spillers.

On Sept. 12, officials from the Flowery Branch Police Department and Hall County Sheriff’s Office tracked Anderson to an unoccupied home off Seminole Drive in Flowery Branch owned by former Atlanta Falcons football player John Abraham.

That’s where Haney came in. When officers arrived, they found both Anderson’s and Haney’s patrol cars parked at the residence.

Both Anderson and Haney later admitted to having met at the home multiple times while on duty after the two developed a sexual relationship over the summer, according to internal affairs documents.

The repeated “dereliction of duty” cost Anderson her job.

Haney, Couch said, was to be demoted for his actions, but resigned instead.