Athens, GA - Following the firing of Officer Taylor Saulters, the Athens-Clarke County PD chief has had to deal with fallout with officers in his department.
In an attempt to smooth things over, the chief spoke to his officers about why he fired Officer Saulters.
Unfortunately for him, he contradicted his stated reasons for firing the officer, and he was secretly recorded.
WSB-TV reporter Wendy Halloran obtained the recording from the chief's meeting with officers on Wednesday.
On June 2, Officer Saulters was pursuing wanted fugitive Timmy Patmon when the patrol car struck Patmon, causing scrapes and bruises to the fleeing felon.
Officer Saulters' tire had been knocked off of its rim just prior to the impact with Patmon, which occurred as the officer was struggling to control his vehicle. The officer was fired two days later after outrage spread on social media.
In the documents for firing Officer Saulters, the chief noted, "Officer Saulters’ use of the patrol vehicle was a seizure of Patmon through a means intentionally applied and was not objectively reasonable based on the information that he had at the time when evaluated under Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)."
This is an explicit accusation that Officer Saulters intentionally assaulted Patmon and violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The word "intentionally" is important, because in order for the force to be excessive, it must have been intentional.
If Officer Saulters unintentionally hit Patmon, then there can be no violation of the law under the circumstances surrounding the incident.
In the recording obtained by Halloran, the chief contradicts his reason for firing the officer.
“Before we get started, um, before we start, I want to get a sense of the feeling that you’re experiencing right now, and I want you to understand, um, that you can’t help how you feel," Chief Freeman said. "You can’t help how you’re thinking right now, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on. And so if you want to share that, um, please feel free to do so at this time."
After silence, the chief continued, "I want you to know, right from the very beginning, I do not think, regardless of what the GBI determines, that he intended to hit him. There's not a fiber in my body that believes that."
Halloran confronted the chief about the recording and asked him if he thought it was a contradiction of his documented reason for firing the officer. Chief Freeman responded that it wasn't a contradiction because his feelings in the matter are subjective, and he stands by his decision 100%.
Officer Saulters' attorney released a statement in response which said, “I'm pleased that when confronted by his own officers Chief Freeman decided to tell the truth. However, this admission raises more questions about his true motive in deciding to fire Officer Saulters before any meaningful investigation had been done. Since it was not intentional then firing him was uncalled for. Whatever the case, it appears he's trying to maintain control of an agency that seems to have lost confidence in its leadership.”
Oglethorpe County Sheriff David Gabriel has already hired Saulters to be a deputy with his department, but the incident is far from over.
Deputy Saulters' wife told Blue Lives Matter that after numerous media outlets falsely reported that the officer intentionally hit Patmon, they've been the target of widespread accusations of racism.
"We are no longer safe or comfortable where we live," Lauren Saulters said.
Deputy Saulters still faces potential criminal charges which could derail his new career with the Oglethorpe County Sheriff's Office and result on prison time.