Varnell, GA - The Varnell Police Department was disbanded on Tuesday as criminal charges are pending against City Councilman Sheldon Fowler.
According to the Times Free Press, the Varnell City Council voted 3 - 1 on Tuesday morning to immediately disband the police department. Terry Miller, City Attorney, said that city officials have contacted the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office about taking over coverage of the area.
The issue began on June 27 after Police Chief Lyle Grant and Varnell Police Lieutenant Greg Fowler responded to the home of Councilman Sheldon Fowler.
Lieutenant Fowler and Councilman Fowler are not related.
The councilman's wife, who was not named, had called 911 about her husband being drunk and loud inside the house. Upon their arrival, according to a police report, Shane Fowler yelled at Chief Grant and Lieutenant Fowler, and poked them in the chest.
Councilman Fowler was arrested about nine days later, on charges of simple battery, simple assault, and disorderly conduct. He made bond of $2,000, and his charges are pending in court.
Chief Grant said that he had reasons for the delayed arrest. He said that he wanted an independent investigator to review the incident, which were the officers' statements according to the Times Free Press. He also said that he brought the evidence in front of the mayor and other Council members before he made the decision to charge Councilman Fowler.
In a June 28 city council meeting, Councilman Sheldon Fowler began by apologizing for his actions. Councilman Jan Pourquoi talked about the incident and the 911 call that Councilman Fowler's wife made.
According to NewsChannel 9, he said that Fowler called his daughter, who has 'disabilities', a 'f-ing retard'. He also said that Fowler's wife told police that she has to lock his children up at night so that he doesn't visit them. Councilman Pourquoi said that he had a relative with disabilities, and that this "hit home".
He said that there was no excuse, whether Fowler was drunk or not drunk, for his actions. He also said that he had listened to the 911 call, and then made a motion for Fowler to voluntarily resign, which received an unanimous vote.
Councilman Fowler refused, and the meeting then went into a private, executive session. During that 911 call, Fowler's wife told the dispatcher, "My husband is drunk and half naked and will not leave my daughters alone." She also said that he didn't deserve to be on the council.
The City Council suspended Chief Grant last month, and asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to review the case. The GBI refused to take the case, and said that its investigations dealt with criminal violations, not policy violations.
The City Council met in a special executive session on Tuesday morning, and voted to reinstate Chief Grant. A few minutes later, Councilman Pourquoi made a motion to do away with the entire police department, which was seconded by Councilman Owens. The vote was 3 - 1, with Councilwoman Andrea Godfrey voting against.
City Attorney Miller seemed unhappy with the council's actions, and said that he wasn't prepared for the vote which violated the law.
Lieutenant Fowler said that he was given the job of collecting all of the officers' equipment, and making sure it was locked up at city hall. A part-time detective who turned his equipment in, and who did not want to be identified, said that he read in a Facebook post about losing his job. He said, "For a city to get rid of his police department, is absolutely crazy."
After it was brought to his attention that the vote was unlawful because no public notice was given about the vote, Mayor Anthony Hursley vetoed the resolution. The veto can still be overridden by the council, and the veto doesn't reverse the decision.
The town has a population of about 1,781, according to city statistics. There were a total of seven police officers, including Chief Grant, according to the city of Varnell.