The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reviewed more than 2,200 cases since 1997 and reported their findings Tuesday.
The investigation found instances of officers, including chiefs of police, continuing to work after being disciplined for actions such as drunken driving, falsifying police records, waving a gun in public or killing a recruit during training. Some officers were accused of new violations while a previous case lingered at the state attorney general’s office, which pursues the sanctions once they are appealed.
Officers are usually disciplined by their departments and the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, a state body commonly called POST. The state council can impose sanctions up to stripping an officer’s police certification. But officers can appeal a POST ruling a state administrative law judge, a move that basically freezes the case.
The review found that the attorney general receives an average of 136 appeals per year from POST. But the attorney general’s office has just one paralegal and one attorney assigned to police discipline cases, and that lawyers also has other duties.
The average delay is five years.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Sam Olens says her boss, who took office in January 2011, has overhauled the appeals process to prevent future backlogs. Lauren Kane said Olens’ staff is working on the existing logjam.
The newspaper was unable to obtain comment from former Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who held the post from 1997 to 2011.
Meanwhile, officers continue in their jobs or get jobs with other law enforcement agencies, and sometimes get in trouble again.
In Morrow, Jeffrey C. Baker was accused of falsifying firearm training documents as chief of police. POST ruled in 2008 that he should lose his law enforcement certification. But he appealed and continued working. Three years later, one of his officers found the chief asleep in his police cruiser, parked at a stop light with beer cans strewn about the car.
Baker was charged with DUI. He resigned and relinquished his law enforcement certification.
A DeKalb Marshals service employee resigned his post in April 2010 as he was being investigated for intercepting his own eviction notice to keep from losing his home. POST called for his badge, but he appealed and was hired, with his case still pending, as a reserve officer in Lithonia. He remained in that job until he lost his appeal.
Varnum said the lengthy appeal was an albatross. “I applied for lots of jobs, but that appeal was always there,” he said. “It was like walking and looking over your shoulder... just waiting for them to drop the hammer.”
Lithonia officials would not discuss details of his hiring or termination.
Ken Vance, POST’s executive director, said his agency tracks the standing of every certified officer and makes that information available on its website. The information includes pending sanctions.
He said many departments around the state “have finally gotten the message” to do research on applicants, but he said he is worried that some small departments may knowingly take a risk on an officer with a troubled record out of desperation to fill a vacancy.