Statham’s mayor and police chief strongly defended the city and a police officer accused of misconduct during an interview last week.
A report compiled by Police Chief Allan Johnston says of 63 cases by Officer Marc Lofton in 2015, toxicology reports showed drugs and/or alcohol on 59 of the cases – 93.65 percent.
The report covers the period from Jan. 1, 2015, to Nov. 7, 2015. It includes a 10-page letter to city officials and an eight-page listing of the 63 cases involving DUI and Lofton.
Of the 63 cases, 58 of them are “DUI – less safe” charges. Some involved alcohol; most are for drugs. However, Kelly Pickens, one of those calling for an investigation, said Johnston’s list of DUI cases for Lofton are as many as the city of Auburn had in nearly two years – 59 in Auburn, she said.
She also said Statham Mayor Robert Bridges’ letter asking for an investigation by the GBI was useless.
“We do not want the northern bureau (of GBI) to be involved,” she said, “because of its numerous ties” to Statham officials.
Bridges said Monday morning he has not heard from the GBI about his letter.
Nelly Miles, with the GBI office of information, said Monday evening the agency does not have an investigation under way. She said the Athens GBI office has talked with Brad Smith, district attorney for Barrow County.
The DA is reviewing information to determine if there is any indication of criminal intent, she said. If he requests a GBI investigation, the agency will begin one.
Miles said GBI reviewed some information from Statham and did not find evidence of criminal behavior.
“We did see allegations that were of a civil nature, of protocol, that would be dealt with by the police department internally,” she said.
Sarah Griffie, chief assistant district attorney for Barrow County, said the office is still reviewing information about the Statham situation. She said she would expect a resolution “within the next week or so” unless something unknown turns up in the review.
Johnston issued a letter “to the citizens of Statham” Friday, saying, “I make no excuses or apologies for the enforcement of impaired driving.”
He noted the department has been criticized for “policing for profit.”
The town’s budget for money from fines has risen from about $70,000 to $250,000 in three years.
“I will not apologize for directing my department to aggressively enforce impaired driving, and I will not apologize for my officers doing it,” Johnston said.
“I could care less of what such enforcement brings into the budget or whether it’s heard in our court or superior court. You can’t put a price on a life.”
Bridges said the town’s fine revenue went up dramatically after it bought “tag readers.” He explained the readers flag drivers that have outstanding warrants or no car insurance.
“It made a tremendous difference,” he said.
Johnston also said, “We aggressively enforce (the law) and will continue to aggressively enforce it. If you don’t want it enforced, take the law off the books, take that responsibility away from us.”
According to multiple websites by attorneys who defend against DUI charges, the “less safe” charge, “is every bit as serious as any other DUI offense in Georgia. ‘Less Safe’ refers only to the manner in which a case is proved against the accused DUI driver in Georgia. ‘Less Safe’ is the standard of evidence used to prove the DUI.”
The statue provides “that a driver can be convicted of DUI even if the driver’s BAC is less than 0.08 grams” on a toxicology screen.
Johnson said Friday the “less safe” charge “covers all the bases.”
He explained police do not know the extent of alcohol or drugs in a person’s body until test results are returned.
If a person has an alcohol level of .08 or higher, he said, it is considered legally “presumptive” that the individual is DUI.
If it is less than .08 and the person has been charged with DUI – over the legal limit, “then you have a problem.”
In drug analysis, the results tell police what drugs are in a person’s blood stream.
Lofton is on “light duty status” after he was injured in an incident in August in which a woman ran over his legs. Johnston said Wednesday that Lofton “hadn’t been medically released” by his neurologist.
In the August incident, Lofton suffered a “concussion and a hematoma” on the rear of his head, Johnston said.
Shortly after that incident, people who had been arrested by Lofton began complaining about him, saying he made up incidents and charges and that he was belligerent and abusive when dealing with them.
Ten people complained about Lofton at the Nov. 15 city council meeting. A few of them threatened or implied that legal action would be taken against the city.
Some accused Johnston of directing Lofton’s actions and of covering up for him.
A few charged members of the council with corruption and of covering up corruption by the police.
Thomas Mitchell, city attorney for Statham, said Monday afternoon he has not talked with any attorneys about potential legal action in any of the cases.
He said Pickens notified the city in August 2015 of the possibility of legal action and added to that in March.
Generally, he said, people who complain about similar incidents have two years from the date of the incidents to file lawsuits.
“When I became mayor, I began pushing to do away with drugs,” Mayor Robert Bridges said.
He emphasized that he continued that insistence when Johnston took over as chief in 2014.
“I wanted (Johnston) to go after drugs,” Bridges said.
“The drug business has ruined our country.”
Johnston told Bridges, “Get ready for the pushback,” the mayor said.
“I’m backing up the police 100 percent,” he declared.
Bridges also said, “More people appreciate the police department than don’t.” He said multiple times that the community “supports the police.”
Bridges said he asked for a GBI investigation of the city police because he was requested to do so.
He added an investigation “is a way to document what our officers have done.”
Johnston said a GBI investigation would be “basically a second opinion” to his consideration of complaints from Kelly Pickens, one of those who spoke at the council meeting.
In his letter to council, Johnston says, “As far as I am concerned after this answer, the whole incident and underlying incidents are unfounded and closed. . . If they wish to seek further investigation, they can seek elsewhere as I will not entertain them.”