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Club rules

How misbehaving cops stay in the ranks

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A deputy is supposed to be fired the first time he commits an act of physical abuse. It says so right there, on page 62 of the Fulton County personnel handbook. "First offense: Dismissal."

The same goes for the first time a deputy willfully falsifies an incident report or otherwise hides the truth to cover up his or her involvement -- automatic dismissal.

In October, Creative Loafing looked into the personnel files of 10 deputies who allegedly abused inmates. They were chosen because some portion of an allegation against them had been sustained in the past two years. All 10 deputies also had been accused of prior abuse.

They represent a small fraction of the 650 deputies who work in the jail and the couple hundred more who work in the courthouse. But among the few deputies who have caused real trouble, the incidents are frightening.

One deputy, Cleveland Solomon, repeatedly struck an inmate in front of witnesses and denied the beating to internal affairs.

So did Orlando Jones. And Robert Durham. And Roderick Bradford. And Wayne Bolden.

Yet only Solomon was fired. And he eventually returned to the force.

The deputies' stories expose a sheriff's department that has failed to dole out adequate punishment; a county Personnel Board that has found flaws in the department's investigations, forcing the sheriff to give at least two fired cops their jobs back; and a state watchdog agency that's mandated to go after misbehaving peace officers but is missing the teeth to do so.

The effects have rippled, causing more damage than simply allowing a few ill-equipped deputies to keep their jobs. The malfunctioning system allows inmates' constitutional rights to be ignored. It permits short-tempered deputies to work off-duty jobs, endangering the public. And it helps a few bad cops create a climate of lawlessness that taints those who've dutifully sworn to keep the peace.

The Fulton County Sheriff's Department is certainly not the first place in Georgia where guards have beaten detainees or where a handful of tough cops have flaunted their authority in ways that harmed civilians.

The real eye-opener is not that cops do bad things. It's that they do them blatantly, get caught doing them and get away with it.

The sagas of the most wayward of Fulton's deputies reveal the gaping fissures in the system that's supposed to keep cops in line. The 1999 termination of one deputy provides a pretty good check-off list of how many things can go wrong when a deputy is fired.

Herman Ingram was accused of shooting two bystanders in the legs while working off-duty security outside a club in Buckhead. After a car pulled too close to his black Mercedes, Ingram yelled, "If you hit my car, mother-fucker, I am going to kick your ass," according to a witness, Felicia Arrington. She told police that Ingram pulled what looked like a gun. She heard shots; she and another bystander, Ralph Edwards, were struck.

Two years later, Sheriff Jacquelyn Barrett fired Ingram for fraud, falsehood, perjury and malfeasance. She later cited the shooting as her basis for the termination, pointing to affidavits from two witnesses and a forensic report that found gunshot residue on Ingram's hands.

But the Fulton County Personnel Board -- whose sole function is to hear appeals from employees who've been suspended, demoted or dismissed -- ruled that the sheriff didn't have sufficient evidence to fire Ingram.

Personnel Board Director Bob Brandes says the department's own witness testified before the three-member board that the gunshot residue test was unreliable.

"Occasionally, mistakes are made by departments and that's the reason that we have appeals -- to make sure that everything's done right," Brandes says. "And if it's not, then the board sets to make it right."

The only absolute authority to terminate a deputy seemingly rests in an independent state agency that accredits peace officers -- and can revoke their licenses. But the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council has its own shortfalls. Legislators who created POST gave it little power to assert itself when gathering information. And the line of communication between the state agency and local law enforcement brings to mind two tin cups and a twine of string.

POST took up Ingram's case in December 2000 -- a month after CL published a story outlining his violations and his overturned termination. After investigating Ingram's on- and off-the-job behavior, the council -- made up of police officers, chiefs, deputies, sheriffs and other law enforcement employees -- voted to revoke his license, essentially sealing his termination.

POST sent Ingram a letter informing him of the revocation. The letter was sent back. It appeared to the council's officials that Ingram had moved. Rather than try to find him -- or alert the sheriff's office to the fact that Ingram was no longer a qualified employee -- the council did nothing. Brad Pope, who heads the agency's investigation division, pointed to state law, which says POST need only send letters to an officer's last known address.

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