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Sheriff's sergeant's whistle-blowing plan backfires


A Fulton County sheriff's sergeant who sought to uncover a co-worker's supposed lack of training and, in turn, earn the promotion she won has been suspended from the department for 15 days.

Sheriff Jacquelyn Barrett claims Sgt. Neel Berry abused his authority when he got hold of his fellow sergeant's Social Security number and training records. But Berry says the documents he obtained were public records that he needed for a grievance hearing.

Berry also is appealing his suspension citing political reasons. He ran against the sheriff in 1996 and says he plans to run against her again in 2004.

Barrett was not available for an interview.

Caught in the middle of the fray is Sgt. Sabrina Callaway, who it turns out was fully qualified for the promotion both she and Berry sought -- despite evidence unearthed by Berry showing Callaway failed to finish her state-mandated training in 1999. Callaway declined comment.

In Georgia, cops are supposed to train 20 hours per year or run the risk of losing their state accreditation and arrest power. Last summer, after Berry was turned down for the promotion to warrants supervisor, he claims a fellow employee told him Callaway, who won the promotion, might not have completed all of her training. So Berry called Peace Officers Standards and Training Council [POST], identifying himself as a Fulton Sheriff's sergeant, and says a POST employee told him Callaway had reported less than 20 hours of training in 1999.

Berry then filed a grievance with the county over the promotion. And he sent POST a letter, on sheriff's department letterhead, asking for copies of Callaway's training records for his Nov. 7 grievance hearing.

Berry says POST faxed him the documents, which are public record and which -- perhaps mistakenly -- listed Callaway's Social Security number. The records, which CL also obtained, indicated Callaway trained eight hours in 1999.

The week after CL reported on Berry's grievance hearing, the sheriff provided CL a document showing Callaway had in fact trained at least 20 hours in 1999 and said at the time, POST's records were incorrect.

In Berry's May suspension letter, the sheriff alleges "unethical use of official authority, information, or property for personal gain."

"I don't understand," says Berry, whose suspension runs from May 12 to June 1. "I didn't gain anything. I'm still at the jail. I didn't get a promotion."

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