RINGGOLD, Ga. — "You need to stop it," Brandy Hullander recalls telling a detective two years ago.
She was in a private office with her husband, a former Catoosa County school resource officer, and the detective, Freddie Roden. There was no love lost between the Hullanders and the sheriff's office by that point in September 2015. Jerry Hullander Jr. had left the department a year earlier, believing Sheriff Gary Sisk was too tough on him.
Still, Brandy Hullander insists, the motives for this particular meeting were pure. Roden was investigating a child molestation case. And the alleged victim's mother was a friend of hers. The night before, the friend dropped a bomb.
She and Roden were having an affair.
The Hullanders believed this could compromise the whole case: The lead detective in a relationship with a key witness? Not only that, the woman was married to the defendant at the time. At first, Brandy Hullander said, Roden denied the allegation. But she told him she had seen his emails with the woman. Then, she said, Roden asked them to keep quiet.
Sept. 2, 2015: Freddie Roden reports his affair with a key witness to Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk
Sept. 3, 2015: Catoosa County Capt. Chris Lyons launches investigation into Roden’s affair
Sept. 8, 2015: Roden suspended for one day, put on probation for one year and written up
Aug. 21, 2017: Tim Deal reports his affair to Sisk
Aug. 23, 2017: Lyons launches internal investigation into Deal
Aug. 28, 2017: Deal and Roden re-assigned away from crimes against children cases
Sept. 1, 2017: Deal and Roden resign
"This would blow the case up," Brandy Hullander said. "Those were his words: 'This will blow the case up.'"
"He was sweating," she added. "He begged me not to tell his wife. He said he has a family. He doesn't want to ruin things. I told him, 'I'm not the one doing it.' It was his choice and his actions that were causing everything."
Roden then told Sisk about the affair, and the sheriff's office launched an internal investigation. With Brandy Hullander in the room for support, according to a file obtained by the Times Free Press, the woman told Capt. Chris Lyons she and Roden performed oral sex on each other, sometimes when Roden was on duty. A week later, Roden told Lyons the same thing. Both said the relationship was over.
Lyons turned the information over to Sisk, and Roden received his punishment: a suspension without pay for one day, probation for one year and a written reprimand for having the affair while on duty.
Two years passed. Roden received no other punishment, according to his personnel file.
Then, on Aug. 28, Roden was reassigned from investigating crimes against children. It's not clear why Sisk or another sheriff's office administrator pulled the trigger all of a sudden, almost 24 months after the fact. Roden had, after all, investigated dozens of other cases since his September 2015 punishment.
One recent event might have triggered the change.
Three weeks ago, the husband of a witness in another child molestation case accused a different detective, Tim Deal, of sleeping with his wife. The sheriff's office launched another internal investigation, and Deal confessed to the affair.
The sheriff's office reassigned Deal and Roden at the same time. And four days later, on Sept. 1, both men quit. (Deal did not return a message left at his listed address last week.)
During the internal investigation, Deal admitted he told his mistress about the previous investigation against Roden. He said he did so to calm the woman down. She had been worried he would get in trouble for his affair, he said, and he told her about the case against Roden. The file does not explicitly say whether he saw the treatment of Roden as proof that he would not get punished.
Still, files against both men do not say why Roden was reassigned so long after his affair. On Friday, the Times Free Press emailed Sisk a list of questions.
Asked why Roden was reassigned now, almost two years after the internal investigation, Sisk wrote, "He just was." Asked if he would have fired Deal and Roden had they not resigned, Sisk wrote, "Hypothetical."
Roden, meanwhile, declined to give an interview to the Times Free Press last week; he also asked the newspaper not to email him questions about the incident. But he did speak with a reporter for a few minutes in front of his home. He said his decision to resign was linked to his affair. But, he added, he couldn't go into detail about what transpired inside the sheriff's office the past couple of weeks. He feared compromising the active cases he had worked.
That includes the case specifically tied to his affair, which is still pending in Catoosa County Superior Court. The defendant's attorney, McCracken Poston, does not believe Roden's resignation was voluntary. He also thinks Sisk decided to get rid of the detective because there was already a new cloud over the department, created by Deal's own affair.
"It seems like it was an opportunity to clean up two messes with one action," Poston said.
If the case goes to trial, he said, he will use the affair to discredit Roden. An investigator can't be objective while sleeping with a key witness, Poston will argue. Roden could have tried to build a case against the defendant to get closer to the man's wife.
About two years ago, months after her meeting with Roden, Brandy Hullander said she surprised some important people with information about the detective's affair.
She was visiting a family member at the Catoosa County Courthouse when she spotted Elizabeth Henkel, a victim advocate for the district attorney's office. As is her job, Henkel had built a relationship with the mother of the alleged molestation victim — the woman in a relationship with Roden.
Brandy Hullander said she asked Henkel about the relationship, and how the prosecutors planned to work around this problem in a trial.
Panic ensued, Brandy Hullander recalled. Henkel said she didn't know anything about the affair. She rushed into Assistant District Attorney Alan Norton's office, and Norton asked to see Brandy Hullander. She told him about the internal affairs investigation. She said Norton didn't know.
She doesn't remember exactly when this conversation took place, though she thinks it was November 2015 or later.
"[Norton] threw his glasses down," she said. "He was red in the face. He stood up, grabbed his head. He was so mad."
She said Norton then called District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin and put him on speakerphone so Brandy Hullander could pipe in if Norton had any of the details incorrect. She said Franklin didn't know about Roden's affair, either. (Neither Franklin nor Norton responded to emails last week asking whether they remember the incident the same way.)
After the meeting, Brandy Hullander said she walked across Nashville Street to Poston's office. She knew he was the defense attorney in the case, and she believed the sheriff's office was hiding the compromising affair. But in fact, Poston said he already heard rumors about the relationship. He was planning to issue a subpoena, demanding a copy of the internal affairs file. At that point, however, he didn't think the case was going to trial for a while. He said he wanted to sit on the information for a bit.
Meanwhile, rumors about Roden's affair (and the one-day suspension) swirled in Catoosa County. Ben Scott, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent who ran for sheriff against Sisk in May 2016, heard the rumors but declined to bring them up during his campaign. He said last week that he didn't want to be the one responsible for tainting a child molestation case, assuming the defense attorney didn't already know. Scott lost the election.
The rumors swirled even further out of control last month, when the sheriff's office reassigned Roden and Deal. While some local defense attorneys, like Poston, had been waiting for the other shoe to drop against Roden, they were surprised to hear Deal was tangled up in the mess, as well. They didn't know he was under scrutiny.
At any rate, with the rumors then common knowledge in the courthouse, Poston finally issued his subpoena for the file against Roden on Aug. 30. Two days later, both detectives quit.
If law enforcement officers in Georgia resign while under investigation or in lieu of termination, members of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council will launch their own investigation. Potentially, this could cost the officers their certification, preventing them from working for another department.
Administrators at each individual department are supposed to tell the POST council the circumstances under which the officers left, said Ryan Powell, a spokesman for the agency. But in this case, POST investigators have not looked into Deal's or Roden's resignations. Powell said the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office's administrators did not say the departures had anything to do with any form of discipline.
A SECOND AFFAIR
In April 2016, a woman from New York flew down to spend time with Deal, both he and the woman admitted last month. She had been a witness in a child molestation case that had gone to trial four months earlier. She wasn't a listed victim in this particular incident, though she told Deal — an investigator on the case — that she was the defendant's half sister.
After the trial, the woman and Deal began exchanging text messages. That blossomed into a relationship. Deal told Norton, the prosecutor on the case, about the affair. Norton told him the relationship was immoral. At the same time, according to the internal investigation, Norton advised it was not illegal. (The defendant has appealed his conviction, though not for any reasons tied to that affair.)
Deal and the woman continued to see each other for more than a year, each one flying across the country to visit the other. According to the internal investigation, Deal said the woman wanted a divorce, but her husband was giving her a hard time. Deal, who is married, agreed to send threatening messages to him.
"I just texted him," he told the woman on May 16, according to messages obtained by the Times Free Press. "I said you do nothing for her anymore. I said I think im going to [expletive] her. I said I cant wait to taste her [expletive]."
"Lmao," she wrote back.
"He will be pissed," Deal wrote. "You should tell him you cant wait to be divorced."
The woman also used Deal's Ambien. The detective said he didn't supply her with the pills; she simply took them. Text messages, however, show he was complicit.
"I can get [my prescription] filled and give to you," he wrote on June 20. "I take cr but script for both." (Ambien CR is a form of the drug that takes effect more slowly.)
"I won't take the cr without you lol," the woman responded.
"No you want ill kill ya lol," he said. "I like u better without i think. Its more fun when you remember."
Around the same time, the husband asked Deal to stop contacting him.
"[Expletive] off divorced boy," Deal wrote back.
The husband contacted the sheriff's office last month. Emails obtained by the Times Free Press do not show exactly when he began to communicate with Sisk and Lyons. However, on Aug. 23 he wrote to Sisk of his concern that his wife was being preyed upon "at a vulnerable point."
An online search of the Catoosa County court docket shows Deal is a listed witness on 32 active cases. Roden, meanwhile, has 41 active cases listed online, including 33 cases filed since the beginning of 2016 — after the internal affairs investigation against him.
What kind of impact will the affairs have? It's difficult to say. Three current or former North Georgia police officers said these are the types of scandals that frighten sheriffs and chiefs.
The officers spoke on condition of anonymity, not wanting to be seen as publicly criticizing some of their own. But they said defense attorneys will question Deal and Roden about their affairs with witnesses. The lawyers will make jurors wonder whether the detectives ever slept with any other witnesses, and whether these kind of liaisons could influence the way Deal and Roden examined evidence.
"It's going to be a continual problem for a while," one officer said. "I don't think it's fixable."
Defense attorneys for some pending child molestation cases worked by Roden are not publicly gloating, though. Public Defender David Dunn, whose office is responsible for at least nine such cases, said he doesn't yet know how relevant past affairs will be.
Attorney Jeremy Penland also said he wasn't sure whether the internal affairs investigations can sway juries. He represents a child molestation defendant investigated by Roden.
"The impact is, I guess, a decision for the jury, whether they're going to take that into account," he said Friday. "They will assess his credibility as a law enforcement officer. It speaks to his character, I suppose."
This story was updated Sept. 13 at 11:59 p.m. with additional photos and timeline.