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Two lawmen say a pamphlet that informed people of their Fourth Amendment rights cost them their jobs.
Chattooga County sheriff's resource officer Jeremy Reece and Summerville police officer Josh Brock launched a referral service website called Uncle Wiggy's. The site also offered a pamphlet called "Uncle Wiggy's Secret Guide to Dealing with the Police," and the officers said they were forced to resign before their supervisors read what was inside it.
"Well hello niece or nephew, welcome to the family, I'm your Uncle Wiggy!" the pamphlet began. "I've spent the better part of thirty years in law enforcement. I've gained a lot of knowledge and experience over my career and I want to share it with you."
The pamphlet gave members a list of their Fourth Amendment rights along with tips such as when you can refuse police access to your home or vehicle.
Neither Brock nor Reece thought to mention their side business to their supervisors before they were confronted in late June.
"When you arrest somebody you have to advise them of their rights. I didn't think a pamphlet would be anything," Brock said.
Both officers spoke out Thursday after public criticism erupted in the county, they were called unfit to be in law enforcement and the controversy shut down state court for a day earlier this week.
Chattooga County Solicitor Sanford "Buddy" Hill was accused of being unethical for advertising on the website and in the pamphlet, since he prosecutes misdemeanor crimes in the county.
Yet, after Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader got his hands on a copy of the pamphlet, he said he couldn't find anything unethical or anything untrue inside.
Schrader said Reece was confronted because the website and pamphlet violated the sheriff's office employee code of conduct and ethics policy by referring people to businesses such as bonding and tow truck companies. The sheriff said Reece asked to resign before the department launched an investigation.
But Reece said he wasn't told a reason why he had to resign except that: "I had lost the public's trust and that it was anti-law enforcement."
Now Brock and Reece, who shut down the website after they lost their jobs, said they are looking into whether their First Amendment rights were violated.
"It's a principled matter about freedom of speech," said John Dennis, who also advertised in the pamphlet and is looking into the matter for the officers.
While officers launching such a website doesn't violate state law, it doesn't look good for a law enforcement department, experts said.
"I don't know if I'd call it unethical, but it sends up red flags," Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council spokesman Ryan Powell said.
But there is a state law that prohibits secondary employment by police officers without permission from supervisors, he said.
Brock said he got the idea to start a referral service more than 10 years ago when he worked at the county jail. He said he watched as inmates couldn't call long-distance from the jail and sometimes would have to sit in their cells before they could get help.
In January, Brock said, he approached Reece about starting up a company that would have a 1-800-number to help criminals get the information they needed on bonding companies and such. They said they didn't plan to refer people to one company but would go down a list of services and give out information.
The officers sold multiple ads costing between $500 and $650 each to local companies, defense attorneys and even to state Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, who also is a defense attorney.
But the business never got off the ground, and Brock said he sent the money back to the advertisers. Now they will look into what can be done, but both ex-lawmen said they are shocked by the response.
"They judged its book by its cover," Reece said.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at email@example.com or 423-757-6659.