City council dissolves police department in Varnell, Ga.

City council dissolves police department in Varnell, Ga.

Whitfield County Sheriff's Office will take over jurisdiction

July 11th, 2017 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Varnell, Ga., police officers are returning from the road this morning and handing in their equipment after the city council voted 3-1 to immediately disband the department this morning.

Lieut. Greg Fowler said he was told to spend the day collecting all of the police department's materials and locking them up in city hall. After that, all of the officers are off duty for the foreseeable future.

City Attorney Terry Miller said administrators have called the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office, informing them that they will now need to take over the area.

This morning's special called meeting was advertised to discuss the employment of Chief Lyle Grant, who was suspended after arresting a councilman in June. Elected officials wanted to know if he properly handled the case.

Grant and Fowler went to the home of Councilman Shane Fowler, who is not related to the city's lieutenant. Shane Fowler's wife had complained that he was drunk and loud inside the house.

According to a police report, Shane Fowler yelled at the officers and poked them in the chest. About nine days later, an officer took out a warrant for his arrest.
Grant said the long delay occurred for a couple reasons. First, he wanted an independent investigator to review the evidence -- which really was just the officers' statements. Second, Grant said he brought the evidence to the mayor and other council members before deciding whether to charge Shane Fowler.

Councilman David Owens felt this was an odd way to handle an investigation.

The council then suspended Grant last month. They wanted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to review the case and see if Grant acted appropriately. But the GBI does not review policies; it investigates crime.

This morning, after an executive session meeting, the council decided to reinstate Grant. Minutes later, Councilman Jan Pourquoi made a motion to disband the police department immediately. Owens seconded the motion, and Andrea Gordy voted in favor, ending the department with a 3-1 note. Councilwoman Ashlee Godfrey voted against the measure.

Miller said he did not come to the meeting prepared for this vote and needs to research some legal issues. For starters, were they allowed to have a vote like this at a called meeting when it wasn't explicitly advertised?

Also, what happens with Grant, who was under contract through the end of this year?

"There are a number of legal issues that have to be examined," Miller said.

After the meeting, a part-time detective parked in front of city hall. He came to drop off some equipment after reading in a Facebook post that his job no longer existed.

"For a city to get rid of his police department," he said, "is absolutely crazy."

He declined to give his name.


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