Catoosa County, Ga., sheriff candidate accused of excessive force

Catoosa County, Ga., sheriff candidate accused of excessive force

July 21st, 2012 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

Fort Oglethorpe Policeman Jeff Holcomb

Fort Oglethorpe Policeman Jeff Holcomb

Photo by Ronnie Moore

A Fort Oglethorpe police officer who is running for Catoosa County, Ga., sheriff was accused of using too much force and racial slurs when he arrested a man he mistakenly believed was trying to rob a house.

Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief David Eubanks said he is aware of the complaint against Officer Jeff Holcomb but hasn't opened an internal investigation because the complaint was filed with the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office and not with his department.

William Johnson, 22, who claimed he was attacked while standing in a parking lot in April, said he thought police had filed a report about the incident because he talked with an officer at the hospital. But when he didn't get a response from police, he said, he made a report with the sheriff's office on July 9.

"I'm scared they're going to do something to me, so I felt like I needed to file the report to stay safe," Johnson said.

Holcomb said the allegations are false and that Johnson wouldn't obey a police order to get on the ground and that's why he was forced down. He also questioned why the sheriff's office wrote down a complaint about an officer for another agency.

"Why didn't the sheriff's office advise him to go back to the agency to do an internal investigation?" Holcomb asked.

He also said he believes the report was a political ploy because two other candidates for sheriff are employed by the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office.

Larry Black, the former Lookout Mountain Judicial Drug Task Force commander, and Maj. Gary Sisk, both on leave from the sheriff's office to run their campaigns for sheriff, said Friday they have never heard of the report.

Sheriff's office personnel said they followed protocol, wrote down a complaint, then passed it on to the correct authorities. The report was sent to Eubanks and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, sheriff's Lt. Chris Lyons said.

Jerry Scott, special agent in charge of the GBI's Calhoun office, said that agency would not open an investigation unless one was requested in writing by the agency involved. The complaint was sent to the GBI, but neither department made a formal request, he said.

On April 4, a 911 caller claimed a black man with dark clothing might have burglarized a house on Colony Circle and was running toward an apartment complex, a Fort Oglethorpe police incident report shows.

Holcomb claims he saw Johnson at an apartment complex off Cloud Springs Road, believed he was the burglary suspect and ordered him to the ground. But Johnson said Holcomb ran to him, slammed him to the ground and yelled "get on the ground, you ---- " using a racial slur.

Johnson, who said he weighs 150 pounds, said he didn't try to resist arrest, but two other officers began to knee him in his side and face.

After Johnson was brought to the police station, the report states, he explained that he cut through a neighborhood to hide from several men who had beaten him up. Fort Oglethorpe police let Johnson go on April 5 with a citation for obstruction by disorderly conduct and let him call an ambulance to take him to a hospital, the police report shows.

Johnson appeared in court Thursday and was cited for obstruction, officials said Friday.

Two weeks before the incident with Holcomb, Johnson had filed a complaint with the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office, claiming 15 men who called themselves the gang RND, short for "Real -- Daily," attacked him, a sheriff's report shows.