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Friday, October 16, 2015

Union: Atlanta Police Chief’s Son got ‘Special Treatment’ - Officers call it a Double Standard

Officer Tim Turner’s ‘at fault’ police car accident  
not investigated for 2 years  

An investigation into the Atlanta Police Department has some questioning whether the Chief's son, also an APD officer, received special treatment after being involved in an 'at fault' accident involving his police car. Documents obtained from Atlanta police officers - who asked to remain anonymous - show 32 year old Timothy (Tim) Turner (below), the son of police Chief George Turner, crashed his assigned police car twice within 30 days. However, one of those accidents was not investigated by Internal Affairs - also called the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) - until recently. It has been nearly two years since the incident and failing to investigate it is in violation of department policy.

According to Turner’s OPS Officer Disciplinary History Report, he has been involved in seven OPS investigations and two separate 'at fault' vehicle accidents while driving his assigned police car since joining the APD in 2007. One accident happened in Cobb County on September 11, 2013 and was not included  in Turner’s OPS or personnel files. When first requesting the APD’s copy of the accident report, the police department’s public affairs department maintained it simply didn’t exist. APD’s Director of Public Affairs, Elizabeth Espy, explained, “We don’t do reports on accidents outside of our jurisdiction.” Atlanta is in Fulton County, adjacent to Cobb County. Regardless, department policy requires each officer-involved accident to be investigated by the APD and, in doing so, the APD must obtain the accident report from the investigating authority.

Shortly after an officer anonymously provided a copy of the Cobb accident, Espy was given that info and finally offered up an APD offense report with a brief narrative detailing the accident. It shows officer Turner himself wrote and reviewed the report and APD Officer K. L. Lambert approved it on October 17th, 2013. In the narrative, officer Lambert wrote: “Georgia State Patrol responded to the scene and did the accident report…the second vehicle had minimum damage to the rear bumper…and the second driver drove away before Lieutenant (Terry) Joyner could respond to the scene. Atlanta Identification Unit took pictures of the damage to the city vehicle.” The trooper cited Turner, issuing a written warning for following the car in front of him too closely.

 So how did Turner’s accident report and the required investigation remain mysteriously missing from the APD's records for the past two years? APD officers wanted to know and have quietly questioned whether the department even conducted an investigation. According to union officials, “That’s something we’d like the Chief to explain.” Union representatives with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO) are calling Turner’s accident a ‘cover-up’. Vince Champion is IBPO’s Regional Director and says, “This should have been investigated, especially since the Chief’s son is the one involved.” Champion says a number of Atlanta police officers have complained to union officials about officer Tim Turner and the rumors they’ve heard about the Cobb County car accident that wasn’t investigated. Champion says most every officer has heard rumblings about the incident and would like to know the truth about what really happened. Champion explains, “It’s bad for morale, if officer Turner wasn’t investigated then that’s a violation of the department’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and it’s not fair to the other officers who do get investigated for these same violations.”

As for any perceived interference with this case due to the fact Tim Turner’s father is Chief George Turner, Champion admits he has no proof but adds, “It looks bad for the Chief, if anything you’d think he’d want to make sure his son was held to the highest standard so no one would suspect he was getting special treatment.” Chief Turner has refused several requests to comment on this case.      

“It looks bad for the Chief, if anything you’d think he’d want to make sure his son was held to the highest standard so no one would suspect he was getting special treatment.” - Vince Champion, Regional Director I.B.P.O.
         Disgruntled Officers
 Earlier this year, two APD Sergeants spoke about their view of the police department. They had plenty to say about a number of topics they felt needed to be investigated. Both Sergeants were most curious about a mysterious crash involving the Chief’s son, officer Tim Turner. Word had it that Turner was driving his assigned police car, crashed it and was never reprimanded or investigated, although he had been found at fault. If true, officers felt it was unfair, since it's a clear violation of department policy.

We then requested documents surrounding the accident from the APD’s public affairs department. A month later, officials conceded they had no information about Turner’s accident. At that point, APD officers came forward anonymously providing photos and copies of the full accident reports, hoping that information would help expose the truth.

The Mysterious Accident

A Georgia Department of Public Safety (DPS) report (above) shows a state trooper responded to Turner’s accident at 3:52pm on September 11, 2013 in Cobb County. The report shows the wreck occurred on Barrett Parkway as Turner and another driver were attempting to merge onto I-75 Northbound. The DPS report states Turner was unable to stop his assigned 2004 Crown Victoria and struck the rear of the Toyota Venza in front of him. The trooper's dashcam video shows Turner telling the trooper he may have caused the crash.
Still frame from trooper's dashcam video

 “I should’ve been paying attention. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should’ve been...I have no excuse, it’s still my fault, I know.”  - APD Officer Tim Turner

At about thirteen minutes into the dashcam video, officer Tim Turner is seen approaching the trooper in his cruiser and the dashcam's audio recorded Turner admitting, “I should’ve been paying attention. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should’ve been...I have no excuse, it’s still my fault, I know.”
The officer issued Turner a warning for following the car in front of him too closely. The other driver, Acworth resident Jerusha Mumbi, was able to drive away from the scene. She can be heard on the dashcam video asking the trooper what to do if she discovers accident related injuries in the future. The trooper advises her to get a full medical exam as soon as possible.

Chief’s Son not Investigated

 After requesting information about the Cobb County accident this past June via Georgia's Open Records Act, the APD's public information department claimed those records didn't exist. When officers quietly provided the reports three weeks later, the APD's public affairs department finally located a brief narrative detailing the Cobb accident. Despite required policy, the department maintains a police investigation was never conducted but can't explain why. APD's Standard Operating Procedure #3152 requires an OPS package be 'initiated on all motor vehicle collisions involving APD vehicles to determine employee culpability and to promote consistency of discipline' (below).
APD SOP .3152

This revised policy, signed by Chief George Turner on December 1st 2011, requires section commanders to submit the 'at-fault accident package' to OPS within 14 days and after it's completed it must also be sent to the Chief and the APD's Accreditation Unit.

 Turner’s Accident before the Cobb Crash

Officer Tim Turner would have likely faced serious discipline for crashing his assigned police car just three weeks after he totaled another city vehicle. Champion says, “Turner would’ve been subject to Progressive Discipline, according to department policy.”

Turner’s first accident in 2013 happened early Sunday morning at 8am on August 18th. According to Turner's own report of the incident, he was driving his police car Southbound on the I-75-85 expressway in Atlanta. As he approached a curve near the Williams Street exit he says his car began to fish tale. He then lost control and slammed into a median wall. (Car below)
We requested that police report and any photos from the APD's public information department. They submitted a typed Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident Report which stated no photos had been taken to document the crash (below).
Accident Report

As a result, Atlanta police officers anonymously provided the full accident report which included several additional pages. It shows the reporting APD officer, Jovon Edwards, wrote, “I notified ID and tech #7310 responded on scene shortly after.” The APD’s ‘ID techs’ are dispatched specifically to photograph accident scenes. A request for information about Turner's accident was then sent to APD’s public affairs department, along with a request for any related police photos. None were received.  It's unclear whether photos were ever included with Turner’s accident report, despite the fact they're required per APD policy and the accident report even states an ID tech arrived on the scene. “We suspected the APD would try to cover things up," says one APD officer. "That’s why we took photos and held onto them.” That officer has asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
The officers’ photos of Turner's assigned car, number 30213, show the extent of damage after the accident. An APD officer says he snapped the photos in July of 2014, nearly a year after the crash, while the car sat at the City's impound lot on Howell Mill Road.

Those photos indicate the most serious damage happened along the left side of Turner’s assigned 2008 Ford Crown Victoria. According to the APD's accident report, the responding officer noted the roads were wet and weather was a contributing factor, however, the investigator still found officer Turner ‘at fault’ which was noted in a memo written by Turner’s Lieutenant. The estimate for damages to the vehicle were estimated at $6,150.
APD SOP .3152
According to APD’s SOP 3152 (above), officers responsible for causing a 'major collision', one that requires repairs between five and fifteen thousand dollars, are to be given a one day suspension (see SOP above).  The APD’s command staff and Turner's supervisor, Lt. Joyner, all agreed discipline was appropriate.  Deputy Chief S.L. Jones did not.
In a memo copied to officer’s Turner’s personnel file, Deputy Chief Jones (above) wrote, “The employee alleges as a contributing factor, that the rear tires needed to be changed. The employee says that the vehicle was taken to the shop for Preventive Maintenance service, and only the front tires were changed. The investigative file does not capture any information related to that line of inquiry.”
“The employee (Turner) alleges as a contributing factor, that the rear tires needed to be changed. The employee says that the vehicle was taken to the shop for Preventive Maintenance service, and only the front tires were changed. The investigative file does not capture any information related to that line of inquiry.”  - Deputy Chief S.L. Jones
As a result, Turner's discipline was reduced to a written reprimand. Champion questions why Deputy Chief Jones didn’t simply verify Turner’s claims and check out the vehicle. “They just took Turner’s word and didn’t even investigate. That’s not the way they treat other officers and it looks like they did him a big favor.” Champion is a veteran police officer who also worked as a traffic homicide investigator during his law enforcement career. He viewed the photos showing the rear tires in question. (Photos of rear tire below)           

Champion says, “You can clearly see the tread on the rear tires is a little worn but it’s not worn enough to cause the car to skid like that. It certainly doesn’t appear this would have caused the accident, as officer Turner alleges in his report.”

What Now?

For two months, Chief Turner and his public relations team have declined to comment on this case but, due to inquiries related to this report, the APD eventually launched an OPS investigation into the incident. Espy confirmed investigators were looking into Turner’s accident now that they had been made aware of it. She stated, “If it is discovered that (an OPS) package was not done on an accident, then once that is discovered, the package is then begun no matter the time that has passed.  So for example in the case you have, a package has been opened on it.” On September 4th Espy stated, “I believe the file is complete and you can file an open records request to have that information sent to you along with any associated costs.”

APD response to FOIA

The APD later sent the letter above stating the Turner incident is still under investigation. Atlanta police officers and union officials feel it's unsettling to know the department waited nearly two years before investigating officer Tim Turner's accident in Cobb County.

The APD’s own records show officer Turner, his Lieutenant, an ID Tech and the reporting officer were all aware of the accident and helped to generate a report detailing what had happened. It is not clear if they simply dropped the ball, chose not to report the accident to the APD’s Internal Affairs Unit or were told to keep things quiet. A number of police officers suspect the accident wasn’t investigated because someone intervened in an attempt to prevent the Chief’s son from facing serious discipline.

One thing is certain; the Cobb County accident was never listed on officer Tim Turner’s OPS disciplinary history report (below).
Tim Turner's Disciplinary History Report
Tim Turner's Disciplinary History Report
The public, attorneys and law enforcement officials all rely upon those reports to assess an officer’s past performance and behavior while on the force. IBPO officials believe the Cobb County accident could’ve seriously impacted Turner’s law enforcement career. The APD's public affairs department can’t explain how this high profile accident flew under their radar.

Questions recently submitted to Espy include the following:
  • Why didn't Lt. Joyner or any other APD officer report the accident to OPS, or did they? 
  • Did the Chief know about his son’s accident? Did he wonder why it wasn't investigated?\
  • What message does this send to other officers?
  • The IBPO says many officers have complained about this and it has hurt morale at the department. What, if anything, will be done to restore it?
  • Did Tim Turner - or anyone else - receive any discipline as a result of the Cobb County crash?
  • If so, was it Progressive Discipline? If not, why? Since Turner was found at fault for all three accidents, including one in 2010 and two in 2013, wouldn't the latest result in a reprimand per the Progressive Discipline Policy?
Elizabeth Espy was asked how many other police involved accidents have not been investigated, or were not investigated until much later. Espy admitted she didn’t know of any other incidents. One thing is clear; it wasn't difficult to track down proof that the police Chief’s son was involved in a crash one Sunday afternoon back in 2013 but, unfortunately, that case remains plagued by more questions than answers. One can only hope the APD will do the right thing and provide some of those answers. This report will be updated at that time.

Disclaimer: Every document and research item conducted for this report was obtained via a public records request and/or directly acquired through Atlanta Police Officers. This report is not affiliated with any corporation or television station.

Mike Mason: Investigative Reporter     Copyright 2015

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