Bulloch County Sheriff’s response to an emergency call the morning of Sunday, Sept. 11 has the Brooklet police chief upset about the speeds deputies used as they passed through town, but the Sheriff’s Office says deputies followed the law.
Brooklet Police Chief Doug Meyer said he was sitting on his porch that morning, around 8 a.m., when three sheriff’s patrol cars came speeding through Brooklet, “in full emergency mode, traveling greatly in excess of speed limit,” at what he estimated was between 120 and 140 miles per hour, in a 35 miles per hour zone.
The deputies – Sgt. Rey Rodriguez, Capt. Jason Kearney and Deputy Hunter Oglesby – were responding to a call of “10-18,” meaning “urgent, quickly,” to the scene of an accident on Hwy. 80 East near Railroad Bed Road outside of Brooklet, said Bulloch County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jared Akins.
First responders at the scene called for assistance from deputies to slow and warn traffic, as an accident had taken place on a blind curve, and they feared for their own safety as they rendered aid, he said.
Meyer said he does not believe the response called for such speeds through the small, residential town.
After seeing the deputies go past, he immediately called one of his own officers on duty at the time to see what kind of call the deputies were taking. He then called the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and asked that Akins or Bulloch County Sheriff Lynn Anderson call him back, but they did not, he said. Instead, shift sergeant Rodriguez returned his call.
Meyer said he was dissatisfied that Anderson or Akins did not call him, but Akins later explained that since neither of them had immediate knowledge of the call, it was appropriate for Rodriguez to return Meyer’s call.
“Also, at that point we had not had time to review (videos and other data) about the call,” Akins said.
When Meyer’s call came through, Rodriguez recorded most of it for the record, he said.
In a dash cam video from Rodriguez’ patrol car, provided to the Statesboro Herald through an open records request, the following conversation can be heard: (Rodriguez, responding to Meyer’s statement that he intended to take the incident to local media.) “That’s a threat, sir.”
Meyer replied, “Don’t start any crap with me, junior deputy. 140 miles through this town, do not start it.”
Rodriguez denied the accusation. “I did not go through Brooklet at 140 miles per hour, sir.”
Meyer responded “Goodbye – we’re not talking any more, sergeant.” Rodriguez ended the call with “You have a good day, sir.”
Akins said in later interviews that Meyer’s calling Rodriguez a “junior deputy” was inappropriate, saying Meyer was “extremely angry and acted in a demeaning and disparaging manner.
“Chief Meyer’s comments to Sgt. Rodriguez were unprofessional and derogatory towards a deputy with a proven track record for personal bravery and good judgment under pressure. Sgt. Rodriguez responded to these comments with courtesy and professionalism despite provocation.”
Afterwards, unsatisfied because he had not been contacted by Anderson or Akins about the matter, Meyer decided to use social media to get his message across, he said.
On his personal Facebook page, Meyer posted an “Open Letter to deputies of the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office.”
It read: “For all the very many BCSO deputies that have gone out of their way to be helpful in assisting the Brooklet Police Department over the years, even when it may not have been considered politically correct to do so, we salute you. We deeply appreciate your willingness to assist our small agency in serving an increasingly vital and influential part of Bulloch County.
“And for all of those good deputies that willingly respect and conform themselves to the same traffic laws that generally apply to all citizens, excepting in cases of very real and present emergency, you have our complete respect. We realize that a direct conduit to the east end of the county passes through our jurisdiction, and that the temptation to regard it as merely a ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ high-speed expressway, rather than as an often treacherous and problematic two-lane through a congested residential and busy commercial district is always there. For your prudent mindfulness of our citizens’ safety and welfare we are all grateful. Your careful consideration of the ever-present traffic dangers in our town shows real content of character and professionalism.
“Our only wish is that the same could be said for everyone in your agency.”
The post, which was repeated several times over a period of several days, drew angry responses from several Bulloch County sheriff’s deputies. Akins said the deputies’ responses on their personal Facebook pages did not violate policy.
Rodriguez made the following statement on his Facebook page: “I have never been more disrespected by a fellow law enforcement officer than today. I do my job professionally at all times, I follow Georgia law and the policies of my department!
“Threats of going to a newspaper with false allegations sounds like a threat! Just because you’re chief of police for a small town doesn’t make it your town! You’re not a king! When you run lights and sirens to assist other public safety personnel and you use due regard and arrive at the scene safely and timely, I don’t see what your problem is. If you wish to file a formal written complaint, I welcome it! I am just a mere sergeant!”
Going to social media with his opinions was a “strategic move to get this issue into the public arena,” Meyer said. “I’ve asked them and asked them (to slow down). Does this sound petty? Maybe so, but I was hired to do a job. The biggest public safety concern in the city of Brooklet is traffic. When people go through town, whatever the reason, at high speed, it poses a danger for the citizens of Brooklet.
Meyer maintains the speeds used were not necessary. In a statement to the Statesboro Herald, he said the deputies’ response was “well beyond what would be considered reasonable by any professional standards considering the environment and time of day.”
Akins disagreed and denied the speeds were that excessive.
“The call was serious enough to warrant a code 3 response,” he said.
Code 3 means “lights, sirens and cameras,” and deputies followed the sheriff’s office policy regarding these, he said.
The deputies took the most direct route to the scene, and “civilian traffic was light (at 8 a.m. on a Sunday), visibility was good, and no incidents of concern were noted,” Akins said. “Civilians moved off the road with no issues. Speeds were not excessive or reckless, given the long distance to be traveled, the need to arrive quickly, and limited traffic at the time.”
But Meyer said the Sept. 11 call is not the only time he has seen deputies speed through Brooklet. He said it is a “very regular occurrence.
“I have even witnessed some deputies and supervisors purposefully speed up out of spite to the town,” he said.
He added that he has spoken to Akins before about his concerns.
Meyer said he could issue speeding tickets to deputies, but chooses not to do so.
“We’re trying to take care of this administratively. When they hit somebody, this is to be ample warning.”
Reviewing the incident
After the call from Meyer ended, Rodriguez is heard on the video radioing other deputies involved in the call to pull their dash cam videos. He then places a call to dispatch asking to get in contact with Akins.
In a report filed after investigating the situation Akins sent a memo to Anderson, as well as Capt. Rick Rountree, in charge of professional standards, and Capt. Todd Mashburn, in charge of training.
The report cites Rodriguez as being an exemplary deputy, having received awards including the Georgia Sheriff’s Association Deputy of the Year for heroism and the BCSO Medal of Valor. He is also a US Army veteran.
Akins said when deputies first got the call to respond quickly, it took them almost 16 minutes to travel the 16.41 miles to the scene.
Meyer said he clocked the deputies using their dash cam video, counting seconds between miles post markers they passed, and calculated Rodriguez was driving about 120 miles per hour at times.
Akins disputed that.
“The GPS data was obtained, and there was no Brooklet police officer seen that could have verified the speed. Observers without speed detection devices would therefore simply be guessing at deputies’ speeds,” he said.
Both Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office policy and Georgia state law (Official Code of Georgia Annotated 40-6-6) “allows speed in emergency response as long as they exercise regard for safety of all persons,” he said, adding that all deputies involved had just attended updates on “due regard” in May.
Akins said Meyer has never issued a formal complaint about any deputies’ perceived misconduct, although he acknowledged Meyer has spoken to him about speeding. Akins also said that future calls, if deemed emergencies, would be handled the same way the Sept. 11 call was handled.
The deputies involved were not disciplined. “Code 3 emergency responses through Brooklet with due regard will continue – there is no alternative route to reach calls in eastern Bulloch County,” Akins said.
Although there is no current “memorandum of understanding” with Brooklet, since the Brooklet Town Council and police department never ratified one that was proposed, calls for assistance in Brooklet will continue out of courtesy and concern for citizens. There is no law mandating this, however, he said.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-941