Just days after Brooklet city councilmen voted to hire an interim police chief to fill the shoes of former chief Doug Meyer, who resigned following a controversy, the council suspended two officers also involved in the situation.
Brian Mundy, who was formerly employed by the city as police chief years ago, is now serving as interim chief. The council originally planned to allow two councilmen to supervise the police department and interim chief, but later discovered they “needed an interim chief,” said councilman William Griffith. He declined to comment further on Mundy’s hiring, and would not confirm any other details except the officers, Sgt. John Baker and Officer Charles Dutton, were suspended.
In January, area resident Cindy Bodaford Lee posted on Facebook a cell phone video of herself being stopped by Baker, who did so after Lee engaged in an angry exchange of words with Dutton, who was off-duty at the time, over children being in another vehicle, unbuckled. Then, she posted a partially obscured but completely audible cell phone video of a loud encounter with Meyer at the Brooklet City Hall.
In the midst of public outcry, Brooklet city officials met and reviewed the videos, after which Meyer suddenly resigned, claiming he was taking action on a previously planned retirement earlier than he expected. However, at the time, Brooklet Mayor William Hendrix defended Baker and Dutton.
In an article published Feb. 9, Hendrix was quoted saying neither Dutton nor Baker would be reprimanded or disciplined for any alleged misconduct because they “did nothing wrong.”
The council discussed the matter and decided to let it drop, he said. “There was some verbiage about it, but we determined there was nothing wrong in what they did. There was no action taken, because they were doing their job.”
Hendrix said Friday that the officers are now being suspended, pending possible further action during a special called executive session meeting slated for Monday at 6:30 p.m.
“After we looked at the video, we didn’t see nothing wrong,” he said Friday. But an internal investigation “by an outsider” resulted in “negative findings.
“We might have jumped the gun a little bit,” he said, referring to the original decision to not discipline the officers.
How it all began
Lee’s complaints came after an incident at a Brooklet convenience store with Dutton, who was off duty and not in uniform, although he was later seen in the video wearing a badge on his belt.
Lee met a teenage driver to pick up two of her young relatives who had missed a school bus, and the teenage driver did not have the children in car seats. Dutton saw this and approached the teen driver while Lee was transferring the juveniles to her car, which had car seats, she said.
Lee exchanged words with Dutton, stating later that he was rude and acted inappropriately in addressing the teens, since he was off duty.
Shortly after she left the store, Baker pulled Lee over. The Statesboro Herald acquired a copy of Baker’s body cam video of the stop, showing him approaching Lee’s car.
Lee refers to Dutton as “a smart-ass” and protests being stopped. She asks whether there is a reason she was stopped, and Baker tells her it is due to the children not being in car seats in the previous car.
As Lee continues to protest and pulls out her cellphone to begin recording the encounter, both she and Baker raise their voices and gesture aggressively. Lee demands Dutton “get away from my car” since he is off duty, but Baker says Dutton, as well as himself, as law enforcement officers, are “on duty 24/7.” Dutton is seen standing behind Baker during the stop.
Baker tells Lee if she pulls away he could charge her, but the encounter ends with him admonishing her to make sure the children are in car seats in other cars as well as her own. When Lee asks why he pulled her over, he says it is because she “copped an attitude with my officer (Dutton).”
Lee also recorded her follow-up encounter with Meyer the day after her experience with Baker and Dutton. Meyer also had the meeting recorded, and the Statesboro Herald obtained a copy of that video as well.
Meyer’s video begins as he arrives at the police department to meet Lee. Dutton is also at the police department, and Meyer is heard saying “Guess who is here? Stay out here in the parking lot, and when she leaves and decides to show her tail, get it all on camera.”
When Meyer goes inside and greets Lee and her mother, he tells Lee that he will record the meeting and says he will discuss the issue in the lobby as opposed to his office. He tells Lee that he will record “everything that ever happens with you because of what you decided to put out on the streets,” referring to her video of the encounter with Baker the day before.
At that point, when Meyer starts to talk about the incident with the teen driver, Lee walks away and asks a Town Hall employee who else she can talk to because “I knew he (Meyer) was going to take up for his buddies.”
Meyer immediately demands Lee leave, raising his voice. She tells him she is not talking to him, and he pokes her on the shoulder, saying “Lady … I’m telling you to leave.” Lee says “Do not touch me” and tries to explain that she is waiting for a number for a council member over the police department, but Meyer continues to demand she leave, threatening to arrest her.
“Criminal trespass, lady,” he says forcefully. “Do it now, lady.” He opens the front door of the Town Hall. “Get over here, Dutton,” he says to Charles Dutton.
As Lee and her mother leave, Meyer says “In the future we will not have any mercy or any toleration for y’all’s constant breaking of the law and blaming it on the police department.”
Lee’s mother tries to speak but Meyer cuts her off. Lee tells her mother to come with her, that they have a meeting with media, and Meyer says “Knock your lights out, lady.”
Lee filed a request to have arrest warrants taken out against Meyer for simple battery, regarding to his tapping her on the shoulder, but Bulloch County State Court Judge Gary Mikell declined the request during a probable cause hearing held last week.
Lee and Baker declined comment on the matters, citing attorney instructions. Dutton was unavailable for comment Friday.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.