Brooklet city councilmen fired a police sergeant Monday night during a meeting that began 30 minutes earlier than the time given to at least two media outlets.
During the meeting, the council ratified a decision made last week to suspend officers Charles Dutton and John Baker following public reaction to Facebook videos showing an angry encounter with a local woman during a traffic stop.
Next, they voted to fire Baker. Dutton was suspended without pay for five days and is on six months probation.
Both the Statesboro Herald and AllOnGeorgia, a news blog, were told last week that the special called meeting would begin at 6:30 p.m., but when a reporter entered the council meeting room around 6:15 p.m. Monday, no one was present except council members, city staff and interim police Chief Brian Mundy, who had already been involved in the meeting that actually began at 6 p.m.
A notice sent to the wrong person Friday at the Statesboro Herald did post the 6 p.m. meeting time but was never delivered to the news department, it was discovered on Tuesday.
When asked during the meeting Monday, councilmen told the reporter they had just completed an executive session. By law, government agencies must first enter into a public meeting, call for executive session, and then move back into public session before taking any action. The actual executive session is closed to the public and usually is for discussion of personnel issues, land acquisition or litigation.
After the reporter’s arrival, with no one else in the audience, councilmen reiterated what they had been discussing — the ratification of the decision to suspend the officers last week. When a second reporter arrived, they began to explain their actions a second time, but that reporter stated he had been told the meeting began at 6:30 p.m. as well.
“I could have sworn I said 6 (p.m.),” said Brooklet Mayor William Hendrix.
After reiterating what happened before reporters’ arrival, councilmen voted to fire Baker, effective immediately.
Mundy said the reasons for Baker’s termination were “policy violations.”
Reasons for suspension, termination
In late January, area resident Cindy Bodaford Lee posted a video of an encounter with Baker that followed an unrecorded altercation with Dutton. Dutton allegedly confronted a teenage driver while off duty regarding juveniles in the teen’s car not being in car seats.
After what was reported as an angry exchange of words, Lee left the convenience store where she had argued with Dutton, having picked up the two juveniles from the teen’s car and placed them in her own.
Dutton called Baker, who was on duty, and Baker pulled Lee over to discuss the confrontation and the children being unbuckled in the other car. Lee used her cellphone to video the stop, where she and Baker each raised their voices and were argumentative.
A day later, Lee entered the Brooklet City Hall to file a complaint about Baker and Dutton and became involved in a verbal altercation with former police Chief Doug Meyer. Lee recorded part of the encounter and posted that video on Facebook as well.
The videos sparked public controversy that led to a meeting resulting in Meyer’s resignation and retirement. However, after Meyer resigned, Hendrix told the Statesboro Herald that Dutton and Baker would face no disciplinary action because they “did nothing wrong” and “were doing their job.”
When the council decided later to suspend both officers, Hendrix said an internal investigation by an outside entity caused councilmen to change their minds about disciplining the officers.
“We jumped the gun,” he said.
Aside from voting to ratify the suspensions that started Friday and to terminate Baker’s employment, council took no further action Monday.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.