Brooklet police officers accused of improper behavior during a traffic stop will not be disciplined, as they did nothing wrong, said Brooklet Mayor William Hendrix.
The officers’ behavior was discussed during an executive session at a special called meeting of the Brooklet City Council on Thursday to discuss the next step after former Chief Doug Meyer’s resignation, effective Friday.
No action was taken regarding the officers.
However, residents packed the Brooklet Town Hall Thursday night as councilmen voted to skip assigning an interim chief to handle duties vacated by Meyer‘s resignation. His resignation came after a flurry of public discussion about two video clips posted on social media by a woman who said she had two negative encounters with Brooklet police officers and Meyer.
Cindy Bodaford Lee’s videos went viral. The first showed her encounter with Officer John Baker, and the second showed her experience as she went to the Town Hall to complain to Meyer about Baker’s and Officer Charles Dutton’s behavior during the traffic stop.
In addition to Lee’s videos, the Statesboro Herald used a Freedom of Information request to obtain copies of the Brooklet Police Department’s body cam videos from the traffic stop in question and the incident that led to Meyer’s resignation. Watch those videos here and here on the Statesboro Herald's Facebook page..
A link to Lee’s videos was published last week.
No interim chief
Brooklet council member Greg Schlierf was already assigned to supervise the police department, but council members voted Thursday to add a second council member, William Griffith, to the supervisory role.
Before going into executive session, council member Russell Davis protested the move, expressing that the matter could be handled publicly. He was outvoted, and the council moved to enter into the closed session.
“It was all there in black and white,” Davis said Friday, referring to the publicly aired videos.
After 90 minutes, council returned to the chambers, this time with council member Randy Newman, who had been absent at the beginning of the meeting due to health issues. After voting to enter back into a public meeting, Hendrix announced Griffith will join Schlierf in overseeing the police department until a chief is hired.
“We have not had any time to discuss how we will move forward,” Schlierf said. “We are planning to discuss this next week sometime to figure out how each of our roles will fit together. Bill (Griffith) and I have worked well together in the past, so I don't expect any difficulty getting this worked out.”
Hendrix said on Friday that the chief search should begin within a couple of weeks, “but we are in no hurry.”
Schlierf further explained the decision on Friday.
“We are not going to race into a search. Council is going to take some time to review the job description and to try to define what type of police culture we want to establish,” he said. “Since the regular council meeting is next week, we are not going to be ready to move forward by the end of this meeting, but we are hopeful that we can begin sometime after the March meeting.”
Schlierf said council members haven’t had time to decide how to handle the search.
There are “certain requirements” that “oftentimes have costs” when naming an interim chief, he said.
“We don't want to invest a lot of money in an interim and then not have that person end up as chief,” he said. “Because we don't know what we want in a new chief, we cannot say if any of our current officers will meet the requirements, so it just makes sense to not name an interim.”
Although the council room was filled Thursday with residents interested in the outcome, no public comments were allowed. Neither Hendrix nor any other council member gave a reason why, but a memo handed out to residents stated that public comments regarding the police issues would be welcome at the council’s next regular meeting on Feb. 15.
Body cam videos
Lee’s complaint came after an incident at a Brooklet convenience store with off-duty Brooklet police Officer Charles Dutton. 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).”
Hendrix said on Friday that neither Dutton nor Baker will be reprimanded or disciplined for any alleged misconduct because they “did nothing wrong.”
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,” he said. “There was no action taken, because they were doing their job.”
Chief resigns after video
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 said on Friday that she felt threatened during her meeting with Meyer and that she is still puzzled by the way the matter is being handled.
“Evidence will show he is wrong,” she said about Hendrix’s defense of Baker and Dutton. “He (Hendrix) said he has never had any complaints about the police officers, but why are there … people suing the city of Brooklet?”
While the Statesboro Herald has interviewed two men in separate cases who have had complaints against Meyer, there have been no lawsuits yet filed, according to information from the Bulloch County Clerk of Courts office. Each man, whose identities will be withheld until suits are filed, said they have hired attorneys and plan to file suit.
Lee hired Statesboro attorney Keith Barber to represent her in any possible complaint or suit she may decide to file, she said.
Baker and Dutton cannot comment on the matter, Baker said. Meyer, whose last day as chief was Friday, did not respond to queries Friday, or previously, seeking comment.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.