‘An erosion in confidence’: Athens police chief asked to resign

The Athens-Clarke County police chief resigned Thursday after the county manager asked him to step down.

County Manager Blaine Williams said he and former chief Scott Freeman were in talks about Freeman’s position for months, and came to a mutual decision.

“We mutually agreed his resignation would be in the best interest of the department,” Williams told AJC.com. “I gave him a choice as we talked through it, and obviously for his purposes he didn’t want to be fired or terminated, and I wasn’t prepared to terminate him. In the end, I asked for it, and he agreed.”

Williams refuted an Athens Banner-Herald report that Williams was fired, as confirmed by Athens Mayor Nancy Denson. AJC.com’s attempts to reach Denson for comment have been unsuccessful.

Williams would not go into specifics about why he felt Freeman was no longer suited to serve as chief, saying Freeman still had support from some segments of the police department and the community, but not others.

“He’s done a lot of really great things for us, and he had a lot of support in the beginning, but for various reasons, I’ve felt there’s been an erosion in confidence,” Williams said.

The Athens-Clarke County Police Department has come under fire in recent months after videos surfaced that called officers’ actions into question. In June, Freeman fired police officer Taylor Saulters after releasing dashcam video that appeared to show Saulters swerve to hit a wanted felon with his patrol car during a pursuit.

MORE: Athens police officer fired after suspect injured in collision, arrest

Freeman defended his decision to terminate Saulters just one day after the June 1 incident, before an internal investigation was finished.

"I told my police officers that it was not acceptable under any circumstances, and I would not allow for our officers to have the perception that it was OK to use a police vehicle to chase down anybody in that same situation,” Freeman said in a June interview with Channel 2 Action News.

RELATED: Did police chief who fired officer for hitting suspect contradict himself? He says no

Saulter's attorney, Philip Holloway, said at the time his firing was a "rush to judgment" and "uncalled for." Before the weekend was up, Saulters was hired by the Oglethorpe County Sheriff's Office.

“My decision to talk to him about this and him agreeing (to resign) is not directly or indirectly related to (Saulters’ firing),” Williams said Friday.

Then, in July, a cellphone video that appeared to show two Athens-Clarke County officers pin a 10-year-old boy to the ground went viral on social media. Those officers, Shawn Bond and James Trotter, were cleared of allegations of excessive force after an internal investigation, according to police records obtained by AJC.com.

RELATED: Athens officers cleared in incident involving 10-year-old boy

Capt. Mark Magnuson, then acting as chief of police, signed off on a recommendation to exonerate Bond and Trotter on July 26. It was not clear Friday why Magnuson was serving as acting chief at that time.

Freeman had been the city's police chief for three years, and he previously was the chief deputy for the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office, the city said in a news release.

His resignation went into effect Thursday, the release said. Captain Mike Hunsinger will serve as interim chief until a permanent replacement is named.

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