People have shown up to protest and counter-protest outside the Oglethorpe County Sheriff's Office in the wake of the office's hiring of a recently fired Athens police officer.
Before the protest Thursday night, an organizer called the hiring of Taylor Saulters two days after he was fired by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department “unjust and unacceptable.”
Dashcam video allegedly showed Saulters driving behind a wanted felon, Timmy Patmon, hitting a curb and blowing out a tire before hitting him with his patrol car June 1. Saulters was fired the next day by Athens police Chief Scott Freeman.
The protest organizer, former Athens mayoral candidate Antwon Stephens, wanted Oglethorpe County Sheriff David Gabriel to “denounce police brutality” and fire Saulters.
I asked protest organizer Antwon Stephens what he thought about the secret recordings I obtained where ACCPD officers recorded their Chief saying, “regardless of what the GBI determines that he intended to hit him there’s not a fiber in my body that believes that.” His response: pic.twitter.com/FS9r1VIwYK
Gabriel spoke to Channel 2 Action News and defended his hiring of Saulters.
“This is no longer a black and white thing. This is a black and police thing,” Gabriel told Channel 2.
Stephens also spoke to Channel 2 and said he doesn’t believe Patmon’s race “has much to do with it,” but Gabriel’s hire rewards police brutality.
“Sheriff Gabriel has created an atmosphere to where officers feel condoned that they can do police brutality with the hiring of Taylor Saulters,” Stephens told the news station. “If you were to go out and hit someone deliberately, you don’t get a job. You go to jail. Why are officers above the law?”
Gabriel questioned the motivation of Stephens and the people organizing the protest.
“Headliner chasers — people trying to make a name for themselves,” Gabriel said. “They come down here. It’s where the next big topic is, so they can get exposure.”
In a series of Facebook posts earlier this week, Gabriel also commented on the planned protest. He mentioned that when he previously announced his hiring of Saulters on June 4, Oglethorpe County citizens with complaints could reach out to him personally to voice their concerns.
He went on to say that he went through the comments of people saying they would attend the protest, and he counted "0 from Oglethorpe County, 3 from Athens including the organizer and everyone else from the Atlanta area," according to a Facebook post on Sunday.
“They are coming into our community to drive their own agenda of an injustice as they see it,” the post said. “In my opinion the real injustice here are these individuals coming into our community in an attempt to divide it.”
Hate mail Oglethorpe County Sheriff David Gabriel received after hiring fired ACCPD Officer Taylor Saulters who struck fleeing felon Timmy Patmon who had a warrant out for his arrest. The card has a blue heron on the front and came from Riverside, California. @wsbtvpic.twitter.com/5uDGCqr8oo
Gabriel then accused the group of trying to prevent Saulters from getting a job without giving him due process, since he hasn’t been charged with a crime.
“He was fired for violating departmental policy,” the post continued. “They have to make sure he is unable to provide for his family and never have another job. Apparently having him fired was not enough.”
The GBI is still investigating whether Saulters actions were criminal or not.
Gabriel also mentioned that “the technique used to block the fleeing felon with a car has been practiced for decades,” and that he doesn’t believe Saulters intentionally tried to hit Patmon.
Stephens responded with a Facebook post Monday and said, “Sheriff Gabriel continues to not call police brutality for what it is. Leaders like this are why so many of the minority community suffer without justice from police brutality across the country.”
In another post later that day, Stephens added that he supports "good law enforcement officers," but that Gabriel "must call police brutality for what it is or resign."
Zachary Hansen, a Georgia native, covers economic development and commercial real estate for the AJC. He's been with the newspaper since 2018 and enjoys diving into complex stories that affect people's lives.