Georgia town alerted to off-duty work before firing police chief, suspending its force

An anonymous email appears to have prompted turmoil in the Warm Springs Police Department
Most of the Warm Springs Police Department was suspended earlier this month after the city received a complaint about how the department was managing off-duty employment by officers. (Credit: Anisah Muhammad/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Anisah Muhammad

Credit: Anisah Muhammad

Most of the Warm Springs Police Department was suspended earlier this month after the city received a complaint about how the department was managing off-duty employment by officers. (Credit: Anisah Muhammad/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

WARM SPRINGS — In two weeks, this town fired its police chief, suspended virtually all its officers and asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to find out if its police force broke the law.

And city leaders said next to nothing about why.

The upheaval in this one-time resort town 70 miles southwest of Atlanta has little precedent in Georgia policing. Yet Warm Springs, best known as the home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famed Little White House, gave scant explanation this month when it instructed all but one of the officers in its small department to turn in their badges and guns.

To officers, the city said only that it was investigating the police force “to ensure the integrity and accountability of our entire department,” according to a suspension letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. To the public, it pointed to “recent events and emerging concerns” about police conduct in a Facebook post without specifying what they were.

But records obtained by the AJC shed new light on the origins of the turmoil. The episode appears to have begun earlier this month when an anonymous email landed in the Warm Springs City Hall inbox.

The sender, who signed the message only as “Concerned Citizen,” said officers routinely drove to Atlanta in patrol vehicles for highly paid off-duty jobs.

“Chief (Emilio) Quintana himself takes his patrol vehicle to do these part-time jobs as he his (sic) scheduled many nights out of the month,” the June 5 email said.

An hour later, Quintana was called into a meeting with Mayor Robyn Pynenburg. There, she wrote in a memo in his personnel file, he admitted it was true.

Within a week of receiving the anonymous email, Warm Springs fired Quintana, personnel records show.

In a termination letter, the mayor accused the chief of using a city vehicle and representing himself as a police officer in ways he wasn’t authorized. (Records show that Quintana, who could not be reached for comment, has appealed the decision.)

And within days, Warm Springs had suspended every officer but one, according to a city press release. The only officer left was a recent hire named Aisha Al-Khalifa, who was named interim chief, the city said. POST records show Al-Khalifa was hired as a sergeant in November.

The letter, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said officers were not being disciplined, though they were being suspended. The city wasn’t presuming officers had broken the law, it said, but they could no longer hold themselves out as Warm Springs police. In bold red type, it instructed them to turn in their badges and guns immediately.

Two officers told the AJC they were blindsided by the shakeup and still don’t know why they were included in the suspension. They spoke on condition of anonymity out of concerns over retribution.

Even the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, one of the agencies tasked with investigating the situation, says it isn’t altogether clear what needs to be investigated because the city hadn’t yet provided records laying out the problems.

POST is investigating Quintana but not the other officers, said executive director Mike Ayers, who heads the state agency that certifies police officers.

“Right now, we’re still not crystal clear on a lot of this,” Ayers said Tuesday.

The concerns appear to center on officers’ off-duty work, Ayers said. And the anonymous email to City Hall asserted that off-duty work was pervasive in Warm Springs.

“Most officers working for Warm Springs are there because and were hired just so they are able to do police off-duty jobs,” the email said. “This is an everyday thing that is allowed to occur directed by the chief.”

Fewer than 500 people live in Warm Springs, but despite its small size, the city’s POST roster shows that before the city’s investigation began, 14 police officers were affiliated with Warm Springs — roughly one for every 33 residents.

Many were part-time employees, and some were volunteers who only picked up occasional shifts to keep their arrest powers so they could work private security jobs, the two officers said.

Part-time officers were so prevalent, in fact, that the Meriwether County Sheriff’s Office, which includes Warm Springs in its jurisdiction, has downplayed the impact of the suspensions on its operations.

“Even when they had these other people down there, we were covering many calls in that jurisdiction,” chief deputy Byron Hadley said. “There’s many days that there would be nobody down there.”

It’s unclear what laws or city policies the off-duty jobs might have violated. City Manager Dena Moore said Warm Springs officials had no comment on the police department, citing advice from their attorney.

Even so, an official in the Warm Springs Police Department requested a GBI investigation into allegations of criminal wrongdoing, GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said.

The case is active, GBI says. That raises the stakes for the city’s shakeup.

AJC data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this story.

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If you have tips about Warm Springs Police Department or other police agencies in Georgia please email AJC investigative reporter Thad Moore at