Atlanta cop charged in Kasim Reed security detail car crash

An Atlanta Police officer given permission by the city’s top cop to use emergency “blue lights” to transport Mayor Kasim Reed is facing four misdemeanor charges stemming from a September Cobb County crash in which he was rushing the mayor to a meeting.

Sgt. Stephen Nichols, who had already been reprimanded by the Atlanta Police Department for the Sept. 9 accident, will be arraigned on Jan. 18 in Cobb County on charges he drove too fast for conditions, failed to maintain lane, improperly made a U-turn and for improper use of sirens.

The charges incensed some in Atlanta law enforcement, who think Nichols is taking the fall for a mayor who is often running late and retiring Police Chief George Turner’s decision to back Reed at the expense of officers.

“It’s an unlawful order,” Vincent Champion, southeast director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers and a critic of Reed’s use of emergency lighs, said Monday of the charges. He said Nichols is in a Catch 22 because he is following instructions that put him at risk of causing accidents or breaking the law.

Ken Allen, a former president of the Atlanta chapter of the Fraternal Brotherhood of Police Officers, said citizen safety should not be put in jeopardy because the mayor is late for a meeting.

Echoing Champion, he said he worried Nichols would pay the price on his personal insurance for following instructions. “Will the (city) law department go in and say ‘You knew you shouldn’t have been doing it,’” he said.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes has been hired to represent Nichols, according to officials. Mayor Reed’s office declined to comment and referred all questions to Barnes.

In an interview with Channel 2 Action News on Monday, Barnes said he did not use emergency lights when he was government.

“Generally no is the answer,” Barnes said. “I wasn’t in that big a hurry.”

The mayor, who was in the car at the time of the crash, left the vehicle before Cobb Police arrived, according to a dashcam video. He is not being charged in the accident because police did not uncover any evidence he was responsible for the accident and was not required to remain, said Steven Ellis, spokesman for the Cobb County Solicitor-General’s office, which filed the charges.

The charges are the latest twist in what has been mounting controversies related to Reed’s use of sirens and emergency lights to get to meetings.

A November investigation by Channel 2 Action News found the mayor's security detail used the lights in non-emergency situations at least 10 times over five weeks.

News of the September accident followed the report as well as later revelations that Reed had left the scene of the crash.

Turner was drawn into controversy after he said he gave police authority to use lights and sirens at their discretion because of numerous threats against the mayor.

“My job as the police chief is to protect our mayor and his family and that’s what we’re going to do, ” Turner said.

The department refused to provide records or proof the threats.

The Cobb Solicitor-General’s office said Monday that it interviewed witnesses and reviewed video before making the charges against Nichols. Ellis estimated the fines would total between $500 and $600.

The accident happened when Reed’s GMC Yukon was merging onto Paces Ferry, clipped a 1995 Toyota Corolla at Paces Ferry Road and Cumberland Parkway at 9:52 a.m. just outside Atlanta’s city limits. Hogan’s car spun around before the driver pulled over to the right shoulder.

The driver of the car, Michael Hogan of Austell, was taken to Cobb General Hospital after being shaken up by the crash. Hogan, who has hired an attorney, has declined to comment.

Staff writer Bill Torpy contributed to this article.