A September accident involving Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s security detail while using emergency “blue lights” came as the city leader was running late to a meeting, according to dash cam footage from the accident.
In the Sept. 9 crash, Reed’s security detail hit a 1995 Toyota Corolla at Paces Ferry Road and Cumberland Parkway at 9:52 a.m. just outside Atlanta’s city limits.
Reed, listed as a passenger in the collision, was no longer at the scene of the accident when Cobb Police arrived, according to an investigation by Channel 2 Action News reporter Lori Geary, who broke the story Thursday.
A Cobb Police officer is heard on the dash cam tape offering dispatch an explanation for the accident from Reed’s driver, Lt. Steven Nichols: “He told me that they were running late to a meeting,” the officer said.
The accident has highlighted scrutiny of Reed’s use of sirens and “blue lights” to navigate quickly through the city and surrounding communities in non-emergency situations.
Vincent Champion, southeast director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said the mayor’s use of “blue lights” in non-emergency situations is illegal.
“He being one of the highest officials in the city should at least obey the law,” Champion told Geary. Champion could not be reached Friday for comment.
The mayor’s office insists its use of emergency lights is within Reed’s legal rights.
“When necessary, state law authorizes APD to use blue lights and/or sirens, in its discretion, as a security tactic to help keep the Mayor and the citizens of Atlanta safe,” the office said in a statement. The mayor was not available Friday for comment.
A Channel 2 Action News investigation alleges the mayor used the lights in non-emergency situations at least 10 times over five weeks.
Reed’s office pushed back on the reports, accusing Channel 2 of pursuing a “reckless” and “irresponsible” story to gin up ratings.
“We realize it’s “sweeps” week, when TV stations like WSB need to generate sensational headlines in order to profit from setting high advertising rates,” Reed’s office said in a written statement.
Channel 2 and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution are both owned by Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises.
Reed’s office said the mayor works under daily risks and threats. The mayor received, for instance, more than 10,000 emails, letters and telephone calls to his home — many of them “disturbing” — after he terminated Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran in January 2015, the office said.
The mayor has said he fired Cochran for a number of reasons, including poor judgment and breach in protocol because of “Who Told You That You Are Naked?” a book the fire chief published that included passages that described homosexuality as a “sexual perversion” akin to bestiality. The mayor also said Cochran failed to notify city leaders of the book’s publication and worried he could no longer lead a workforce that includes members of the LGBTQ community.
“WSB reporters cannot possibly know the risks and threats the Mayor works under on a daily basis,” Reed’s office said. “With all due respect to WSB, its reporters have never been responsible for keeping a national figure and his young family safe in such an unstable and unpredictable atmosphere.”
News executives at Channel 2 said they stand by the station’s reporting.
“Law enforcement sources tipped Channel 2 Action News after seeing the Mayor and his team using blue lights and sirens to get to and from various events, appearances or speaking engagements,” said Misti Turnbull, WSB-TV News Director. “The primary concern of law enforcement was public safety. As is our responsibility, our reporters and photographers investigated the accusations and confirmed this was often the case. The Georgia statute, we found, restricts using blue lights and sirens except in cases of emergency or in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law. It is of utmost importance to us to be absolutely fair, balanced and accurate. We stand by the validity of our stories.”
Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said he has given Reed’s detail the authority to use lights and sirens at their discretion because of the 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.
Champion said Turner is taking the fall for the mayor’s improper use of emergency lights, “And I don’t understand that.”
The driver of the car in the September collision, Michael Hogan of Austell, was taken to Cobb General Hospital after being shaken up by the crash. Hogan has declined to comment.
The accident occurred when Reed’s GMC Yukon was merging onto Paces Ferry, clipping Hogan’s Corolla, according to an accident report.
Hogan’s car spun around before the driver pulled over to the right shoulder.
Nichols, Reed’s driver, was reprimanded after an investigation of the accident.
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