Sheriff: As thousands mourned cop, Gwinnett official cursed deputies

On Oct. 24, as thousands of local residents and Georgia law enforcement officers lined the streets of Gwinnett County for a funeral procession to honor slain police officer Antwan Toney, one local elected official had no time to wait and confronted deputies to get out of his way, according to witness statements.

After the deputies working traffic control resisted Gwinnett County Commissioner Tommy Hunter’s attempt to drive in front of the procession in his Chevrolet Silverado, Hunter told them he was a county commissioner and they were blocking “his road,” according to written statements by the lawmen.

The shocking display by a local official against the backdrop of an entire community mourning a fallen hero disturbed Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch. It was his deputies, assisting Gwinnett with traffic control during the procession, who stopped Hunter. The sheriff couldn't believe it when Hunter called to lodge a complaint claiming his men were out of line.

“The level of disrespect in this situation astounded me,” Couch said. “Especially coming from an elected official. The word public servant came to my mind, and I think that perhaps he has forgotten the meaning of that word and that title.”

Hunter, for his part, would not answer specific questions about his actions that day. In a text to a reporter, he said: “It was an emotional day.”

Hunter is the same official who was publicly reprimanded by fellow commissioners last year after a series of offensive Facebook posts.

Couch viewed Hunter's actions at the funeral as disrespectful toward a slain officer who'd been gunned down in the line of duty just days before. The sheriff had his deputies prepare written statements after Hunter lodged his complaint. The officer statements paint a picture of Hunter as a self-involved elected official short on decorum and tone deaf to the swirl of grief around him.

According to the deputies’ statements, Hunter inadvertently came across Toney’s funeral procession at the intersection of Ga. 20 and Ga. 124 in Lawrenceville. He pulled his vehicle into the turn lane and asked the pair of deputies, who were standing at attention as the procession approached, why they were blocking him and if he could turn.

Not breaking their stance, they told Hunter no, not until the full procession was over.

Hunter then told the deputies his status as a local official and that the fallen officer had “worked for me.” When they still wouldn’t let him through, Hunter “began getting agitated and asked us what county we were from,” one deputy wrote in his statement. Hunter then took photos of their patrol cars.

When the procession had passed, Hunter told one deputy to “get his ass back to Hall County” and drove off, according to their statements.

“I was bothered by the encounter and the obvious lack of respect and reverence for the situation by a supposed commissioner so I googled Gwinnett County Commissioners on my phone,” one of the deputies, a sergeant, wrote. “Tommy Hunter’s picture appeared and [we] immediately recognized him as the driver of the grey Silverado.”

A caisson carrying the casket processes through a motorcycle honor guard to the church. Funeral services were held Oct. 24 for Gwinnett Police Officer Antwan Toney at 12Stone church in Lawrenceville.BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

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The sheriff said it was later that day when Hunter called him to complain, characterizing the deputies as rude and disrespectful.

“There was disrespect shown that day, but it was not shown on the part of my officers,” Couch said Thursday. “It was shown on the part of Commissioner Hunter.”

A spokesman for the Gwinnett County Police Department said the agency appreciated Hall County’s assistance — which helped as many Gwinnett officers as possible attend their fallen comrade’s funeral — and was aware of the incident with Hunter. The department otherwise declined to comment.

Gwinnett Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said Couch contacted her regarding the incident and that she apologized to him.

“I also reiterated how very grateful we were for the tremendous support and commitment of personnel from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office during a very difficult time for Gwinnett,” Nash said.

The procession incident isn’t the first time Hunter has found himself in an unflattering spotlight based on allegations of rude and offensive conduct.

In Jan. 2017, the AJC first reported on several controversial Facebook posts he wrote, which triggered months of protests at commission meetings, an ethics complaint and a public reprimand. The posts included ones calling civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a "racist pig," referring to Democrats as a "bunch of idiots" and "Demonrats," and questioning why media reports described "colored people" as a racial slur.

Well over a year later, Hunter is still challenging the reprimand — and the constitutionality of Gwinnett County's ethics board — in court.