Clayton commission votes to relieve police chief of duties

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners intends to push Police Chief Jeff Turner out of his job.

The five-member commission announced the unanimous decision at a Tuesday night board meeting, citing numerous reasons for the decision -- from insubordination on Turner's part to sexual harassment cases within the department to a half-dozen police chases that ended fatally for innocent bystanders.

"The vote says our concerns are very serious," board chairman Eldrin Bell said Tuesday night, pointing to a slide presentation he said listed "12 issues which caused the board to have some confidence concerns" with Turner.

County Chief of Staff Alex S. Cohilas, in the conclusion of the presentation supporting Turner's removal, said it was a shame that the misconduct of a few  reflected negatively on the entire department.

"However, it cannot be denied that the referenced issues are serious enough to call into question what organizational and administrative controls are in place at the police department," Cohilas said.

The commission has recommended that Turner be reassigned as the director of the Clayton Police Academy.

"Of course, I'm upset over the decision," said Turner, who has served as chief since 2007. "Many of the issues in that audit are inaccurate."

Turner will have an opportunity to defend himself against the board's 12 concerns in a special called meeting at 3 p.m. Monday.

"After we go over those issues, then the board will make a decision as to what to do with Chief Turner, if anything," Bell said.

The commission recently appointed a special committee to investigate allegations of sexual harassment at the police department, creating tension with the chief.

And last week, commissioners appointed Bell as police commissioner, giving him direct authority over Turner.

Bell eventually rejected this move, saying Turner should receive due process.

"The one argument that I made and will continue to make, is that it is my duty to protect the citizens from undue lawsuits from knee jerk decisions," Bell said. "That is why I opposed doing anything to the chief without due process."

The decision followed a litany of troubles at the police department, among them news that a police sergeant had admitted to kissing and fondling a recruit during a job interview – and that Turner did not fire, but demoted the sergeant.

"This case was not properly evaluated for potential criminal prosecution prior to the close of the investigation," the presentation said. "Additionally, it appears that the chief diminished the serious nature of the offense committed by the sergeant."

Turner again came under fire in September after a police chase that started on Old Dixie Highway in Clayton County ended with the death of two innocent women on Old National Highway in Fulton County.

Other concerns included an audit stating that more than 138 police weapons were unaccounted for, allegations of mismanagement of a crime mapping project that cost the department $109,000 with no evidence of the promised computer software or hardware and pictures showing a narcotics evidence room in shambles.

"The narcotics evidence room is in disarray and overflowing with drugs (over 2,000 pounds) much of which have destruction orders dating back to 2008," the presentation read.

There's also an October 2009 allegation of misconduct within the police department, and the charges are so serious that they can't be brought up in public, Cohilas said.

Turner, 45, has been with the Clayton County Police Department since 1987, working his way up the ranks from patrolman.

He said he was disappointed that he didn't get to resond to the commissioner's list of concerns Tuesday night, and doubts that anything he does next week will change the commissioners' minds.

"The picture that they have painted of me is that I wasn't a good manager," Turner said. "I intend to set the record straight."

-- Reporter Alexis Stevens contributed to this article.