Gwinnett police chief to retire in July after only 8 months on the job

Eight months after taking the job, Gwinnett County’s police chief will retire from the department.

Tom Doran announced his plans to retire next month in a Thursday night email addressed to all police personnel. His last day will be July 17. Doran will be replaced by Brett West, a deputy chief who has been with the department since 1991.

A spokesman for the county, Joe Sorenson, said he could not speak to why Doran decided to retire. A spokesperson for the police department, Cpl. Michele Pihera, said Doran was not available for an interview. Doran did not respond to emailed questions about his retirement, except to say in a statement that his decision “was a combination of things that lined up within his personal and professional life.”

Doran’s exit comes as people in Gwinnett County and around the country protest police brutality against black people. The wave of protests began after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on Memorial Day by Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin has been charged in Floyd’s death.

In Gwinnett, two police officers were charged after cell phone video showed them striking and stomping on Demetrius Hollins, a motorist who was handcuffed, in April 2017. Then-Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni pleaded no contest to charges including aggravated assault and violation of oath of office. As part of a plea deal to avoid prison, he also testified against Master Police Officer Robert McDonald. McDonald was found guilty in February of aggravated assault, battery and violation of oath of office. District Attorney Danny Porter said the coronavirus pandemic has delayed McDonald’s sentencing.

Doran’s predecessor, Butch Ayers, made improving trust with minority communities a priority. When Doran took over the department in November, he said building better relationships with Gwinnett’s diverse communities was vital.

“We can’t do it without the support of the community,” Doran said last fall. “And I think respecting and understanding that that is fragile, that we have to constantly maintain that trust and that support, those are the things that are not going to change.”

In announcing his retirement, Gwinnett County Administrator Glenn Stephens said Doran returned the department to be essentially fully staffed, something that hasn’t been the case for years.

In his Thursday email, Doran said the department set a standard for others to follow.

“This decision was not easy, but I truly feel it is the right time to pass the torch and begin the next chapter of my life,” he wrote. “I have been very fortunate to be a member of this great agency for nearly 27 years and will cherish every experience and memory.”

Doran started at the Gwinnett County Police Department in 1993 as an officer. A former SWAT commander, Doran made $182,000 in his role as chief.

West, who also started his career in Gwinnett, will become the sixth straight chief to have risen through the ranks. He takes control of the department of 878 sworn officers and nearly 300 support staff. West has a Masters of Public Administration from Columbus State University and oversaw the department’s administrative bureau, which includes professional standards, fiscal management, emergency management, the training academy and other divisions.

J.D. McClure will be promoted to deputy chief. McClure, an assistant chief, has been with the department since 1996. With the promotion, he will be the highest-ranking black officer in the department’s history.