Man accused of playground attack blames politics

A man accused of roughing up a 4-year-old girl on a playground swing never touched the child, according to his attorney.

But the issue against Paul Oakes is being pressed criminally, now through a state investigation, because his wife, Cheryl, is an Alpharetta city councilwoman who is up for re-election in two weeks, attorney Lee Whiteside said.

What started as a spat over whose turn it was on a swing at Wills Park has steadily intensified, becoming both campaign munition and the subject of a GBI probe. The Alpharetta Department of Public Safety, looking to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, turned its case over to the state Tuesday, according to Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard.

Meanwhile, the Oakeses have hired their own investigator, T.J. Ward, to look into the child’s mother’s accusations that Oakes screamed at the girl and flung her off a swing, the mother’s allegations that Alpharetta police officers gave Oakes special treatment, and whether the mother has been coaxed into pursuing the issue by Cheryl Oakes’ political opponents, Whiteside said.

He mentioned her Post 4 challenger Jim Gilvin as possibly being involved, as well as former Councilwoman Debbie Gibson, whom Oakes defeated in 2007.

Gilvin and Gibson, as well as the child’s mother, Christole Abdelmaseh, called the claim ridiculous.

"I'm as stunned as anybody about the allegations," Gilvin said. "I had nothing to do with this, and any implication that I have is false. Period."

Abdelmaseh said she doesn't know anyone in Alpharetta politics. She's the stay-at-home mother of three children living in Roswell, the wife of a car salesman. She said she wants Oakes held accountable and could care less about his wife's campaign.

"It's not my fault that this is the man's timing," she said. "How can I set a man up to slam my child to the ground?"

Ward is welcome to go through her phone and computer records, Abdelmaseh added. Ward is known for investigating the Natalee Holloway disappearance, and he was hired by Bishop Eddie Long last year to look into the young men making claims against him.

"We're going to get to the bottom of this," Whiteside said. "They're trying to destroy these people over absolutely nothing."

The mother has alleged that Oakes, furious because he wanted his granddaughter to have a turn, hurled her daughter, Hadassah, out of a swing on Oct. 15, causing her to land on her back and head. The child wasn't injured, just traumatized, her mother said.

The mother also lodged an internal affairs complaint. She says the two responding officers, Matt Burger and Chris Massey, chatted and chuckled with Oakes, telling her there was nothing they could do and failing to look for witnesses at the crowded park.

Both Oakes and his wife are board members of the Alpharetta Public Safety Foundation, which raises funds for the city's Police and Fire departments. Cheryl Oakes is also the City Council's public safety liaison.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have learned that the officers not only didn’t file a formal incident report, but when Burger entered notes about the matter into his computer, he referred to Oakes not by name but as "the man in the yellow shirt."

University of West Georgia criminology professor David Jenks said the officers may have been justified in not filing a formal report, since the child had no signs of injuries. But if they knew Oakes and left his identity out of the record, that's problematic, the professor said.

Drinkard said he could not address whether officers typically identify people accused of attacks in computer notes.

The dispatch report also says Oakes told police he only picked the girl up out of the swing, set her down and told her to wait in line. Whiteside said his client never told the officers that.

The girl was acting up, jumping on to a swing his granddaughter was using, the attorney said. He told her it wasn't her turn, and the child got off the swing. Then, when she wanted back on, he held it up over his head, and she collapsed in a tantrum.

Abdelmaseh said she saw Oakes trying to shake Hadassah off the swing, then slamming the swing down, so the child fell.

"Now he's calling the police officers liars," she said of Oakes' assertion that he never said he touched the child, "so you see whose story is changing."