Officers did not follow policy on warrants, probe finds

DeKalb officials said Tuesday night the three command staff members failed to comply with police policies when they discovered Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton had outstanding warrants for bad checks and released her.

“The policy is they should have contacted Gwinnett,” said Shelia Edwards, a spokeswoman for the county CEO. “Essentially they should have not let her go. They should have called to Gwinnett to verify the warrant is valid.”

Under department policy, Assistant Chief F. J. Kliesrath, Capt. T. S. Dedrick and Lt. C. T. Whittington received written counseling for violating department policy, since it was their first offense, Edwards said.

“The investigation also revealed the need for additional supervisor training throughout the police department and a policy update concerning the proper handling of warrant verifications,” Public Safety Director William “Wiz” Miller said in a statement. “The training and policy update have been already begun within the department.”

A patrol officer discovered the warrants last week when he responded to a minor traffic where Sutton struck a parked car on LaVista Road, Miller said. The officer notified his sergeant, who notified Whittington, Dedrick and Kliesrath. Neither the police chief nor the CEO were notified, Edwards told the AJC.

Whittington decided not to notify Gwinnett and told the patrol officer to release the commissioner. His decision was based on the facts that the warrants were old, for a nonviolent offense, Sutton was not a flight risk and she “is an elected official in DeKalb County and Lt. Whittington did not want to bring any embarrassment or discredit to her,” according to Miller.

The warrants, which stemmed from bad checks passed at a Costco in 2007, have since been recalled.

Despite the internal investigation, DeKalb residents are calling for an independent investigation by the district attorney or another body.

“You as the commissioners need to do the right thing. What has happened should not have happened,” DeKalb resident Betty Maddox told the commission. “I’m disgusted. I’m angry. I’m upset. ... If it was me, they would have handcuffed me and hauled me off to jail.”

Maddox and several other residents said they would like to see the district attorney launch an investigation.

District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming told the AJC she is not conducting an investigation. "We were told the police department is looking into it," she said. "There's nothing for us to do."

“This is something that should not be tolerated in our county. What is happening is partiality being shown,” said Maddox, who previously worked in the warrants division. “If you are a public servant, you should act as a public servant.”

John Evans, a former DeKalb commissioner and president of activist group Operation LEAD, said commissioners routinely tuck their county business cards next to their driver's license when they show it to police.

“I believe the police gave the preferential treatment rather than the commissioner,” he said. “What we hope to come up with is some equity.”

Evans said he wants the district attorney and other commissioners to look into the county’s written procedures for how police handle wanted persons.

The AJC requested this policy on Friday, but has not received it.

Sutton, who represents District 4, chairs the commission’s public safety committee, which oversees the police budget. She also serves on the budget committee

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