- Bill Rankin The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Banks County Sheriff’s Office has dismissed the deputy who arrested ex-Atlanta Hawk Mike Scott during a traffic stop that was found to be the result of racial profiling.
The former deputy, Brent Register, was terminated after an administrative review of the case involving Scott and his brother, Antonn, Sheriff’s Office Lt. Carissa McFaddin said in a statement issued Monday.
“We addressed an issue that was brought to our attention immediately,” McFaddin said. “In the profession of law enforcement, issues will arise in every agency due to an essence of individuals being imperfect. One officer’s actions does not reflect the agency as a whole.”
Last week, in a remarkable ruling, Superior Court Judge Currie Mingledorff found the July 30, 2015, stop and arrests of the Scotts to be unjustified, and he threw out the evidence seized in the case. This included 1.2 ounces of marijuana and 10.9 grams of ecstasy found in the Scotts’ rental car.
In 2015 and 2016, Register was part of a three-person “crime interdiction unit” that patrolled a 10-mile stretch of I-85. The unit, however, employs no speed detection devices, and the patrol cars have no dash cameras and the officers wear no body cams.
Through Open Records Act requests, the Scotts’ lawyers found that Register had been forced to resign from two previous law enforcement agencies. They also determined that, while working in Banks County, he’d made hundreds of traffic stops along the expressway, yet issued only eight traffic tickets. Of the 47 people Register arrested, 44 were minorities, two were white and one was of unknown race.
In his order, Mingledorff found those numbers “truly shocking.”
Making the case even more extraordinary, District Attorney Brad Smith wrote in a court motion that the numbers made the case that Register’s decision to stop a motorist was “at least partially motivated by race.” In a recent interview, Smith said he agreed with Mingledorff’s ruling.
Mingledorff wrote, “The court does not believe that the Banks County Sheriff’s Office crime interdiction unit enforced the law in a racially neutral manner when interacting with the Scott brothers.”
During a court hearing, Register testified that never stopped motorists based on their race. He said that he decided to stop the Scotts’ SUV because it was following another car too closely. After he activated his lights and siren, Register said, the SUV sped away at a speed of up to 98 miles an hour before Antonn Scott pulled over two miles down the highway. Deputies arrested the two brothers after finding drugs in the SUV.
But evidence submitted by the Scotts’ lawyers strongly contradicted Register’s version of what had happened.
For example, Register claimed the chase began at mile marker 154 and ended at mile marker 156, and dispatch call-in records show this transpired during a 12-second span, the lawyers said in a court motion.
“Traveling two miles in 12 seconds would require a speed of 600 mph,” the motion said. “Mr. Scott was driving a Suburban, not a jet airplane.”
Moreover, records from the towing company showed it picked up the Scotts’ rented Chevy Suburban at mile marker 154, not 156, confirming Antonn Scott’s account, the motion said.
Mingledorff wrote that the evidence and testimony admitted in the case “caused serious damage” to Register’s credibility, and the judge found Antonn Scott’s account of what happened to be credible. Scott testified that he pulled over immediately after Register flashed his lights, and he maintained he was not following another car too closely at the time.
“Because no probable cause existed to justify the arrest of the Scott brothers, the search of the Scott vehicle was not proper,” Mingledorff wrote. “The stop, arrest and search of the Scott brothers and their vehicle (was) a violation of their right to be protected from illegal searches and seizures.”
Billy Healan, one of Mike Scott’s lawyers, questioned why the Banks County Sheriff’s Office hired Register in the first place.
“His career is filled with disciplinary actions, forced resignations and an investigation which led to his being placed on probation by P.O.S.T., the agency that certifies police officers,” Healan said. “This is a step in the right direction, but the Banks County Sheriff’s Department will have no credibility until they put a video camera on every officer and in every vehicle.”