Turner out as Clayton police chief

Despite the raucous pleas and chants of citizens, the Clayton County Commission voted Monday night to remove Jeff Turner as county police chief.

Turner, a 22-year veteran of the department and chief for two years, said he would appeal the move to make him director of the Clayton Police Academy with no change in pay.

The board also voted to make the academy a separate department and Turner the department head. That move affects Turner's plans for an appeal because the county might argue he wasn't demoted, said Turner’s lawyer, Keith Martin.

Turner, Clayton’s first black police chief, didn’t have a chance to speak to the commission at the meeting attended by about 200 people, almost all supporters.

“I feel slighted,” he said after the meeting. “They [the commission] made the allegations in public. I think I should get a chance to defend myself in public.”

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The vote was 4-1, with Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell opposing the change in Turner’s job status. Deputy Chief Tim Robinson was named interim chief. Board members retreated at the end of the meeting and were not available for questions.

The commission had compiled a list of a dozen allegations against the way Turner has run the department. Some of the allegations included insubordination, mishandling of sexual harassment complaints against officers, a rash of high-speed chases that resulted in civilian deaths, 138 unaccounted-for firearms and a chaotic evidence room.

Martin submitted a 27-page, point-by-point response to the allegations Monday.

Turner denied being insubordinate to Bell or any other member of the commission. He said the sexual harassment complaints against officers were handled properly, despite reports to the contrary.

He said outside agencies investigated the fatal chases and found no wrongdoing on the part of police. “These allegations lump truly innocent persons into the same category as fleeing felons causing their own deaths,” he said.

Concerning the unaccounted-for firearms and the evidence room, Turner said the problem predated his time as chief. “The genesis of every deficiency … was years, if not decades, in the making,” he said.

The crowd’s mood quickly turned against the County Commission, especially Bell. “Justice for Turner!” they chanted while the board was in a 30-minute executive session. After the board withdrew to meet privately, James Fambrough grabbed a still-live microphone and made a quick speech.

“You know what we need to do?” he said. “We need to go to the polls. They go into executive session because they’re a bunch of cowards.”

Other audience members took the podium to denounce the commission and praise Turner while the board was out of the room. One person spoke against Turner, one for Bell.

Turner said he didn’t think Bell, a former Atlanta police chief, pushed him out.

“It was a personality conflict between me and the board,” he said after the meeting. “It’s not that I was doing anything wrong, but I wasn’t doing things the way they wanted me to.”

Turner said he’ll report to work Tuesday at the police academy. Martin said he was unsure about the next step in the appeals process.

“We don’t know what the civil service implications are or what the legal implications are,” he said.

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