Confrontation with officer led to resignation of Georgia’s child welfare director

When the filming of a television series at a state office building last week impeded the director of the state Division of Family and Children Services from parking, he flew into an “anger attack” during which he is accused of referring to an off-duty police officer of color working security as “son” and “boy.”

DFCS Director Tom Rawlings says the governor’s office asked him to resign the next day.

“I’m very remorseful for what happened. I didn’t do it with any particular bias against anyone,” Rawlings told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I was just angry and ranting. It’s something I need to address as one of my personal flaws.”

The director of Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services, Tom Rawlings, said caseworkers in his agency, despite the coronavirus, are still going into the field in response to calls alleging abuse or neglect of a child. “We all need to think about how do you balance that need to keep children safe while promoting as much social distance as possible?” he said. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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The AJC reviewed surveillance video of the incident, audio recordings, emails and text messages obtained under the Georgia Open Records Act.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced last Friday that Rawlings would be replaced by Candice Broce as interim director.

Broce is a former communications director and deputy executive counsel for Kemp, and she most recently served as the governor’s chief operating officer. She was previously Kemp’s chief spokeswoman when he was secretary of state, and has no experience in the administration of child welfare programs. She also was among those who investigated the complaint.

In addition to child welfare, DFCS oversees programs such as elder abuse prevention, welfare assistance and food stamps.

According to the video and statements from Rawlings, the off-duty police officer involved and a Georgia Building Authority security guard, Rawlings arrived at the parking garage on Lower Wall Street at about 7:20 a.m. on July 15. He drove around a car and into the garage.

After parking, surveillance video shows him having a heated conversation with the police officer, security guard and members of the film crew, on site filming an HBO Max series titled “DMZ.”

In a complaint to state officials, the officer said Rawlings nearly hit a member of the film crew when the former DFCS director drove around the officer’s car to get into the garage, then came back and berated members of the film crew.

The officer, who said he works for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department and was providing private security for the production company, told state officials he tried to de-escalate the confrontation.

“The thing that really bothered me is that he said that he was going to get (the Georgia Bureau of Investigation) to get me removed from here and (was) calling me ‘son,’ ‘boy’ and stuff like that,” the officer, whose name was not included in the report, said. “To be honest with you, me, being a person of color, it’s very, highly offensive. Highly offensive.”

A GBA security guard told state officials that while the film crew was in the wrong, Rawlings prolonged the confrontation.

“But nobody got shot or cursed — there was no cursing, no pushing, no spitting,” she said, adding that she told a colleague, “maybe it can die down, because nobody got hurt.”

Rawlings said his “rant” had nothing to do with race.

“I want to apologize to anybody that I might have offended,” he said. “I also know that when anyone loses his temper and rants, (others are) going to take it the way they feel. What I did was out of a sense of anxiety and stress and was not directed at any individual.”

Last Friday, Rawlings submitted his letter of resignation to Kemp, citing “personal and family reasons.”

Rawlings was appointed to the job on an interim basis by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in July 2018 and tapped as the permanent leader by Kemp in February 2019. He previously served as the director of the Office of Child Advocate under Deal.

According to his DFCS personnel file, Rawlings had one other complaint filed against him during his time as director. In March 2020, Rawlings was accused of creating a “hostile work environment” when he was said to have become aggressive and screamed at DFCS staff members during a discussion about a child.

Rawlings, who said he was just recently made aware of that complaint, said he was dealing with a disturbing case that he didn’t think staff had investigated properly and “lost it a little.”

“I can personally deal with my bad actions,” he said. “What I’m also really hurt about is that I let all these other folks down.”