Fired Athens-Clark County officer hired by neighboring department

ATHENS, GA (WTOC) - A Georgia police officer fired for hitting a suspect with his patrol car was hired by a neighboring sheriff's office Monday.

We've shown you the video of an Athens-Clarke County police officer hitting the man in his car. Twenty-four-year-old Taylor Saulters was fired within 24 hours. Now, the Oglethorpe County Sheriff says after he reviewed the body camera video, he felt the officer did not deserve to lose his job and hired him immediately.

In the video, you can see the officer chasing the suspect down before his patrol car strikes him in the middle of the road. The footage then shows a group of angry witnesses claiming the officer mowed down 24-year-old Timmy Patmon. Oglethorpe County Sheriff David Gabriel says the firing was ungrounded.

"I think he was trying to get ahead of him," Sheriff Gabriel said. "I think it was poor execution, not poor ethics."

Gabriel says he reviewed the footage several times. He claims Officer Saulters did not intentionally hit the suspect - rather, the suspect ran into his patrol car.

"He was trying to get ahead of the guy," the sheriff said. "The guy cut over on him. You can see he didn't go across the yellow line. The guy came across the road toward him."

In Officer Saulters' police report - completed shortly after the incident - he wrote, 'Patmon ran into the passenger side wheel of my vehicle. When he made contact with my vehicle, I was hitting my brakes to prevent striking him but could not stop due to my tire being flat.'

A witnessing officer also reported, 'Patmon looked as if he was going to try and cut left and go through housing. When he did this, he collided with Officer Saulters' patrol car as Officer Saulters was slamming on brakes.'

Before the officer struck the suspect, the report says he hit a curb, blowing his tire - a malfunction Sheriff Gabriel says caused the officer to lose control of the car.

"You can see him trying to steer it to the left, but it kind of jerks back to the right. I think part of that is because the tire is actually off the rim. It's not on the rim at all."

The Athens-Clarke County Chief of Police Scott Freeman says he stands by his decision to fire Saulters and says the officer was operating the police car in a dangerous manner from the beginning.

"He is running from police. We have a duty and obligation to pursue individuals, but we also have a duty and obligation to protect everyone," Freeman said.

Chief Freeman also says the officer's blown tire was due to reckless driving and a violation of their policy during an emergency situation.

"The damage that was done to the patrol vehicle was a direct cause of his poor judgment and poor decision making. For him to continue to operate that vehicle is nothing more than a continuation of his poor judgment."

Freeman says he initiated three investigations. First, his internal affairs office determine Officer Saulters violated the police department's policy and procedures. Next, he says Georgia State Patrol determined the officer was at fault for hitting the curb and the suspect. Finally, Freeman says he reached out to the GBI but did not need their decision before he fired Saulters.

"I did not need the Georgia Bureau of Investigation report to be able to make a decision based on everything I was aware of and briefed on and personally observed," Freeman said.

Now, this officer wears an Oglethorpe Sheriff's Office badge - a decision his former department says they respect - and is out of their hands.

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