To Catch a Cop: Did Metro's effort to clean house of bad cops go too far?

To Catch a Cop: Did Metro's effort to clean house of bad cops go too far?
Published: Jan. 31, 2018 at 9:54 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2018 at 5:29 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - "Men and Women of character!"

That was the single most important attribute former Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Chief Jack Lumpkin claimed he was looking for when he began rebuilding the department in Savannah.

Part of that plan was to purge the force of what turned out to be dozens of employees who had the potential to embarrass the department and the chief.

One such officer, who first appeared on WTOC's radar back in 2016, was Corporal Charles Wilson. He just resigned from the force a few weeks back, days before an internal affairs investigation found grounds to terminate him.

That case and several others have all been the result of internal and public complaints that were finally being taken seriously. Perhaps too seriously.

So, the question now is, what does it really take to catch a cop?

We begin to answer that question on a February night in 2016 on Martha Street in Savannah. That's when Corporal Charles Wilson ordered the tasing of 24-year-old Patrick Mumford.  A police review board called the use of force "within department policy", the official terminology for justified. However, when the actual video of the incident on Savannah's eastside was brought to the chief's attention another review determined Corporal Wilson did not follow policy, by never asking the suspect for identification and never showing the suspect the warrant he was trying to serve. Wilson and at least one other officer were suspended.

Mumford sued and the city settled.

Savannah Alderman John Hall read that settlement to the public a few weeks later.

"The officers did not follow proper procedure. Therefore, the city has agreed to pay Mr. Mumford $100,000 in full payment for all claims against the city."

To be fair, Corporal Wilson appeared to go out of his way to create some understanding of the need for force that night with both Mumford and witnesses at the scene.

"I legitimately and genuinely am sorry this ended up the way it did," Wilson told Mumford minutes after the tasing incident. "I don't like putting people in jail that don't need to be in jail."

But the damage was done. And when it came to former Chief Lumpkin, perhaps more damage than even Wilson realized at the time.

"I think in his mind, it tarnished the image of the department," Wilson told of the Mumford tasing. "And I don't think it ever rubbed off."

Wilson believes the Mumford case was a prime example of how Facebook's influence on public opinion now has a great influence on internal affairs outcomes.

"It was signed off on as a good use of force," Wilson said of the initial review of the tasing. "I mean completely. Everything within policy. I mean reviewed by five different steps or five different ranks. And when it hit social media it hadn't been completely signed off by Lumpkin yet, it hit social media, all of the sudden it gets flipped around and sent back down the chain and said no, reinvestigate this."

Since Lumpkin's arrival in late 2014, a more aggressive approach to misconduct in the department became a signature of his management style. Jack Lumpkin was on a mission to improve police-citizen relationships and from the start made it clear he was more willing than past administrations to use the pink slip to get there.

He addressed that issue during our last interview with him before he left the department for his new role in DeKalb County, Georgia.

"We're not going to be harsh in our management towards our internal people. But we're not going to stand for things that mother's not proud of either or that you're going to run at the 6 o'clock headline saying how bad we were," Lumpkin said.

The final straw for Corporal Wilson did not make any 6 o'clock headlines, until now. One night in May of last year, Wilson and two other officers responded to a shoplifting call on the Southside. According to the complaint by one of the suspects involved in that stop, Corporal Wilson harassed a young woman and used the threat of arrest to gain a sexual favor.

Internal affairs reviewed every clip of body camera footage. Assistant Chief Robert Gavin told WTOC he was convinced Wilson was lying when he denied visiting the same women again and again. The lynchpin was Wilson's own cruiser. It's GPS tracking system put him at her location on several occasions.

What follows is a partial transcript of the internal affairs officer questioning Wilson.

Investigators: "This event happened on the (May)18th. On the 19th it shows you on Weiner that you spend about one minute on Weiner Drive. Just like going through the area real quick. Then on the 20th, it shows that you went to Weiner. It shows that you stopped on Weiner at Weiner Drive and that you were there for 11 minutes on the 20th parked at the location. Do you remember what you may have been doing there then?"

Wilson: "I don't".

The assistant chief also said Wilson broke policy by turning off his body camera when making contact with the woman. Wilson claims he was only grooming her as an informant, and getting her the help she needed.

He told Internal Affairs investigators, "This chick to me, she looked like someone I could save, you know. Pull out. Get out of the lifestyle."

The woman who initially brought the complaint, a friend of the alleged victim, was sticking to her story.

"He did us a favor and now my friend had to do a favor for him, I knew then something really wasn't right. And I was scared."

She also says she's surprised the case was even taken seriously, assuming it would be ignored.

"I am surprised honestly. I thought it would just be brushed off and the department would cover for each other and nothing would get done about it. So, I'm very happy he's not on our streets and not able to hurt no one."

Internal Affairs now had a variety of examples of behavior it found troubling. And when Wilson called out sick for two separate polygraph appointments ordered by the chief, the writing for Metro was on the wall.

But Wilson says those polygraphs were unscheduled. He had no idea they had been ordered. The IA report makes it very clear that Wilson received those orders and skipped out on them, using a doctor's note to justify his absence.

"It says that I refused to take it," Wilson argues. "But further up, I mean it's completely contradictory, further up it says, he was not informed of these because I was out sick. He was not informed of this polygraph, these appointments."

Wilson goes on to say that no one ever told him about the tests. "No, No. At any point no."

Wilson remains convinced he was being targeted. He points out that the woman who claimed he traded a favor for sex is no stranger to law enforcement.

In fact, the day after Christmas she was sitting in jail, charged with making false statements, using a fraudulent drivers license, and lying to police about who she was. Previous charges include shoplifting, computer theft, and forgery.

"There was no conclusive evidence that I was involved in this act at all," he insists. "It essentially came down to my word versus their word, her word."

Metro Internal Affairs trusted her word and their facts.

But before Internal Affairs could send down the recommendation to terminate Wilson, the Corporal, a former Chatham County Police officer, resigned having submitted his application to return to CCPD. He was quickly hired.

But, when asked on the application if he's ever been the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation, Wilson only mentions the Patrick Mumford case, never revealing his current troubles with Metro.

It doesn't take long for the word to get out.

Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley said, "I immediately put him on administrative leave pending the outcome."

That meant Wilson missed the swearing in, was never issued equipment and was not allowed to train.

"Once we saw the results of the investigation," Chief Hadley said, "I determined there was cause to terminate him."

Wilson sees that "cause" as the tasing of a young black man two years ago, and the tarnish on a badge he could not get off his chest.

The assistant chief said investigations into accusations like those against Wilson do not need to rise to the level of a criminal case, meaning to show proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The department's responsibility in protecting the community is to be able to prove the offense with 51 percent likelihood.

That, he says, they did.

As for Charles Wilson, he has hired an attorney and is now combing through the same documents, video and audio files we spent the last month focused on. He tells me he plans to sue the city and the police department for wrongful termination.

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