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Police sergeant loses appeal of termination

By BETH ALSTON
beth.aslton@americustimesrecorder.com
www,americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — An 18-year veteran officer with the Americus Police Department will not be returning to work.
Sgt. Joel Mathis’ employee appeal hearing was held Monday before the Americus Mayor and City Council and City attorney Jimmy Skipper.
The almost three-hour testimony phase before the Council (Council members Walton Grant and Nelson Brown were absent) consisted largely of Maj. Richard McCorkle calling witnesses and then Mathis doing the same. Both sides were also given the opportunity to question the other’s witness and members of the panel could also ask questions.
Interim Police Chief Herman Lamar, in his opening statement, stated that Mathis had been suspended without pay from Aug. 17-Sept. 4 for failure to follow rules and policies, but was given a second chance, which he blew by filing a falsified police report.
That police report stemmed from an incident at the Chevon Mart on East Forsyth Street, that was captured on the store’s security camera. In the video, which was shown during the hearing, Mathis is seen driving his patrol car away from the pumps with the gas nozzle still in the car, resulting in damage. He filed a report that said the damage had occurred on Jones Lane when he struck a limb. Mathis would testify that he had pulled away from the pumps to make a traffic stop.
Mathis, in his opening, read from a statement, saying that McCorkle and Lamar “want to run the department the way they want to run it.”
Mathis said there is favoritism, a “buddy-buddy system” and a “black list” within management of the department.
The basic charges against Mathis stem from a domestic incident on Ashby street which was answered by Mathis and several other officers, none of whom turned on their body cameras when investigating the incident. Mathis was a supervisor on that shift. No report was filed. Other officers were also disciplined in that incident.
The other matter involved a woman stopping Mathis in the Save-a-lot parking lot to say someone had tried to break into her car and she requested finger prints. Mathis failed to write a report but instead left the scene and responded to a hold-up alarm at Mike’s Party Center on Tripp Street. He wrote a report three days later.
A recurring theme was Mathis’ failure to file a report, failure to file reports in a timely manner and falsifying a report.
Testifying for McCorkle were Lt. Tim Green, Detective Trey Norton and Lt. Merrill Lee. Mathis’ witnesses were Officer Michael Cobb, Officer Carolina Pittman, Officer Catrell Johnson, Lt. Terrell Coley and Officer Brittany Williams.
McCorkle also presented audio recordings of calls to the 911 dispatch center.
In his closing, Maj. Lamar said that the disciplinary actions taken against Mathis were taken in consideration of his 18 years of service with the department. He said the management operates with a standard of conduct and not a “buddy-buddy system.”
“There is no such thing as a middle line,” Lamar said. “Liars cannot be held within our midst knowingly. We gave him (Mathis) the benefit of the doubt because of his length of service … Honesty and integrity are the heart of any law enforcement agency. Honesty is defined as not lying or cheating. Integrity is defined as rigid adherence to a code of ethics. … He (Mathis) compromised the integrity of the Americus Police Department by lying … After 18 years, he knew better … We at the Americus Police Department cannot and will not tolerate lying.”
In his closing, Mathis said he accepted the responsibility for the gas  cap incident involving the police car. He said had Herman Lamar contacted him on his personal cell phone and asked that they meet in the Walmart parking lot.
“He (Lamar) told me what to do and write it down (prior to a meeting with management), and told me not to worry about it and that there was no reason to terminate me,” he said.
Mathis said that all the charges against him were “trumped up like  I’m the worst officer in this department. Look at my evals; I must not be that bad. Everything was good until the incident with (the domestic disturbance case). All of a sudden, I’m a terrible officer. One manager tells you you’re fine and the other says you’re going to lose your stripes.”
Mathis continued, “All the dereliction of duty, the gas cap, not wearing the body camera, it’s like I robbed a bank. Then you’re terminated. How do you explain that to your family? Apparently some folks don’t care.”
There was a motion to go into deliberations at 7:18 p.m., after a brief break.
It was much later when Council member Nelson Brown came in on deliberations which lasted about 90 minutes.
When the body came back into open session, Nelson Brown said he wanted to vote, but did not since he had not been present for the testimony portion.
Council member Lou Chase made the motion.
“I move that the City Council uphold the termination of Sgt. Joel Dean Mathis for the 5 violations listed in the ‘Notice of Dismissal’ submitted by Interim Chief Herman Lamar to Sgt. Mathis dated September 25, 2015.  The five violations are: Chapter 5, Section 3(B)(26)-Prompt Performance of Duty/Neglect of Duty; Chapter 5, Section 3(B)(46)-Failure to properly submit reports; Chapter 5, Section 3(B)(61)-Violation of Rules of the Department; Chapter 5, Section 3(B)(80)-Conduct Unbecoming a Police Officer; Chapter 11-3, Section IV(C5)-Mobile Digital Audio/Video Recording Devices General Procedures.”
The motion was seconded by Council member Carla Cook.
Voting for the motion were Chase and Cook. Voting no were Council members Shirley Green Reese and Juanita Wilson. Mayor Barry Blount broke the tie, voting for the motion.