On June 11, 2014, Thomaston Police Investigator Phillip Tobin tasered drug suspect Kelcey Rockemore in the parking lot of a local convenience store. The incident unleashed a firestorm of complaints of abuse by Tobin and inaction by the police department in investigating the complaints. It also led to separate investigations by the Thomaston Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI). The results of those investigations were turned over to Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Scott Ballard’s office in November.
Seven months later, and 12 months and a day after the tasing incident took place, city officials and residents alike are still waiting for answers. All they can get out of D. A. Ballard is that his office is investigating more than 70 complaints against Tobin, and will make a decision on what to do once those investigations are complete. Meanwhile, Phillip Tobin sits at home in Columbus on paid administrative leave, wondering if he will be facing charges or have a job when the District Attorney makes his decision.
Following is a timeline of events in the Tobin case for the past 12 months:
June 11, 2014
Thomaston Police Investigator Phillip Tobin responded to a call from the store manager at the Handy Mart Grocery at 204 East Walker Street. The manager alleged that Kelcey Rockemore was attempting to sell narcotics to other inside the store and had made threats to the management. Tobin took Rockemore outside to the parking lot and attempted to pat Rockemore down, but Rockemore allegedly pulled away. During this time, a taser was used on Rockemore by Tobin and Rockemore was placed under arrest. But after an surveillance video of the store parking lot surfaced showing what appeared to be Rockemore with his arms in the air as if he is surrendering, backing away from Tobin, and the officer using the taser on him anyway, community activists demanded answers.
June 18, 2014
Following an investigative report by a Macon television station, on June 18, then-Chief Dan Greathouse requested the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) take over the Tobin investigation, and placed Tobin on paid administrative leave.
That night, in response to the incident, several community activists organized a rally at St. Mary’s A.M.E. Church at which an estimated 300 people attended. Numerous citizens announced that they, too, had been harassed by Tobin. A petition was passed around calling for the firing of Officer Tobin.
June 25, 2014
When a check of police files found that more than 70 complaints had been filed against Officer Tobin, Chief Greathouse announced that the police department would be doing an internal investigation of the other complaints against Tobin.
June 30, 2014
People began taking sides in the issue of whether Tobin should punished and/or terminated from his position. A newly-formed organization called the Thomaston Improvement Association (TIA) came to the defense of Rockemore, circulating a petition calling for the termination of Tobin. On the other hand, an online petition on www.change.org started collecting signatures of those in the community who support Officer Tobin. As of June 30, 138 people had signed the online petition, with many of them leaving comments of support for Tobin.
July 1, 2014
Several hundred people gathered in front of the Thomaston-Upson County Government Complex to protest against Tobin and to support calls for his termination from the department. The crowd was bolstered by community activists from Atlanta , including State Senator Vincent Fort, Michael Lunsford, and Derrick Boazman, and the event was covered by several Atlanta TV stations.
Ju ly 8, 2014
Another rally of those seeking to have Tobin terminated from his position was held at St. Mary’s Church. Civil rights activists and attorneys from Atlanta were present at the meeting. Each person with a complaint against Officer Tobin was given two minutes to voice their complaints to the civil rights activists and attorneys.
July 17, 2014
A crowd of nearly 200 people filled the R.E. Lee Auditorium for the Thomaston City Council meeting to voice their opinions to the mayor and council on Thomaston Police Officer Phillip Tobin. Mayor Hays Arnold read a statement at the start of the meeting that stated that the city council cannot answer questions or comment on the incidents until the investigations by the GBI and city police have been completed and the results given to them.
August 5, 2014
For the second consecutive meeting, the Thomaston City Council listened to members of the community concerned about the actions of Tobin. Mayor Arnold did note that he had read in the newspaper a suggestion that a citizens’ ethics committee be formed for review of police actions. “I have spoken with the Chief and with the City Manager. I have no problem with that,” the mayor said. “I would like to address this matter with the city council and our attorney about what it would take to comprise this committee. I liked the idea and have no problem with it, and I don’t believe the council members will have a problem with it, either. An ethics committee to help oversee alleged misconduct on the part of the police department.”
August 19, 2014
For the third Thomaston City Council meeting in a row, residents protesting against Tobin packed the meeting, held this time in the Archives Building’s basement meeting room. At the meeting, Rhonda Lynn Traylor of TIA showed council members a surveillance video of another man who was tasered by Tobin in a separate incident, and later found to be innocent.
October 23, 2014
The Thomaston Times contacted GBI Director of Public Affairs Sherry Lang via email in regards as to when the GBI investigation into Tobin might be completed. Lang replied via email: “The Tobin case has been turned over to the D.A. Any questions from this point forward should be directed to them.” The Times then contacted Griffin Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Ben Coker, who works out of the Upson County office of the D.A. Coker said District Attorney Scott Ballard is handling the investigation.
“The GBI was asked to investigate two incidents with Investigator Tobin, and they have released those findings to us,” Coker said. “However, we’re not at liberty to release them yet, because we had the police department turn over all 70-plus complaints against Investigator Tobin, and Scott (Ballard) and the Fayette office are actually going through those complaints right now, and reviewing those complaints to see if any of them have merit and require any further investigation. “ Coker added that he thought everything should be completed around mid-November.
November 23, 2014
Three of the main complainants against Thomaston Police Officer Phillip Tobin were arrested over the weekend had additional charges lodged against them after the Grand Jury of Upson County true billed cases against them. Kelcey Rockemore, Betty Snipes and her daughter, Tammy Dawson, were already facing charges of obstructing an officer. Rockemore now faces two additional charges of giving false statements, while Dawson and Snipes were each charged with one charge of giving a false statement. All are accused of answering question falsely during interviews with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Giving a false statement is a felony charge.
In regards to the Tobin investigation, Assistant District Attorney Ben Coker said in October he thought the D.A. might complete his investigation in mid-November. But since then, several more new complaints have been filed against Tobin, and Coker said it is taking more time to investigate the new complaints and he now believes the investigation will not be completed until sometime after the first of the year.
March 10, 2015
Thomaston Mayor Hays Arnold and City Manager Patrick Comiskey launched a study of the possibility of having a Citizens Police Review Board. They are expected to provide the Thomaston City Council with a summary of their findings within the next 90 days.
April 6, 2015
Thomaston Police Chief Dan Greathouse resigned to accept a job as a Law Enforcement Coordinator, with the Regional Organized Crime Information Center (ROCIC), a Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) Center. His last day as Chief of Police was April 25, 2015. When asked if he will be available to answer questions once the District Attorney’s investigation is completed, he stated he would.
June 11, 2015
One year anniversary of the tasing incident.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7