A crowd of nearly 200 people filled the R.E. Lee Auditorium for the Thomaston City Council meeting last Thursday to voice their opinions to the mayor and council on Thomaston Police Officer Phillip Tobin. Of the roughly 25 people who spoke, the majority expressed their desire to see Tobin fired from the force for allegedly causing torment to citizens by using excessive force and brutality by a police officer.
Prior to opening the meeting for public comment, Mayor Hays Arnold stated the council would have no comment on the issue until the GBI has finished their investigation and the internal review has been completed by the Thomaston Police Department. He also noted the council had spoken with the Department of Justice, and they were informed the Community Relations Division would be available to come mediate between all parties once the investigations are complete.
Rhondalynn Traylor of the Thomaston Improvement Association was the first to speak, alleging that the members of the council cannot understand the hurt and humility Officer Tobin has caused over the years because they have not been affected by him. She went on to say that Tobin has harmed and intimidated many citizens throughout the community for many years and it has to be stopped. Traylor alleged that Thomaston Police Chief Dan Greathouse, as well as City Manager Patrick Comiskey and Mayor Arnold, have allowed the torment to go on for too many years by not firing Officer Tobin sooner.
Traylor noted the organization wants to see Officer Tobin not only fired from the Thomaston Police Department and removed from the community, but stripped of his badge entirely.
Many of those who spoke stated they were doing nothing wrong when they had been arrested by Officer Tobin. Paula Dawson told the council she was approached by Tobin at her home. He questioned if she had proof the car she was driving was owned by her; she said it was and would go inside to get paperwork to prove it, but was going to call for another officer to come assist because she felt uncomfortable. She noted Tobin arrested her and would not let her make the call. Dawson told the council she came to them in 2008 and begged for something to be done about the officer, but here it is six years later and nothing has happened.
Another who stated they were wrongfully arrested was Dale Alsobrooks, who claims he was beaten within an inch of his life by the officer one evening when walking home from his fiancé’s house. He told the council he was jumped from behind by Tobin and pepper sprayed before being attacked by several other officers before passing out. Alsobrooks stated when he woke up in the hospital he was told he merely bumped his head in the shower as the reason for his injuries. He continued noting that when he got out of the hospital he was placed on house arrest, until one day 15 officers came out and arrested him again. Alsobrooks did not state what the reason for his arrest at that time was, but noted that even his parole officer asked what it was that Officer Tobin had against him because he had targeted him so many times.
Many told the council they feel Officer Tobin picks certain areas of town, such as Triune Village, and unfairly targets those who live there.
Reverend Coleman Dumas of St. Mary’s A. M. E. Church told the council although he has not been personally affected by Tobin, after hearing the stories of those who have he knows it is time for the community to stand up for justice.
“This is not a race issue, it is a rights issue,” said Dumas. “If you have not broken the law, you should not be treated as if you have.”
Senator Vincent Fort of Atlanta was present at the meeting, noting he first visited Thomaston because he was asked to come; and after hearing from those affected by the officer, he knew he had to keep coming back until something was done. Senator Fort told the council he had asked the GBI to widen their investigation from just Officer Tobin, to include the entire Thomaston Police Department. He noted those who have allowed this to go on for so long will have to answer for their actions and that removing Tobin from the force is just the beginning.
On the flip side of the issue, there is a petition on a website called change.org with over 200 signatures from citizens supporting Officer Tobin and asking for him to remain on the Thomaston Police force. However, of those 200 plus citizens only one spoke out at the city council meeting in support of the officer. Gary Self told the crowd and the council that he has followed Tobin’s career in Thomaston and feels he is a wonderful officer. He also stated he has watched the surveillance video from the incident at the Handy Mart between Kelcey Rockemore and Tobin (which sparked the outcry of those calling for Tobin’s badge), its entirety four different times and he did not see any wrong doing by the officer. Self stated he felt so secure in the officer’s ability to handle things in the correct manner that if he had any problem in the City of Thomaston and had to call 911, he would ask for Officer Tobin by name.
Speaking in support of the Thomaston Police Department and the Thomaston City Council was Charles McMichen, a retired GBI agent. He told the crowd he was a member of the community and he knew they had concerns. However, he noted he is confident in the ability of those doing the investigations.
“I know the police and I know the city (council). I know they will do a good job of coming to a conclusion,” said McMichen, “because they have a responsibility to take care of the safety of the citizens.”
After hearing from concerned citizens for over an hour, the public comment portion of the meeting came to a close. Speaking on behalf of the city council, Mayor Arnold stated they appreciated everyone coming out to voice their opinions and concerns. He noted this is a matter that will not be taken lightly. Arnold then reiterated that the city council would not have any comment until the investigations are completed and stated once they are, the council will more than likely have the Department of Justice come in to mediate discussions between all parties.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1