For the third Thomaston City Council meeting in a row, residents protesting against Officer Phillip Tobin and the June incident where he tasered Kelcey Roquemore, packed the meeting, held this time in the Archives Building’s basement meeting room. At the August 19 meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Doug Head presided, as Mayor Hays Arnold was recovering from eye surgery.
Unlike previous meetings, where numerous people spoke out against Tobin, only three people spoke this time – Rhonda Lynn Traylor, President of the Thomaston Improvement Association (TIA), Wesley Gilbert of the Concerned Citizens Coalition, and Atlanta activist Michael Lunsford of the United Youth Adult Conference.
Prior to the public comment portion of the meeting, attorney Karen Woodward, who assists City Attorney Joel Bentley in legal matters, read a press release from the city, stating that Thomaston Police Chief Dan Greathouse had checked on the status of the GBI investigation and been told it is still “open and actively under investigation.” She added that Chief Greathouse has also asked Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Scott Ballard to review all complaints against Tobin to determine any criminal wrongdoing. Finally, Woodward said Roquemore had given the city notice of a potential lawsuit for more than $1 million against Tobin, the police department and the city for alleged pain and suffering. Woodward said due to that notice and the open investigations, city officials had been advised not to make any comments concerning Tobin or the investigations. She closed by saying once all the investigations are completed and closed, they will be made public.
Traylor told the council she had several points she wanted to make concerning Tobin’s history with the police department outside of the Roquemore incident. The first one dealt with Tobin’s POST (Police Officers Standards and Training) certifications in the use of tasers and radar. Traylor alleged that paperwork she had obtained showed that Tobin was last certified on August 23, 2009, and that taser certification is supposed to be renewed each year. Traylor claimed that Tobin has not be re-certified in the use of a taser since then, a period of five years. She also claimed that Tobin was never certified to use a radar unit to track the speed of vehicles, but stopped several vehicles after using radar.
Her second point was Tobin’s alleged lack of respect for the police department and for orders he was given. She claimed a letter from former Captain Richard McDaniel (now retired) to Chief Greathouse outlined that Tobin was untruthful about the radar incident and listed complaints from other officers about Tobin. She said the letter recommended that Tobin be suspended, but said Greathouse did not suspend Tobin.
Her third point what that between September 2007 and February 2008, Tobin wrote 467 tickets. White males were ticketed 77 times, and black males 278 times. White females were ticketed 24 times and black females 58. She said average time per traffic stop for other officers was 10-15 minutes, while for Tobin it was 30 minutes. She said that should have made someone look at Tobin’s motives for issuing tickets.
Her fourth point was another McDaniel letter in which the former Captain told Greathouse that if they didn’t do something about Tobin, they could be guilty of negligent supervision if they did not at least transfer him to another shift.
Her final point was that when Tobin was placed on administrative leave following the Roquemore incident, he was told to leave his badge and gun on the desk. She alleged Tobin took his badge and gun home with him to Columbus, and refused to return them, forcing Chief Greathouse to go to Columbus to get the badge and gun. She charged that Greathouse put a lot of people at risk by not confiscating Tobin’s gun and badge before he left.
Traylor planned on showing a video to the council and audience, but problems with the DVD player in the meeting room prevented that. Instead, using a laptop computer, she showed the video to the council members and other city officials, including Police Chief Greathouse. The video from a surveillance camera shows a confrontation between Tobin and Elron Holt from 2012 in which Tobin grabbed Holt and put handcuffs on him. Tobin was in plain clothes with no identification on him. Tobin attempted to put Holt in Tobin’s personal vehicle, and Holt refused. The two wrestled and Holt was thrown to the ground. Another police officer came up and Holt was put in the back of the police car. When a police supervisor showed up, Holt was released, and was never charged.
Attorney Woodward noted that Holt filed a complaint against Tobin earlier that day, and Chief Greathosue referred it to the GBI for investigation.
Langford compared Thomaston to Ferguson, Missouri, saying the only difference is that no one has been killed in Thomaston. He said before anyone gets killed, the council has the chance to do the right thing by firing Tobin.
Gilbert reiterated what Traylor had said previously about Tobin’s lack of respect for citizens and his fellow officers, and the danger the department had put citizens in by not confiscating Tobin’s gun and badge when he was placed on administrative leave.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.