Saturday, January 03, 2009

New Sheriff Kem Kimbrough Fires 14 Deputies

New Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough fired 14 deputies on his first day in office —- a move similar to the one that cost the former sheriff $7 million in lawsuits.

The difference: All of the deputies Kimbrough fired were on probation, and many had criminal records.

“These 14 were people with the most egregious things in their files —- criminal records, failure to pass training or they were fired before and rehired with no resolution to the issues they were fired for,” he said Friday.

Kimbrough, who defeated Sheriff Victor Hill in August, promised voters he would restore integrity in the department and rid it of corruption.

“These people don’t deserve to have thugs and criminals carrying badges and guns,” said Kimbrough, an attorney and former deputy. “Everything we did on Day One was prudent, supported, legal and in the best intentions of Clayton County.”

Kimbrough said he also is changing locks in the sheriff’s office and the jail and is scrutinizing inventory after finding missing keys, weapons and other equipment.

Kimbrough said he got approval from the county’s personnel director before taking action. Some vacancies have been filled with deputies Hill fired —- veteran officers who’d been working at the police department.

While the newly fired deputies say Kimbrough is just as bad as Hill, some officers and inmates cheered at midnight Wednesday when the new sheriff took office.

Kimbrough and his new chief deputy, Garland Watkins, whom Hill had fired, started their first day in office at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, swearing in 311 employees. The two then asked a handful of deputies to stay behind and handed out pink slips.

That is just the beginning of a 100-day personnel audit that could lead to more terminations, Kimbrough said.

First up on the possible termination list could be the “30 or 40” deputies who did not show up for the swearing-in. Many of those were on the county payroll but handled Hill’s re-election campaign, worked on his autobiography and did other personal work for the former sheriff, Kimbrough said.

However, two of the dismissed deputies —- Edward M. Hobbs and Miriam Taylor —- said they were fired because of their loyalty to Hill.

“You fired me because I supported Victor Hill. You fired me because I was Victor Hill’s driver,” Hobbs said. “You said you were going to take 120 days to assess the employees. You only waited eight hours and fired me.”

Court records show Hobbs was convicted of simple battery in Fulton County in 2005 and placed on probation. He had an outstanding warrant for violating his probation when he showed up for his first day at the Sheriff’s Department in May 2008.

His co-workers arrested him, and he was sent to jail. However, after Hobbs posted bail, he was allowed by Hill to return to work, Watkins said.

Hobbs, a former Fulton County sheriff’s deputy, said he got into a fight with his ex-wife and was ordered to complete counseling. Hobbs said he completed his sentence and the case was closed.

“I caught a rapist in Morrow and three robbers in Riverdale. I did nothing but my job,” Hobbs said. “He said I was a thug and a reject. That’s defamation of character.”

Taylor, of Atlanta, said she worked as a Clayton corrections officer for about a month —- not long enough to “get in trouble,” she said.

Taylor was fired because she never had a background check and failed the mandated Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training test, Kimbrough said.

Kimbrough said she could reapply for her job and go through a background check.

“You put me out of work and put my family in jeopardy because you want to make a statement,” Taylor said. “That’s not right. This is obviously a political move because of Victor Hill.”

Hill ended his term this week by filing for bankruptcy, alleging he couldn’t afford $1.7 million in legal damages.

That does not include $7 million a judge awarded 27 deputies Hill fired. On his first day as sheriff in 2005, Hill put snipers on the courthouse roof and led the terminated employees out.

“The only difference between him and Victor Hill is no snipers,” Hobbs said. “But he had 20 people with guns on their hips escort us out of the building.”

On Thursday, deputies told inmates they no longer have to follow Hill’s strict rules, including one to face the wall and end phone calls when officers are present.

Deputies punished some inmates for celebrating the regime change on Thursday, said Capt. Deanna Cash, who returned after being fired by Hill.

“I used to think we’re human beings, not dogs. I did four years in the military and never had to turn my back. It was like I wasn’t good enough to look at you [deputies],” said Minika Nichols, who is in jail for a DUI. “I’m just happy to have some changes.”