A former Social Circle Police Department (SCPD) officer is asking for his job back after being terminated following a traffic stop that crossed the line with a local teenager.
“I have been a faithful employee to the city for over five years and have always received positive feedback,” James Sanders wrote in his letter of appeal to Adele Schirmer, Social Circle city manager.
“I love our city and have grown very close to a lot of the residents and feel that I am well respected within the community,” he wrote. “I am asking that you will please take into account all the good things that I have done over the years in our community.
“I regret my well-intended duty related action brought any negative reflection to my department and city.”
Officer initiates intimidating traffic stop
Chief Tyrone Oliver received an anonymous complaint to look into an incident involving the officer at a traffic stop. The complaint stated the officer was “conducting himself very unprofessionally,” Oliver said.
Oliver pulled the dash cam and body cam footage of the Nov. 23 incident and saw what he deemed to be “very unprofessional conduct.” Sanders was placed on administrative leave Monday, Nov. 28 and terminated Thursday, Dec. 1.
The incident started when Sanders was serving as back up on a traffic stop for another officer and a Jeep Wrangler drove by. Someone within the jeep yelled “(Expletive) the police” and Sanders got into his patrol vehicle and followed the Jeep at a high rate of speed.
Sanders pursued the vehicle and the Jeep’s passenger-side tires touched the white line of the roadway. Sanders then initiated a traffic stop for failing to maintain lane.
The driver reportedly told Sanders that the passenger was the one to yell out the window and Sanders had the 17-year-old passenger get out of the car.
“Officer Sanders kind of, I say, squared up on him,” Oliver said.
In the dash cam footage, Sanders can be heard asking the teenager for a fight, Oliver said.
“I’m giving you every opportunity, you want to (expletive) the police, here I am, (expletive) me up then,” he said in the video.
The teen refused multiple times and Sanders then went back to the vehicle and told the other passengers he would be conducting a search on the car.
Sanders called for backup and conducted a short search of the car, Oliver said. This is when Walton 911-Dispatch was first notified that Sanders was on a traffic stop.
Oliver said it is protocol for officers to first call into dispatch the tag number of a vehicle and inform dispatch for the reason and location of every traffic stop. Failure to do so creates a danger for officers and citizens.
No one in the vehicle was issued a citation or warning for the failing to maintain lane violation and nothing illegal was found during Sanders’ search, Oliver said.
Sanders’ past weighs in
Prior to the Nov. 23 incident, Sanders has had a handful of disciplinary issues during his employment with the SCPD. Oliver said the previous issues weighed heavily on his termination decision.
On Oct. 30, 2014, Sanders received a written reprimand for reportedly threatening a local school. In the write-up, Sanders is cited for threatening school staff, threatening to blow up the school, threatening to use a taser on school staff and threatening to mail anthrax to the school.
Other disciplinary write-ups include an oral warning in 2013 for inefficiency when escorting a city court clerk with money and failing to turn in daily activity sheets in January 2016.
Oliver took over the SCPD Chief of Police position in January of this year and said this is the first disciplinary issue he has had with Sanders.
Sanders came to SCPD five years ago immediately after he graduated from the police academy, Oliver said.
SCPD holds officers to higher standard
Oliver said Sanders behavior is not something that will be tolerated.
“We hold our officers to a higher standard,” he said. “I’m not condoning what the teen did, however, we hold ourselves to a higher standard.
“We have to have tough skin and let things like that roll of our back.”
Oliver said he continually tells his officers to always to the right thing, be respectful and honest.
Sanders’ next step
Now that Oliver has taken action, Sanders has the right to appeal it. Sanders’ letter of appeal was received by the city Dec. 5 at 9:50 a.m.
Schirmer has requested a copy of Oliver’s file on Sanders, Oliver said. The decision is now up to her.
In his appeal, Sanders is requesting his discipline to be changed to five days of unpaid suspension. He also volunteered to attend a 20-hour Verbal Defense and Influence training offered at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.