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'Unable to ensure safety' among allegations against Newton coroner
Dorothea Bailey-Butts tells TV station county officials setting her up 'to fail'
Swearing in4
Newton County Coroner-Elect Dorothea Bailey-Butts poses with Shirlene Parks and Shamon Hill whom Bailey-Butts said would be deputy coroners after she took the oath of office Thursday, Dec. 17, at the Historic Courthouse in Covington. - photo by Tom Spigolon

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated from a previous version to include new information.

COVINGTON, Ga. — A petition seeking Coroner Dorothea Bailey-Butts’ removal from office states her actions while on the job demonstrate “she cannot reasonably perform her duties and ensure safety of citizens and others.”

County Manager Lloyd Kerr filed a petition Jan. 29 with the Georgia Coroners Training Council to remove Bailey-Butts from office and to seek an emergency injunction to prevent her from continuing in the elected position "effective immediately."

The allegations include refusing to transport a body from a fatal wreck on Georgia Hwy. 212 last month despite its requirement in state law.

She also possibly destroyed evidence and mishandled the body of a suicide victim; and left a deceased hotel patron in plain view of other guests and employees — all within her first 29 days in office, according to the petition.

Kerr’s petition also includes other allegations against Bailey-Butts for actions she took between taking office Jan. 1 and Jan. 29. He said they show that “she is wholly unable to competently serve as the county's coroner."

"She has held office for 29 days and (her) behaviors and lack of professionalism not only reflects negatively on Newton County but for coroners across the state of Georgia," the petition states

The coroner is an elected position in most Georgia counties. It is charged with investigating suspicious deaths and determining whether the state medical examiner needs to conduct an autopsy. 

Bailey-Butts won election to the office Nov. 3 by defeating three-term incumbent Tommy Davis after losing to him for the same office in 2016.

The petition noted that in 2019 the Georgia General Assembly expanded the Council’s duties to allow it to review complaints “and make recommendations concerning the retention, suspension, or removal of a coroner from his or her position.”

State law says the Council can suspend or withdraw a coroner if it determines the holder of that office cannot perform the duties of the office with “reasonable skill and safety to citizens” for a number of reasons including “a physical or mental condition.” 

Among other allegations in the petition:

• Attempted “extortion” of the board of commissioners to give her more money for her budget.

The “extortion” included showing county commissioners during a Jan. 19 public meeting a manila envelope she said contained enough allegedly damaging information “to take Covington down.”

• Bailey-Butts refused a request for a copy of the contents of the envelope despite a warning from the county’s open records clerk it was required under the Georgia Open Records Act.

The refusal “subjects the county to liability” for her “blatant disregard of the law,” Kerr stated.

Bailey-Butts has refused an open records request from The Covington News, saying the contents of the envelope were her “personal property” and not subject to the law.

• She accused Davis of malfeasance because she said she processed 81 reports Davis had not completed before he left office Dec. 31.

“(Davis) refutes this claim and there is no evidence to suggest she did undertake this effort,” the petition states.

• Bailey-Butts independently hired three deputy chief coroners “but has not paid” them after not informing the county of their identities or other pertinent information needed to process them for payment for their services.

“If (Bailey-Butts) seeks to designate these individuals as employees, the county must follow all applicable state and federal laws including E-Verify to ensure the individual is eligible to work in the United States. Failure to do so is illegal.”

It noted that the coroner is not a constitutional officer that state law allows to manage its own office. The county needs to know the individuals’ identities to verify they have the “necessary skill set to serve as deputy coroner.”

“She is a county official and must comply with county policies governing employment,” the complaint states. 

“These three individuals are subject to the county’s recruitment and onboarding policies of new employees or contractors. 

• Bailey-Butts “even seemed mentally unstable” and has made it “abundantly clear” she “has no clear understanding of her role as a coroner.”

“She complains of hidden cameras and items being moved in her office. Such paranoia is very concerning given the importance of the coroner’s role,” the petition states.

Bailey-Butts stated on her Facebook page that she responded to 42 cases in January.

She did not respond to emailed and telephoned requests for comment.

However, she told WSB-TV Monday that the allegations about the hotel worker and suicide victim were not true. 

She said it "was a heated day for me” when she told first-responders at the scene of a fatal wreck Jan. 22 she would not transport bodies — despite also telling the Newton County Board of Commissioners the same thing three days earlier.

The claim of mishandling a body and possible destruction of evidence involved cutting off the clothes of a 13-year-old suicide victim in front of the victim's family.

“I would never ever do anything like that to a 13-year-old,” Bailey-Butts told WSB.

She said a training class, which included policies and procedures, was canceled before she took office because of COVID-19. 

And because she did not know how the office operated and did not get the proper training, she was "set up to fail" by Kerr and County Chairman Marcello Banes, Bailey-Butts said.

She also told WSB she was taking training classes this week.

Training Council member Richard Stanley, who is coroner of Laurens County, told The Covington News the agency likely would gather information in the next two weeks before deciding if any action is needed on Newton County’s petition.