COLUMBIA COUNTY, GA (WFXG) - The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office took to Facebook to address allegations of officer misconduct after a driver accused a deputy of mistreating him during a routine traffic stop.
The man posted on Facebook multiple times on Tuesday, July 30, detailing what he said happened during the stop and how it left him feeling. Among the allegations, he said he was held at gunpoint and followed home after he was released.
Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle said he found out about the post after it had been up for one day. “A concerned citizen who saw the post contacted us, and thank goodness,” he said. He said reading the man’s post was disheartening. “I read that post and my first thought was this can not be true. This is such a blatant abuse story that I can’t imagine it’s true, but you know you have to look,” Whittle said.
The department spent four or five days investigating. Sheriff Whittle said they pulled the dash camera video of the traffic stop, interviewed both the deputy who pulled the man over and the driver and also looked through video at multiple intersections to see if the man was followed home. After all of that, the sheriff said the allegations in the post were deemed untrue, and decided to post a response on Facebook. He said, “We felt it was important in this case, because it was growing legs, so to speak. It was gaining a following of people who were thinking, ‘Oh, this poor man was mistreated by this deputy,’ when in fact it was totally fabricated. It was a complete lie.” He said it was important to include the dash camera footage in that post. “Even though people tell outlandish stories sometimes, there is a portion of the public that will believe those stories if you don’t have some type of definitive proof to show that it’s completely false,” he explained.
This is just one story of someone spreading false information about law enforcement, and Sheriff Whittle said it is not uncommon. He said, “There seems to be more complaints now over the last couple of years than ever before. And when I tell you complaints—unfounded complaints." This is an issue he said is happening everywhere, and it’s negatively impacting law enforcement numbers nationwide. He explained, “It’s not unique here. Law enforcement agencies all across the country are suffering in their personnel and man power, because people don’t want to do this job anymore because of this false narrative that’s being put out there.”
Although he feels there is a nationwide false narrative when it comes to law enforcement officers, he said he is not blind to the fact that there are some officers who do fit that description. He said, “I’m not telling you somebody doesn’t make a mistake, and I’m not telling you that once in a while someone might not be a bad apple. If they are, and if they do something wrong and it’s reported to us, we deal with it.” That’s why Sheriff Whittle said he will always take the time to investigate allegations of misconduct. “It was worth the effort in the end because I think it reassures the public that our Sheriff’s Office is doing what they’re supposed to do,” he said.
The Sheriff said the man responsible for the original Facebook post has apologized to the deputy involved.