Panel clears department of racial profiling claims

McDONOUGH — An independent panel has cleared the Henry County Police Department of claims of racial profiling lodged by three black men accused in separate incidents over a 2-year period.

The panel released its findings Thursday that showed the department didn’t discriminate in making cases against the three men, said Sgt. Joey Smith. Smith said two were charged with driving under the influence and the third was charged with domestic violence. All three were air marshals.

Chief Keith Nichols said he took the allegations serious enough that he assigned Deputy Chief Stoney Mathis to form an independent panel to investigate.

“I wanted to make sure that our officers were conducting themselves above-board,” said Nichols. “I advised that we would put together a review panel and let them look at these cases.”

The panel’s decision was there was no racial profiling, he said. However, the investigation did result in a change in training.

“I believe training issues from the police standpoint was our main problem,” he said. “We have initiated courtroom testimony training with State Court.”

One of the men charged with DUI pleaded guilty, said Nichols. The second was arrested after a Henry County rookie police officer watched him sit through three cycles of a red light at East Atlanta Road and Fairview Road, he said.

“He blew a .17 on hand held intox at scene,” said Nichols. “He failed roadside field sobriety test.  When taken to the station for an intox test, he failed to blow into the machine and give a sufficient sample so he was charged with DUI refusal.”

Nichols said the man went to jury trial and was acquitted on all charges. Nichols said the man used the “good character” defense.

The third man was accused of domestic violence by a girlfriend. Charges were initially denied by a judge but after the domestic violence unit investigated, the same judge signed a warrant for the man’s arrest, said Nichols.

That case ended when the girlfriend told officials she just wanted to get on with her life and wouldn’t cooperate with the prosecution.

Nichols was skeptical of the claims from the beginning but wanted to be sure his officers were in compliance.

“After my review of the case, I did not see any evidence of racial profiling,” he said. “Both of these air marshals should be familiar with the internal affairs process, if they have a complaint regarding officer conduct.  To this day I have not received a complaint from these air marshals.”