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Groups Demand Answers on Chief Freeman’s Departure

Three local political groups want answers on why Scott Freeman is no longer chief of the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.

The Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition, the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement and Athens for Everyone—representing the Latinx community, African Americans and progressives, respectively—issued a statement over the weekend demanding “clarity” on Freeman’s departure.

Freeman made a concerted effort to reach out to minority communities and refused to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement during his three-plus years as chief. He resigned under pressure last Thursday, with his boss, ACC Manager Blaine Williams, citing problems with morale and attrition.

According to the groups’ statement:

Athens Clarke County residents unexpectedly discovered that Chief Freeman would no longer serve as the Chief of Police.  The abrupt departure of Chief Freeman as a ‘resignation’ or ‘termination’ made without preamble or any advance indication, under the vague auspices of ‘pursuing other opportunities’  is concerning. We are dismayed by County Manager Blaine Williams’s decision and lack of transparency, both with the public and with the Mayor and Commission he is supposed to serve.

For three years, he has guided the Athens-Clarke County Police Department in a program of community-based and humane protection and defense of the common good. We find it especially symbolic that Chief Freeman was allegedly terminated hours before his scheduled appearance at a public forum to address police relations in the Athens community. Our organizations and the community as a whole deserves and demands an accurate account to the precipitous and dubious exit of our police chief, Scott Freeman.

The fact that Mayor Nancy Denson, under whose administration Williams was hired, was quoted in Online Athens stating Freeman was ‘terminated’ on account of alleged high turnover within the police force during his tenure, obviates Williams’ own, later characterization of Freeman’s leave-taking as having willingly resigned.

This community and its members greets the news of his allegedly willing departure with skepticism. Given the contradictory messages regarding the nature and reasons for Freeman’s vacating of his position, we the undersigned remain deeply underwhelmed by the official explanation for this startling turn of events. And it is for these reasons we submit the following demands:

1. We demand more information — a full and honest reporting on what precipitated Freeman’s firing, who made these decisions, why the community was not brought into the process, and how city officials justify this firing as a net-positive for the ACC community.

2. We demand community input forums, scheduled immediately, to speak into the process regarding who will replace Freeman, and to account for how the community policing and other vital programs Freeman nurtured will be carried through this leadership transition, and how their continuation by Freeman’s successor will be guaranteed.

4. We demand full disclosure of all communications — digital and paper correspondence — related to this abrupt action, made unilaterally and without material demonstration of its benefit to our city and community, nor without input from the Commission by the end of this calendar month.

5. Discussions moving forward should include how to improve local governance. We need to discuss how and why the Mayor and Commission should have the resources necessary to be part of the hiring and firing of key positions such as Chief of Police.

The groups have invited Williams, Denson and commissioners to participate in a town hall meeting Oct. 3 from 6–8 p.m. at the ACC Library.