Mayor Kelly Girtz released a statement this afternoon on the settlement with former Athens-Clarke County police officer Taylor Saulters saying that he and commissioners wanted to put the incident behind them and move forward with new law enforcement and diversity initiatives.
“Like we have done with past circumstances involving members of the community and members of our Police Department, we evaluated this situation based on its own unique facts and circumstances,” Girtz said. “We, the Mayor and Commission of Athens-Clarke County, have made this decision in order to avoid prolonging the pain and expense of continued litigation, and further place our energy moving forward into ensuring that safe, dignified lives can be lived throughout our community.”
Specifically, Girtz cited the recent hiring of new Police Chief Cleveland Spruill and the upcoming creation of an Office of Diversity and Inclusion within the ACC government.
“No amount of money and no cash settlement can substitute for the active, ongoing, equitable engagement we will pursue in the months and years ahead, as we continue to build partnerships and trust with the entire community,” Girtz said.
The commission voted Tuesday night to approve a $250,000 settlement with Saulters, who was fired in June after hitting a fleeing suspect with his police car and filed a lawsuit alleging defamation and emotional distress in January against the ACC government, Manager Blaine Williams, former police chief Scott Freeman, former public information officer Epifanio Rodriguez and Lt. Richard Odum, who conducted the internal affairs investigation that found Saulters had used excessive force to apprehend Timmy Patmon.
In the statement, ACC Attorney Bill Berryman said the local government continues to deny all liability. He cited several reasons for the settlement:
• The Georgia State Patrol changed its initial crash report after an investigation by the Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team to find that Saulters was not at fault.
• The Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, which conducted an independent investigation with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, concluded that Saulters had not committed a crime, and that his actions constituted a reasonable use of force.
• The internal affairs report, issued two days after the incident, wasn’t consistent with ACCPD’s typical procedures and timing, and didn’t have the benefit of the later GSP, GBI and PAC investigations.
“With regards to the above facts, the Unified Government agreed to a $250,000 settlement to avoid the additional cost of continued litigation and the potential risk of an adverse outcome,” Berryman said.
The full statement can be read here.
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