The Athens-Clarke County Commission voted Tuesday night to approve a settlement in a lawsuit filed by former police officer Taylor Saulters, who was fired last year after hitting a fleeing suspect with his cruiser.
The vote was added to the commission's agenda at the last minute because, as ACC Attorney Bill Berryman told commissioners, Saulters agreed to it on Monday. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed, nor had documents related to the settlement been posted online as of this writing, and several commissioners told Flagpole that they weren't sure if they were at liberty to discuss it. Commissioner Jerry NeSmith, presiding over the meeting in place of Mayor Kelly Girtz, who is sick, said Girtz would release a statement in "the next couple of days."
UPDATE: The settlement is for $250,000, according to a copy Commissioner Allison Wright gave to Flagpole. The agreement prevents Saulters from commenting on the settlement, but specifically says that state sunshine laws prevent ACC from being bound by a confidentiality agreement.
"As challenging as this situation is, the rollout of it did not meet the expectations of the majority of us," Wright said. "I regret that."
The vote was 5–2, with commissioners Tim Denson and Patrick Davenport voting against the settlement. Commissioner Mariah Parker abstained, Commissioner Andy Herod was absent, and NeSmith did not vote because he was acting as mayor pro tem.
Saulters' patrol car hit fleeing suspect Timmy Patmon in East Athens on June 1. An internal investigation found that Saulters had acted against department policy by attempting to apprehend Patmon—who was wanted on a probation violation stemming from a minor drug offense—with his police car, because Patmon's crime did not warrant that level of response. Saulters was later cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the state Prosecuting Attorneys' Council, which stepped in when local District Attorney Ken Mauldin recused himself because Saulters' mother worked in his office, and ruled that he "acted reasonably."
Then-police chief Scott Freeman quickly fired Saulters. The swift firing, while lauded by many in the community, led to backlash among ACCPD officers and contributed to Freeman's forced resignation in September because of what ACC Manager Blaine Williams cited as low morale and high attrition within the department.
In January, Saulters filed a lawsuit alleging slander and emotional distress as a result of his firing.