The complaints of a racially hostile work environment were investigated by John R. Lowery of the firm Mozley, Finlayson & Loggins, LLP. His 30-plus page report contained information about his investigation of complaints by both Battalion Chief Jamie Clark and firefighter Gairy Ferguson regarding a racially hostile work environment.
In the report, Lowery said, “In summary, it is my firm opinion, based upon a review of all written materials and interviews with numerous firefighter personnel, that there is clearly insufficient evidence to support a claim of a racially hostile work environment in the Spalding County Fire Department … the overwhelming consensus among those officers and firefighters interviewed was that the fire department is operated without regard to race and that race is not a contributing factor in the operation of the department.”
The investigation into allegations of misconduct by unidentified employees of the Fire Department was conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at the request of the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office. In the GBI report, it says that the Sheriff’s Office called in the GBI due to allegations that a “fair” investigation could not be conducted by the local agency.
Special Agent In Charge Wayne Smith said, “The preliminary investigation revealed that no reasonable basis exists to support the assertion that past or present employees of the Spalding County Fire Department have committed criminal acts involving drug offenses or theft. The facts are currently insufficient to establish a reasonable basis for a criminal investigation. The Preliminary Review is closed effective December 21, 2012.”
In the case summary, Smith said the allegations were from assertions by now-former Spalding County Board of Commissioners member Bob Gilreath that he had received credible information from two former employees. Smith wrote in the summary that Gilreath “concedes that the allegations were based solely on an answer of ‘yes’ when he asked the former employees if criminal drug activity had taken place at the fire department.”
According to Smith’s summary, Gilreath “advises he has no record of these meetings, and no information on which to assess the credibility of the former employees.”
Gilreath, Smith wrote, “would not identify or facilitate contact between the former employees and investigators tasked with completing this preliminary review.” According to the report, Gilreath said he would try to contact the former employees but did not have a phone number for one and received no answer at the number for the second.
Smith wrote in the summary, “No interviews could be performed to verify the former employees exist, that they met with Commissioner Gilreath or that they made the criminal allegations as indicated. Similar allegations received by other county commissioners, public officials or city or county law enforcement officials could not be found.”
Spalding County Board of Commissioners Chairman Gwen Flowers-Taylor said, “We are extremely happy to have our Fire Department cleared of the accusations and allegations of misconduct and glad to have these investigations behind us. We have a top-notch department and are putting these matters behind us and moving forward.”
Flowers-Taylor reportedly told investigators that the commissioners requested the investigation “in the abundance of caution in an attempt to satisfy” Gilreath and noted that he “had not provided the commissioners with any information or evidence to substantiate the allegations.”
The county commissioners requested the investigation of drugs and theft on Oct. 30, 2012, and the Sheriff’s Office requested GBI assistance Nov. 1, 2012. GBI investigators conducted interviews with Gilreath, Flowers-Taylor, County Manager William Wilson Jr., Fire Chief Kenny West and others Nov. 6-8, 2012. Smith reviewed the materials and issued his summary Dec. 21, 2012.
In his interview, West recalled a former employee had been terminated two years back after being arrested for selling drugs in Lamar County, but to his knowledge this was only employee that had been arrested for any type of drug use.
A current employee claimed that a former employee had been selling oxycodone about two years ago. Capt. Tony Ranieri of the Sheriff’s Office recalled that a Fire Department employee had been terminated about two years ago but said that person had been on medical leave prior to termination for not being able to obtain certification.
The current employee was referred to investigators by Gilreath and like Gilreath also alleged unsafe training practices. The investigator advised Gilreath that the investigation was only about the allegations of selling drugs and stolen property.
Human Resources Director Bill Gay, Wilson, West and Lowery met with all personnel of the Fire Department over the last few weeks and reviewed the findings of each report with those present and held question-and-answer sessions regarding not only the reports but a variety of county-related issues.
Additional training will be provided to not only the Fire Department, but other departments as well, regarding communication, policies and procedures and transparency, along with internal and external customer service.
West echoed Flowers-Taylor’s comments and thanked the Board of Commissioners for its support of the Fire Department and for requesting these investigations, reviewing the results with his entire department and continuing to support him as chief.