Less than a week after his ouster as Rincon police chief, Mike Bohannon has fired back at the city.
Bohannon, who was placed on administrative leave last Tuesday and ultimately relieved of his duties last Thursday, said he did not agree with interim city manager Wesley Corbitt’s assertion that an internal affairs investigation should have been conducted into at least one Rincon police officer while a criminal investigation was under way.
"In all my years, an internal affairs investigation has never superseded a criminal investigation," Bohannon said. "It just doesn’t happen."
Bohannon said he got a call from one of his detectives that the Savannah-Chatham Counter Narcotics Team wanted to come to Rincon to conduct an interview with someone they believed was involved in a steroids ring. The Rincon Police Department’s other detective and the Effingham County Sheriff Office’s drug suppression unit were occupied on another case, Bohannon said.
Bohannon said he told his detective to call him back when he knew more. He was told that there was "a mega-amount of steroids coming in from other countries," Bohannon said, and that one or two of his officers may be involved.
The Rincon Police officer who accompanied the CNT agents on the "knock and talk" overheard the name of another Rincon officer, according to Corbitt. Two officers resigned from the Rincon Police Department last Tuesday.
"At that point is where our chief should have taken action to review the officers," Corbitt said. "It had nothing to do with the criminal investigation."
But Bohannon, briefed on the matter by his detectives and Sgt. Philip Scholl, said drugs coming from another country would make it a federal case.
"I said, ‘I don’t want to compromise a criminal investigation,’" Bohannon said.
He also cited the 1996 U.S. Supreme Court Garrity v. New Jersey case, in which an officer’s testimony in an internal affairs investigation could not be used against him in a criminal investigation.
Though one of his officers initially had asked if the department should conduct an internal affairs probe, "all three people agreed at the time, ‘let’s do the criminal investigation first,’" Bohannon said.
Corbitt said he asked Bohannon
five days after the first call from CNT what he was doing about the matter that potentially involved Rincon officers.
"I asked, ‘What are you doing?’ and he acted like I wanted to be apprised of a criminal investigation," Corbitt said. "We have an officer that’s been implicated, and that’s when I placed him on administrative leave. He never conducted an investigation. There was nothing done right, talking to our city attorney and our officers, so I had to step in. It’s not that I wanted to."
Bohannon said conducting an internal affairs review in the middle of a criminal probe could jeopardize the criminal investigation.
"It’s a criminal investigation. So why are we doing an internal affairs investigation in the middle of it?" he said. "Why would you jeopardize a criminal investigation? It sounds like a recipe to booby trap a case. I don’t think it’s anyone intention to do that, but that’s just me thinking like a cop."
In his statement last week outlining why Bohannon was fired, Corbitt cited Bohannon’s temperament, "which included excessive anger and demeaning language when dealing with his staff." But Bohannon said he only exchanged heated words on one occasion, and that came with a city councilman who later sent an e-mail to Bohannon apologizing for his actions.
"That’s a false statement," Bohannon said of the city manager’s assertion on his behavior. "People who know me know this is not true. This is nothing more than a dig on me. They realized they jumped the gun on internal investigation, and it possibly ruined a criminal investigation across several jurisdictions."
The former chief also said he never received anything in writing and was never issued a counseling statement on his behavior.
Bohannon also took exception at the citing of the number of officers who have left the department in his three years as chief. According to Corbitt, 24 officers consisting of 17 positions have left the department in the last three years.
But Bohannon called that charge baseless as well. One officer, he said, left in order to join her family business, making more than $100,000 a year. Another officer left to take a lucrative yet dangerous position as a police consultant in Afghanistan.
In 14 exit interviews or letters of resignation provided to the Herald, two left for personal reasons, four were either fired by then city manager Mike Phillips or resigned in lieu of termination and six others resigned for personal reasons, ranging from other opportunities in law enforcement to joining the family business. One officer resigned because of problems with another officer, who also since has resigned.
Bohannon, hired in February 2009, said the department was about to lose its probation department and it was about to be taken off the Georgia Crime Information Center.
"When I got there, that police department was in shambles," he said. "The pay was some of the lowest around. The state of Georgia was about to shut down their probation department.
"This was a department that was about to close its doors."
Bohannon said the main reason officers leave is for pay and benefits, and he said having take-home cars is a huge benefit, especially with officers called to respond to a homicide scene in Rincon.
He also said the department works well with other agencies, especially with the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office. Bohannon worked with the ECSO for 12 years before entering private business and then becoming Rincon’s chief of police.
"We have worked excellently with the ECSO. One thing I have brought is we work great with other agencies," he said.
Corbitt said the city’s priority is to replace the three officers it is short before trying to fill the chief’s position. Sgt. Scholl is supervising the department in the interim.