It is my opinion that both of them should have been fired. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t.Steve Collins, Guyton City Council Post 1 member
GUYTON — Forty-eight hours after sitting through a public personnel hearing in the sweltering Leisure Services Room, Steve Collins was still hot.
Collins voiced intense displeasure with his counterparts on the Guyton City Council for overturning Mayor Jeff Lariscy’s recent decision to demote Joseph Coppola, the interim police chief.
Thanks to the Aug. 27 votes of Council Members Joseph Lee, Michael Johnson and Dr. Franklin Goldwire, Coppola was restored to his post as interim police chief. Collins didn’t return to vote after listening to testimony and deliberating with the council.
“The reason I left the building is because I knew what they were fixing to do,” Collins said Thursday after an unrelated public hearing. “I think he should have been fired.”
During questioning by Savannah attorney Elizabeth Pavlis, Lariscy testified that he demoted Coppola after a couple complained that the officer didn’t write an accurate report about a break-in at their Plantation Drive house. The homeowners didn’t testify but audio from Coppola’s body camera revealed that he promised to itemize the damage to their property.
Coppola didn’t do so, however. He also declined Lariscy’s request to see the body camera footage, instead turning it over to the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office. Coppola claimed that it was illegal to show the footage because one of the suspects in the break-in was a juvenile.
Lariscy, who said instances of insubordination figured into his decision, also testified that Coppola’s report failed to mention a small amount of possible drugs being discovered at the scene. In affidavits, the homeowners said a bong was found and that the house smelled of marijuana.
Coppola was heard on the body cam footage, which wasn’t shown to the audience, using illegal drug terms. He referenced “weed” and “a blunt.” There were also two mentions of “roaches.”
In a March 22 police report filed by Officer Trey Hester III and approved by Coppola, “no” was the answer to the question: Did investigation indicate that this incident was drug related?
“It is ludicrous that we let Joey Coppola walk on that,” Collins said. “It is my opinion that both of them should have been fired. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t.”
Coppola’s attorney, William Claiborne, said it would have been unfair to the two suspects in the case — an adult and a minor — to list the potential drug discovery without knowing for sure that the substance was illegal.
Claiborne also said prosecutors could use the body cam footage to assess the damage for restitution purposes and that including it on the report wasn’t necessary.
“Interim Chief Coppola is relieved and gratified by the decision made by the Guyton City Council tonight,” Claiborne said at the end of the hearing. “He looks forward to getting back to work (Aug. 28) and every day going forward representing the best interests of the citizens of Guyton.”
Collins was irked by those remarks.
“What part of the public is better off because Coppola is here? Somebody needs to explain that to me because I don’t understand it,” Collins said Thursday.
Collins agrees with Lariscy that Coppola should have had the substance tested. He also said that neither he nor the mayor were interested in the identity of the juvenile and that their concern about the case was motivated by Coppola’s lack of candor.
Coppola declined to testify, causing Rincon City Manager Raymond Dickey to ask if that was acceptable according to City of Guyton personnel policy. Dickey represented the City of Guyton because Guyton City Attorney Ray Farmer recused himself since he had advised Coppola, a city department head.
Claiborne rested his case after reciting the names of several witnesses he believed should have attended the hearing and didn’t, including homeowners Danielle and Tim Peavy.