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Strickland pondering next move after appeal setback
Michael Clark
Officer Michael Clark answers a question from attorney Joey Sullivan during Tuesday's public hearing in the Leisure Services Room at 505 Magnolia St. in Guyton. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
There were numerous violations of, not only City of Guyton standard operating procedures, but also numerous violations of City of Guyton personnel policies.
Mayor Jeff Lariscy
GUYTON — During Tuesday night’s special called public hearing regarding the fate of Capt. Stacy Strickland, attorney Joey Turner presented a defense that the Guyton City Council may hear again in another venue. After the council unanimously upheld Mayor Jeff Lariscy’s July 18 termination of Strickland as interim public safety director, Turner indicated that his client is pondering a civil lawsuit. During his closing remarks, Turner expressed bewilderment as to why Officer Michael Clark of the Guyton Police Department remains employed and Strickland is not. Clark is on probation for a string of illicit Facebook posts. “Officer Clark is the one who did the page, he’s the one who used it — I say criminally to go after someone that he should have never done — and, ironically enough, he still has his job,” Turner said. “He came in uniform (to testify) and he’s still here. Why is that?” The council vote was taken after each council member took a few minutes to examine an Effingham County Sheriff’s Office report that centered on Strickland’s investigation into Clark’s Facebook use. The officer, who is on probation, admitted to creating two Facebook profiles as “a joke” to torment Chris Huntley of the Guyton Fire Department. He said Strickland was involved “closer to fifty-fifty” in making offensive posts via a telephone he shared with Strickland. “(It was) ‘homo’ acts mostly, but any and everything,” Clark said while describing the Facebook pages. Huntley testified that two Facebook pages featuring his likeness were created without his knowledge. One featured homosexual pornography and racist pictures, and listed Huntley’s address as “Gaytown, Georgia.” “It featured male genitalia and my face,” Huntley said. “They were Photoshopped pictures.” Huntley said the page also included a picture of him imposed with KKK members. He discovered the offending site while serving as an administrator of the Guyton Fire Department’s Facebook page. “It was banned from commenting on (the first department’s page),” Huntley said. Later, Huntley said that he learned that Brittany Howard was receiving sexually charged photos from “Matthew Murdock” through Facebook Messenger. They included doctored images of him. He explained that he doesn’t know Howard, Clark’s former girlfriend, but learned of her trouble through a friend. Huntley said that he notfied his supervisor, Fire Chief Robert Ancell, about the situation. He also advised Howard and her husband to contact the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office. Following the discovery of the Howards’ complaint, Clark said Strickland, in a “twenty-second phone call,” asked him if he knew anything about the “Murdock” Facebook page and told him to delete it. During cross examination, Turner called Clark’s behavior toward Howard “stalking.” The officer replied, “If you want to call it that.” Turner got Clark to admit that sending unwanted sexual messages is a crime. Earlier, attorney Elizabeth Pavlis asked Huntley why he didn’t ask the Guyton Police Department to investigate. “Because, honestly, I didn’t know who was involved ...” he said. Huntley said that he suspected Clark or Strickland was the culprit. He said that he was a frequent target of Strickland’s “jokes.” “Most of it was attacks on my sexuality,” Huntley said. Huntley initially considered the ribbing good natured but said it eventually took a harder edge, resulting in “nut taps” — pokes at his genitals. In addition, Huntley said Strickland tased him “six or eight times” while he was off duty at his residence. Huntley said he paid Strickland $50 after Strickland was called to resolve a situation at the fire department. He said Strickland, who was not the interim public safety director at the time, complained that he was off duty and “someone in this building was going to pay him” for having to work. During cross examination, Huntley admitted that he was not forced to make the payment. “He didn’t put a gun to your head or anything like that and say, ‘Huntley, you are going to pay me,” Turner said. “You just said, ‘Here! Here’s fifty bucks.” “Here’s fifty bucks so you can leave and get out of my hair,” Huntley responded. Huntley said he received a few verbal reprimands from Strickland, who, before the became interim public safety director, investigated Huntley’s involvement with a female guest at the fire department. “A complaint was made because me and the female exchanged a kiss and they felt that wasn’t right for a city firefighter on city property ...,” Huntley said. “... I’m not sure how he was contracted but he came to investigate that incident.” After returning his questions to the Facebook pages, Sullivan reminded Huntley that he didn’t know for certain that Strickland was behind them. “It’s just how you feel,” Sullivan said. “... You’re not going to lie. You just don’t know.” Huntley retorted that photographs used on the Facebook pages were discovered on a city-issued phone used by Strickland and Clark for official work. Larciscy was the final witness. He pushed for a sheriff’s office administrative investigation into Strickland after learning about the Facebook incident in late June. “There were numerous violations of, not only City of Guyton standard operating procedures, but also numerous violations of City of Guyton personnel policies,” the mayor said. “... After reviewing the report and the severity of the findings, (City Manager) Mr. (Tom) Wirth and I discussed the matter and decided that termination would be appropriate.” Turner questioned Lariscy about using Clark to build a case against Strickland, who was paid in the wake of his termination notice. Clark was suspended for one week without pay as a result of the Facebook posts. Turner said, “This is in light of what your investigation determined is criminal essentially — his involvement here — and y’all just put him on one week of leave? Is that right? “And that’s how he stands today — on probation — out there trying to police Guyton.” Before the investigation, Turner offered that Lariscy advocated for Strickland to get the public safety director job on a permanent basis. The public safety director is head of the police department, fire department and code enforcement. “I was satisfied with what I knew his job performance was,” Lariscy said. Steve Collins was the lone council member to support Lariscy’s call during two city council meetings. His motion never received a second from Dr. Franklin Goldwire, Michael Johnson or Joseph Lee. Sgt. Kenny McDonald was named permanent public safety director early this month. Lariscy said Strickland’s termination was warranted. He said, as far as he knows, no one from the Guyton Police Department ever contacted the Howards about the harassing Facebook messages. Raymond Dickey, Rincon’s city attorney, advised the council during the hearing. Ray Smith, Guyton's city attorney, recused himself because his job calls for him to represent the city council and City Guyton department heads.