The police officer at the center of Fairmount’s illegal-search controversy had a history of legal violations and at one point had been ordered to never work in law enforcement.
The illegal searches, performed by an unauthorized volunteer between April and June of this year, ultimately resulted in last month’s termination of Fairmount’s police chief and Officer Timothy Anderson Butler.
Butler was found guilty in 1995 of misdemeanor theft by taking, furnishing alcohol to a minor, and two counts of surveillance which invades the privacy of another, in Gilmer County Superior Court. At the time, he was a Gilmer County sheriff’s deputy
According to the Jan. 12, 1995 edition of the Times-Courier (Ellijay’s weekly newspaper) in Gilmer County, the original charges were felonies. Butler was arrested on Dec. 6, 1994 and released on a $5,000 bond on the invasion of privacy charges. He was later arrested again and released on Jan. 10, 1995 on another $5,000 bond. The paper states that the charges were not related to Butler’s work as a Drug Task Force agent, but “were allegedly in connection with illegal surveillance work of a so-called ‘private detective’ nature.”
According to a court order signed by Gilmer County Superior Court Judge Bobby C. Milan on Feb. 2, 1995:
Butler was placed on 24 months probation and ordered “to surrender his POST certification and not act as a police officer under any circumstances. (Defendant) agrees not to apply for POST re-instatement permanently.” POST certification is the Peace Officers Standard and Training that all officers must complete before working in law enforcement.
He was suspended, and then terminated from both the DTF and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office.
In March 1990, Butler was charged with rape, aggravated assault, and pointing a gun at another, but those charges were dropped. Butler declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding those charges other than to say they were unfounded.
Mayor Harry Pierce said he was not aware of Butler’s criminal record, a matter that Butler and Key dispute.
Butler was hired by the Fairmount Police Department on Jan. 4, 2010. He knew Key from their days serving in Gilmer County and approached him about getting a job. Key said he recalled the criminal charges from when he worked in the same town as Butler and that they didn’t try to cover it up when Butler asked for a job.
“(The mayor) was aware of the criminal record. He’ll tell you different, but he knew,” said Key.
“The mayor was well aware of it,” said Butler, who said the information was in his application packet. “I’m not going to get into a spittin’ match with the mayor about it, but he hired me on the spot after the first interview.”
Butler said he was able to reapply for his POST certification by going to the District Attorney and a different judge in Gilmer County in 2009. That portion of the order was amended and removed by Superior Court Judge Roger E. Bradley on April 24, 2009.
“They felt the sentence was harsh, so they rescinded that part of it,” said Butler.
Butler said Pierce hired him mostly to work in drug enforcement and that his record between January and June, when he and Key were suspended, should speak volumes.
“I brought in more than $35,000 for the City of Fairmount,” he said, adding he’d written more than 278 citations and made 14 drug arrests.
“All my arrests, in my career, netted 100-percent convictions. I made very good cases,” he said.
That could change at Fairmount’s next court hearing. Pierce said he’s concerned that Butler’s use of his daughter, Heather Dedmon, to search female suspects will cause a number of drug cases to be tossed out.
Dedmon was sworn in as an officer by Key and used to search female suspects and vehicles. The Calhoun Times obtained a video of one of the searches that shows Dedmon in a police uniform, searching a car in a Fairmount grocery store parking lot.
Ryan Powell, director of the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, said anytime a person can be perceived as being a police officer, but is not POST certified, it’s a violation of the standards.
Powell said he wasn’t familiar with the Fairmount case, but added any kind of enforcement duties, from directing traffic to investigations and searches, would fall under categories that require POST certification.
“If they are in uniform, the public expects them to be certified,” said Powell.
No police report or vehicle search authorization was filed by the Butler or Dedmon on the incident, according to an open records request on the matter. Nor is Dedmon mentioned in any police reports where arrests were made.
Butler said he defends his decision to use her “mostly as an extra set of eyes.”
“As a male officer, you have to be very careful how you handle female suspects,” he said. “It’s a loaded gun.”
He admits that he didn’t check with the Gordon County Sheriff’s Office to see if they could dispatch a female deputy to assist.
“We are on the same radio frequency as them, so we know who is working,” he said.
He said his daughter found drugs but never acted without his supervision. At least one time when he didn’t use Dedmon, drugs were found on a female suspect after the suspect was brought to the jail, he said.
The matter was brought to Pierce’s attention after a man towing a confiscated vehicle asked him when Fairmount hired a female police officer. Butler said he and Key didn’t hide the fact that they were using Dedmon, but they didn’t tell Pierce directly. Dedmon was never paid and never had arrest powers, they said.
“It was brought to our attention, and we dealt with it,” said Fairmount City Councilwoman Linda Johnson.
Pierce said Key and Butler were placed on administrative leave, and then terminated in June.
Butler said if he had to do things differently, he probably would, but felt that his actions were justified.
“The mayor doesn’t have a clue as to how police procedures are supposed to go,” he said.
“I’m proud of the job I did for Fairmount. I’ll go through that town with my head held high,” said Butler.
The recent turnover at the Fairmount Police Department is giving the city council an opportunity to make some needed changes, according to Mayor Harry Pierce.
“The police chief will still do the hiring, but the council will be more involved in the process,” he said.
When allegations arose that former police chief Andy Key and former officer Tim Butler had used Butler’s daughter, who is not P.O.S.T. certified, to search female suspects, Pierce said he and Councilwoman Linda Johnson became concerned about the internal workings of the department.
At Johnson’s suggestion, once Butler and Key were suspended, they took an inventory of the evidence locker.
Johnson said they couldn’t go into details, but they did find some discrepancies.
Pierce said some evidence was missing, including cash.
“Drugs were turned into the crime lab but there was no log of the actual evidence,” he said.
Pierce wouldn’t speculate on what happened to the evidence, but added several people had access to the locker, and there was no system in place to monitor who actually has been in the cabinet.
Key said he recalled a two-year old drug case with no paperwork and that the mayor was aware of it.
“I showed it to him,” he said.
Johnson said the matter was still under investigation.
The City of Fairmount is looking to replace it’s chief of police after city council terminated Andy Key and another officer recently.
Mayor Harry Pierce said the two were terminated after allegations that they used a non-certified person to assist with searches.
Officer Tim Butler was also terminated over the matter. Pierce said they were accused of “hiring Butler’s daughter and swearing her in.”
“She wasn’t post certified. (We) have video of her searching people and their cars. That violates the law. He gave her a badge and partial uniform. It was very high liability for the town. They seemed to think they could do this,” said Pierce.
Key, a 20-year police veteran has served as Fairmount police chief for more than five years and said he felt the termination was wrong.
“We needed a female to search an (alleged) female drug dealer. She volunteered,” Key said.
He added that he could not take the alleged drug dealer to the jail for a search because they had not charged her.
“We couldn’t charge her with evidence. The evidence was in her pocket,” he said, adding that male officers could not do the search.
“We made a couple of arrests and took drugs off the street. I guess the Mayor felt like I wasn’t supposed to do that,” he said.
Key said the Mayor knew he had used the volunteer before, as well as other non-Peace Officer Standard and Training-certified volunteers for interpreters and other jobs. He also said that the incident in question happened in April and the Mayor waited two months before taking action.
According to Georgia Code Annotated 35-8-10 (a):
“No person required to comply with the certification provisions of this chapter shall be employed or appointed by any law enforcement unit without certification from the council that the applicant has met the preemployment requirements established in this chapter, and no candidate shall perform any of the duties of a peace officer involving the power of arrest until such training shall have been successfully completed.”
Key said he takes issues with the Mayor claiming Key hired and swore in Heather Dedmon, Butler’s daughter, and gave her powers to arrest.
“I don’t have the authority to grant powers of arrest,” said Key, who admitted he did give her a badge and a shirt to wear. “No one was hired. We needed a volunteer.”
Key said the termination shocked him because he has a spotless record and that he felt it was a bit overboard.
The Mayor said any cases involving Dedmon could be thrown out.
“I did the best I could,” said Key. “Up until now, that seemed to be enough.’
Lt. Clyde Chitwood is serving as acting police chief during the search process.
The Calhoun Times has filed an open records request to obtain copies of video surveillance, investigation reports, and police reports on the alleged events.