Innocent… Until Every Possible Appeal Is Exhausted?
I have a lifelong track record of supporting virtually every aspect of local law enforcement, whether it concerns pay and benefits or giving the benefit of the doubt to officers who are accused of wrongdoing in the line of duty, at least until substantial evidence that contradicts that support is presented. Only on rare occasion have I seen a standard policy or practice involving area law enforcement that so concerned me that I was moved to publicly challenge said policy and seriously question the intelligence and integrity of those who ever allowed such indefensible logic to prevail. The strange case of Deputy Charles Harwell, and all it has revealed so far, presents itself as one of those occasions. Harwell was arrested and charged with DUI a few weeks ago while driving home to Hephzibah following a late night “special” security detail for a graduation party in Lincoln County. He had reportedly been driving erratically on the Bobby Jones Expressway (in his LC patrol car), and apparently told witnesses he was under the influence of prescription pain medication. Harwell has worked for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office as a road deputy for several years, as well as serving as an officer with the Lincolnton City Police Department, and as an officer with the Medical College of Georgia Public Safety Department. All of these hires came after he was fired in 2007 from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, after what former colleagues of his described to me as a chronic prescription pain medication addiction. Harwell has claimed to others that his back pain comes from injuries suffered in the line of duty while working at the RCSO, but I have not been able to determine what happened in that reported incident, or when it was supposed to have occurred. There was a 2005 assault that involved Harwell being attacked (while he was off duty) in a neighborhood fight, where he was apparently attempting to intervene. He reported a severe blow to the back in that altercation, which resulted in the arrest of the assailant. LC Sheriff Gerald Lawson tells me that when Harwell applied at his office, he was an active officer in good standing with both the MCG PSD, and the Lincolnton City PD. During the interview process he told Lawson he had been terminated from Richmond County because of a dispute concerning a workman’s compensation case. Lawson said he had heard good things about Harwell, and in the process of checking his credentials did verify that he was a certified state peace officer in good standing with the Georgia Professional Officers Standards and Training Council, or POST. POST is the lone state agency that certifies and tracks law enforcement officers across all of Georgia. To be hired by any agency as a police officer, you must be certified and approved by POST. Apparently POST had not yet updated its online database to reflect the reported termination, which was reported due to his prescription drug addiction, a process which can take weeks, or even months. According to agency Director Ken Vance, that is a regular problem. He blames it on a lack of staff and resources. Vance went on to say that Harwell reportedly kept appealing his POST suspension, and the fact that his attorney in the matter, Sam Cruse, was disbarred recently further complicated the situation. All told, Vance says Lawson did his due diligence to check out Harwell’s certification, but that the gaps in correct information conspired to keep him in the dark. But what about a simple reference check with RCSO officials? Lawson told me he remembered speaking with MCG and Lincolnton City about Harwell, and that he checked out. If Lawson had contacted RC, and asked them about Harwell, given the fact that he had been fired over what has been declared by law to be a “physical and mental illness” (addiction), and the deputy reportedly was sent to a rehab facility not once, but twice by the agency, would they have been breaking federal medical privacy laws by revealing his problem? Good question. One thing is certain, POST has to adopt an aggressive notification system to inform local agencies when one of their officers comes under scrutiny, and they have to do it now! The current “passive” system (which requires constant monitoring to stay timely) is hideously inefficient. Also, just how long can an officer be allowed to continue on duty after serious charges have been made against him? One such officer apparently has two failed drug tests (positive for cocaine use) that came back mere days after he quit the RCSO with no notice. The officer was instantly hired by Augusta State University’s Public Safety Department, and he remains there (and has for almost a year) while he appeals the tests. Civilians are not given this much leeway while under similar charges. Why in the world would police officials not hold their own people to the same standard?You Might Also Like:
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