The six Macon police officers disciplined recently for playing football while on duty took turns throwing passes and practicing a blocking maneuver for 20 to 30 minutes, according to statements the officers made as a part of a police Internal Affairs investigation.
The officers were interviewed by a police investigator Jan. 13, the day after they were photographed playing football behind the Bed Bath & Beyond store on Presidential Parkway, according to documents The Telegraph obtained under the state’s Open Records Act.
Police policy prohibits officers from reading, playing games, watching TV or movies while on duty except as may be required “in the performance of duty.”
In his statement, investigator John Horne said the officers, members of the Fourth Precinct Focus Unit, were asked to meet behind the Target store to prepare to serve a warrant on a man wanted for burglary. The Focus Unit is a small group of officers who target problem areas while also initiating police activity as needed, said Jami Gaudet, a police spokeswoman.
Horne said police expected the man they were looking for to arrive at a Presidential Parkway restaurant at 4 p.m.
In his statement, officer William Stewart said the group of officers was waiting for a radio call from Horne that would come when the suspect arrived to pick up his girlfriend from work.
“We had our radios on, ... waiting on him to call us to come down there and try to get the guy,” Stewart said.
Another officer, Freddie Fountain, told the police investigator that he had been told the burglary suspect “was going to run and fight with the police,” according to his statement.
Fountain admitted that the football came from his car. He’d taken it out of his trunk and gone into Dick’s Sporting Goods to put air in it, then put it on the front seat.
None of the officers identified who suggested that they play with the ball.
Fountain said the officers started throwing the football back and forth to each other about 3:50 p.m.
At one point, it started raining and the officers stopped throwing the ball, he said.
When asked whether the officers were “blocking anyone” while playing ball, Fountain said he and officer Joseph Roberts demonstrated “a move” that Fountain had learned in high school and a maneuver to get past the block.
The officers weren’t in “plain view of citizens,” Roberts said in his statement.
While the officers were playing with the ball, a man emerged from the nearby GNC store with his cell phone, Roberts said.
Horne called about 4:10 p.m. to say that the burglary suspect wasn’t in the car when it arrived at Golden Corral. About 4:30 p.m., the officers saw the car pull off, followed it to the intersection of Eisenhower Parkway and Harrison Road and determined that the man they were looking for wasn’t in the car. Then they returned to their precinct, Fountain said in his statement.
Capt. Joe White and Lt. Amy Wheeler gave statements saying they weren’t aware the officers from their precinct were playing with a football until the day after the incident,
In her statement, Wheeler said one of the officers said they were “playing football, keeping limber for an assignment with Investigator Horne because he said ... the person we’re going to going after was gonna be a runner. He said yeah they were out there just staying loose waiting for instructions from Investigator Horne.”
Wheeler went on to say she didn’t think the officers were trying to be disrespectful to the public or the police department.
Stewart, a 2-year officer; Fountain, a 4-year officer; Roberts, a 5-year officer; Rico Brown, a 6-year officer; Tony Moss, a 1-year officer; and Stephen Phipps, a 1-year officer, were issued written reprimands Wednesday.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.