Bibb County deputies reprimanded after probe of overtime pay

An investigation of overtime pay abuse at the Bibb County jail has led to disciplinary action against five deputies.

The five — Maj. Mickey Pearce, Capt. Wayne Ennis, Capt. Don Waller, Sr. Lt. Billy Boatwright and Sgt. Charlease Barkley — were reprimanded for misapplying the overtime pay rate to three days of work, Sheriff Jerry Modena said Wednesday.

"That was the extent of it," Modena said. "But in looking and investigating, we found that there (were) policies and procedures in place that should have prevented this that were overlooked, disregarded or just flat violated."

Modena acknowledged that Barkley is the deputy who abused the overtime pay, but he would not discuss any other particulars of the infraction, saying only that the amount of money involved was "not a significant figure." Neither would he discuss the other four deputies' roles in the case.

Each of the five deputies received a reprimand from the sheriff. All of the punishments involved some combination of probation, loss of privileges and loss of pay. Modena also reassigned three of the five deputies — Boatwright, Barkley and Pearce.

The sheriff estimated that the various pay losses ranged from $1,200 to $1,500 per employee. One of them — Barkley — was suspended without pay for 15 days, and the sheriff reduced her rank.

Findings from the sheriff's office's investigation of the case are contained in an as-yet undisclosed internal report. After the report was finished, it was forwarded to the Bibb County district attorney's office and then the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for review.

The reason for examinations by those agencies, Modena said, is simply to "double-check" his department's findings.

The GBI is examining the internal report to see if criminal charges should be brought against any of the deputies, some of whom have since retired from county law enforcement since the investigation this past fall. Modena said he believed that there was no "intent of criminality" from the deputies involved.

Details in the case have been difficult to obtain, largely because Modena — through his attorney, Hale Almand Jr. — has denied a series of requests for information through the state's Open Records Act. The Telegraph filed an initial request Oct. 15, 2007, to obtain the internal report.

Citing a clause in state law that allows government agencies to withhold reports about an investigation from the public if that investigation is still considered "pending," the sheriff's office denied the Telegraph's requests. The sheriff's office said in an e-mail that the investigation was "not yet complete." Later, the sheriff's office said that District Attorney Howard Simms had been — or would be — given the internal report to review.

Simms said this week, however, that his office did not receive documents or sit down with officials from the sheriff's office until Oct. 22, a week after the Telegraph's original request for information.

Simms added that after his office reviewed the report, it decided not to move forward with criminal charges against the deputies at this time.

"I am not looking at (the report) right now," he said. "It is an open investigation, and (the district attorney's office) is waiting for further information from law enforcement."

Regardless of which agency actually has the internal report, attorney David Hudson, general counsel for the Georgia Press Association, said the report detailing the overtime abuse is a public document that should be released to the public.

He questioned if various law enforcement agencies were shuffling the report around to avoid disclosure.

"That should be an open record," he said. "The position they're taking is that if they do an investigation and then hand the results over to another law enforcement agency, that it can be kept secret as long as the other agency is investigating it. ... My view is once the sheriff's office completed its investigation, it became an open record."

Under the Open Records Act, documents associated with "pending" investigations do not have to be disclosed until inquiries have ceased or prosecution or litigation is no longer ongoing.

However, state law also says that material obtained in investigations of public officers or employees must be released 10 days after the agency conducting the investigation has completed it and the official response or action has been carried out.