Police: Discretion policy won't change after DA traffic stop

Macon police policies regarding officer discretion will not change as a result of a review of department policies spurred by a June 3 traffic stop involving former Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney Howard Simms.

Chief Mike Burns said police started reviewing the traffic stop and police policies prior to receiving a June 14 letter from the chairman of the Macon City Council’s Public Safety Committee requesting a review.

“We felt like what we have in place is good,” Burns said.

Simms, who resigned as district attorney to run for judge later in June, was pulled over by Sgt. Lisa Sapp on Vineville Avenue after police received a call that someone driving a Dodge Charger in the area was driving erratically.

Although Sapp pulled over Simms, who was driving his county-issued Dodge Charger, he wasn’t driving erratically when she saw him, police have said.

Sapp smelled alcohol inside the car, but Simms said he had not been drinking.

Police have said Sapp didn’t believe that Simms was driving under the influence of alcohol, but as a “cautionary measure,” she drove him to Freedom Park, where his son was playing baseball.

Sapp did not perform a field sobriety test or administer a Breathalyzer test for alcohol. The officer used “discretion” in the situation, not favoritism, police have said.

Sapp was issued “written counseling” in connection with the incident, but it wasn’t because of her decision not to have Simms tested for alcohol or because she drove his vehicle to another location.

She was counseled for not notifying the “officer of the day” of her decisions, Burns said.

The officer of the day is a supervisor in charge of police crime scenes after hours until a higher ranking officer arrives on scene. It’s also part of the officer of the day’s duty to offer input when officers have questions, Burns said.

Because Simms was a political figure, Sapp should have called the officer of the day for a second opinion, Burns said

“She should have utilized him that night,” he said.

Sapp also was ordered to attend a field sobriety testing class following a review of the incident, according to a letter Burns wrote Public Safety Committee Chairman Virgil Watkins following the police department’s review.

Watkins said his initial concerns about the incident were being sure the police chief wasn’t complacent about the situation and that discipline was handed out if needed.

“My mind is more at ease now,” he said.

After talking with Burns, Watkins said he understands the need for officers’ discretion, but wants to be sure officers don’t abuse their power.

Mayor Robert Reichert said he’s satisfied with the way the review was handled.

He said the traffic stop drew a lot of attention to the issue of officer discretion and has served as a learning experience as to how much leeway officers have while still acting appropriately.

“I think everybody in the department has learned a valuable lesson,” Reichert said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.