Of the 60 Internal Affairs complaints filed against a Macon police officer since his 2001 hiring, fewer than half resulted in disciplinary action, according to police records.
Earlier this month, officer Joshua Sanderson’s record came under fire during a Macon City Council Public Safety Committee meeting. During a closed session, committee Chairman Virgil Watkins spoke of concerns first brought to him by the uncle of a man who has filed multiple complaints against Sanderson. Watkins said Johnnythan Jackson received a letter from the police saying that an investigation into one of his complaints was complete.
Jackson contacted police, wanting to find out more information. He filed an Open Records Act request for the officer’s disciplinary history and was subsequently given a copy of Sanderson’s full disciplinary record. Multiple attempts to reach Jackson in recent days were unsuccessful.
Watkins said he’s seen the list of complaints against Sanderson and they seem disproportionate to other officers. That’s why he shared the information with committee members.
In 2011, 10 complaints were filed against Sanderson. Two resulted in discipline. That year, police investigated 104 complaints filed by residents and 147 filed by officers against other officers, police Capt. Jimmy Barbee said.
Officers who receive three or more complaints in a year are placed on an early warning list that alerts supervisors to the complaints. It doesn’t matter whether the complaints result in discipline. In 2011, 23 officers were on the list.
During 2012, five complaints have been filed against Sanderson so far. Two involve traffic accidents he was involved in. Aside from the accidents, he hasn’t been disciplined, according to police records.
Sanderson, a police canine officer, has worked on the department’s drug unit since 2009. His job is to check into drug complaints and stop cars on the interstates that are passing through Macon, sometimes checking for drugs, said Lt. Kelly Monroe, Sanderson’s supervisor.
In an eight-hour shift, Sanderson may make 20 traffic stops.
“He works hard at what he does,” Monroe said. “He is in contact with the public more than most officers.”
Monroe said the sheer number of complaints against Sanderson isn’t an indicator that he’s a bad officer. His personnel file includes several commendations and awards. He’s been nominated for the department’s Officer of the Year award three straight years. He won in 2009 and 2011.
“He’s a good officer,” Monroe said.
Sanderson was not available to respond to an interview request for this story, according to police.
Several complaints from Jackson
Barbee said Sanderson’s patrol car, like many others at the department, is outfitted with a camera that starts recording when he activates his blue lights. Audio is recorded using a microphone mounted on the officer’s uniform.
In many cases, police review recordings while investigating Internal Affairs complaints, Barbee said.
Police records show that Jackson has filed complaints alleging that Sanderson used profanity and searched a car illegally in December, and that he arrested Jackson in March without having a reason. During the arrest, Jackson alleged that Sanderson kicked his feet out from under him, causing him to fall.
Sanderson received a written reprimand following the profanity allegation in December. A police investigation found that the car search was legal. Sanderson wasn’t disciplined for the March episode, records showed.
Watkins said Jackson has filed other complaints involving Sanderson, but those cases still are pending review.
Although Watkins concedes that police discipline isn’t under his control, he said he has concerns about Sanderson’s interaction with the public.
In his 11-year-career, Sanderson has received written reprimands or verbal counseling in 14 cases. Ten of those cases occurred in the past four years.
Of the more recent reprimands, three followed complaints that he was rude or used profanity during encounters with the public. Five were related to traffic accidents.
Between 2005 and 2008, Sanderson was suspended six times for a total 13 days. He hasn’t been suspended since 2008.
The complaints leading to the suspensions ranged from Sanderson’s not showing up for a scheduled Municipal Court hearing to his not checking paper documents during traffic stops, depending instead on computerized information. On one occasion, he was found to have used excessive force, according to records.
Watkins said he’s also concerned about the number of complaints that didn’t result in disciplinary action.
“I think it takes a lot for someone to go to the trouble of submitting to Internal Affairs,” Watkins said.
For example, he cited a complaint from earlier this year in which a woman alleged that she’d seen Sanderson training his work dog in east Macon’s Fort Hill Cemetery. The woman said the dog was running over graves and that Sanderson threw a training toy, telling the dog to “kill, kill.”
In his statement to Internal Affairs, Sanderson said the dog was from the Netherlands and didn’t understand English commands. He said he was training the dog in back of the cemetery where there aren’t any graves.
Watkins admitted that he hadn’t read the complete file and didn’t know the dog didn’t understand English.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard that,” he said.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.