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Mayor, Social Circle council apologize to woman for arrest

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Mayor James Burgess along with the entire City Council apologized this week to a woman who was arrested by a Social Circle police officer for using profanity.

Greg Foster, the husband of Heather Foster who was unable to speak at length due to laryngitis, addressed the City Council during its monthly meeting Tuesday in order to bring its attention to what he said amounted to "harassment" by the Police Department.

"Our Police Department has a reputation for being way too strict ... and no one wants to drive through this town," Greg Foster said Tuesday. "This incident borders on harassment."

According to video from the camera inside the patrol vehicle that recorded the traffic stop, Heather Foster, along with the driver of a second vehicle, was pulled over about 8:30 a.m. Nov. 10 near the intersection of Oak and Dogwood drives. She had dropped off one of her children at Social Circle Primary School and was on her way to take her 9-year-old son to the elementary school. The officer said he stopped her because she did not make a complete stop at the stop sign.

When the officer asked Heather Foster to sign the citation, it appeared from the video that she began to argue with him about the merits of the traffic stop and seemed to resist accepting the ticket. The officer did not raise his voice and advised her of her court date and asked her again to sign the citation.

Heather Foster signed the ticket, but when she began to drive away from the scene, she could be heard yelling out the window that the officer is "an a--hole!"

Greg Foster explained to the City Council on Tuesday that Heather Foster was responding to some passersby who told her they agreed she should not have received a ticket because they saw her come to a complete stop.

After hearing Heather Foster yell the profanity, the Social Circle police officer activated his blue lights and pulled her over again. This time, however, he asked Heather Foster to step out of her SUV, placed handcuffs on her and arrested her for using profanity in the presence of other people, including her 9-year-old son.

Heather Foster became emotional at this point, as revealed by the video, and repeatedly expressed concern for the welfare of her son who was still in the car.

The officer then used Heather Foster's cell phone to call her husband and advise him of his wife's arrest, placing it on speakerphone. The officer told Greg Foster that normally he would tow the car, but because of the Fosters' son, the officer allowed Greg Foster to pick up the SUV himself. During this conversation, Heather Foster told her husband she was arrested for calling the officer an "a--hole."

Greg Foster explained this situation to the City Council and admitted that it was wrong for his wife to call the police officer a profane name, but the officer took it "way too far."

The Fosters said they have filed a complaint against the officer with the Social Circle Department of Public Safety.

After hearing the husband's account, Councilwoman Angela Porter said she was so angry about Heather Foster's arrest that she was trembling. She pressed the Fosters for details and asked how their son had reacted to seeing his mother placed in handcuffs and placed in the back of a police car.

"We lied to him and told him that was how I was going to take care of the citation," Heather Foster said.

Burgess was also clearly upset by the Fosters' account of the situation, saying the officer's "behavior was pretty gross."

"I regret you had this experience. I know it was humiliating, and we will certainly look into this," he said. "From what you told us, we owe you a deep apology."

The mayor said the Police Department has been in transition and a new chief would hopefully be hired soon, which would cut down on some "petty" actions by the department.

"This was an extreme reaction. I'm not trying to put down our law enforcement, but I truly, truly regret it," Burgess said. "I apologize. We all (City Council) apologize. I truly regret it, truly regret it."