Officers may face discipline after bar fight

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

CONYERS -- Three Conyers Police officers involved in a bar fight last week are not facing criminal charges for their conduct and may keep their jobs, pending the outcome of an investigation.

The fight broke out in the early morning hours Saturday, Jan. 15, at The Pointe, a bar in Olde Town. Arguments about letting an underage customer in the club escalated to people throwing closed-fist punches, according to the incident report.

Officers involved were Lt. Derek Parker, assigned to internal affairs; Det. Shyra Hardwick; and Officer Jason Heyman, who is assigned to patrol.

The three officers were offduty, celebrating the retirement of a Rockdale County Sheriff's Office deputy. The deputy brought his 19-year-old son along to be the designated driver; however, management at The Pointe reportedly told the deputy that only those 21 years old and older were allowed in the bar and his son would have to leave. A nearby customer "butted in," according to witness statements, and told the deputy to shut up and leave like he was told.

The 24-year-old customer from Covington and the retired deputy argued and at least one CPD officer joined the argument. Someone punched the customer at some point in the argument and the man punched back, hitting a CPD officer. There were different interpretations of the event, according to witness statements in the report.

Police Chief Gene Wilson told the Citizen on Wednesday that all three officers have been put on administrative leave with pay while the situation is under investigation. Criminal charges are not pending.

"My officers responding did not see any criminal act take place, as far as assault or anything goes," Wilson said.

The civilians involved could file criminal charges against the officers. One person did not want to file charges and officials are still awaiting word on the other person involved.

"If that person is not interested in prosecuting, then we'll probably not do any criminal case on this, at all, from the Conyers Police," Wilson said.

However, the three officers will face some administrative action, depending on the investigation, which will include videotape and witness statements.

Wilson said it is difficult to say whether the incident is a career-ender without going through the entire investigation, which is expected to last through the rest of the week.

"To be fair to them, I need to see the investigation before I make a decision," Wilson said. "But for all three officers involved, it could be serious for them. Very serious."

Among other things, Wilson will consider the officers' disciplinary records, time in service, their degree of involvement in the incident and "exactly to what extent did they violate our policies and procedures."

Some of the officers involved tried to get the on-duty CPD officers to turn off their audio recording while responding to the incident, a violation of Police Department policy.

"Then, on one of the videos ... supposedly, it shows either (Conyers PD) officers or officers from another jurisdiction really giving (Conyers PD) on-duty officers a hard time," Wilson said.

Wilson said he could recall a couple of written reprimands for officers who had had too much to drink and behaved inappropriately, but "nothing as serious as this."

"You're held to a higher standard and that standard does not go away when you walk out the door and take your uniform off," Wilson said of officers.

He explained that living under that higher standard can be a difficult transition for some officers. He also said he was disappointed by the entire situation.

"It's something you just want put your face in your hands and shake your head," Wilson said. "You hope it doesn't end careers, but it is what it is, and the investigation will take you where it takes you."