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Social Circle defends itself against lawsuits by police officers

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- The city of Social Circle has settled one lawsuit filed by a former police officer and now is in the process of defending itself against another.

On Aug. 18, Mayor Jim Burgess called for a special meeting of the City Council. During that meeting, the council immediately moved into closed session with attorney Joshua Viau to discuss a settlement offer in the case of Chauncey M. Dixon vs. The City of Social Circle and Doug White, city manager.

After about an hour, the meeting was opened to the public, at which time the council unanimously voted to accept the settlement agreement as a "full and final settlement" in the case against the city and White.

According to the confidential settlement agreement signed by Dixon on Aug. 26 and obtained by the Citizen on Thursday, the city has agreed to pay Dixon $25,000, will change its personnel records to reflect that Dixon resigned from the city and will expunge his personnel file. In exchange, Dixon agreed to drop all claims against White and Social Circle. He also agreed not to seek re-employment with the city and will cooperate in any investigations or other legal matters involving Social Circle.

The agreement contains a four-paragraph confidentiality clause that restricts Dixon from publicizing details of the settlement agreement.

Dixon, the city's first black police officer, filed his lawsuit against Social Circle and the city manager in June 2010. He alleged that he was the victim of ongoing racism by members of the City Council and city employees.

In his complaint, Dixon alleged that during a period when he was dating a white woman, a former city council member, David Terry, told him that blacks and whites should not date. Dixon told then-Police Chief Steve Shelton about the comment. Shelton then reported this to White, Dixon said.

At some point after this, Dixon stated he was denied by City Manager White permission to obtain further police officer and leadership training. However, other officers who are white were allowed during this time to participate in the same training opportunities.

In August 2009, Dixon was fired from the city's Police Department for a number of policy violations. Dixon's purchase of two stolen boats and alleged sexual relationship with a confidential informant were among the reasons given for his termination, the complaint states.

Dixon claimed White terminated him, even though both allegations were "concluded to be unfounded," and charged that racism was the driving force behind the city's and White's actions.

Dixon stated the city continued to discriminate against him when they did not convene a name-clearing hearing as it is supposed to when a charge of discrimination has been filed.

Dixon asked in his suit that he be reinstated to his previous position in the Police Department, with full front and back pay and all disciplinary records expunged. Dixon also asked for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney's fees.

Now that Dixon's case has been settled, the city is facing another federal lawsuit filed by former Chief Shelton.

Shelton's complaint stems from the charges outlined in Dixon's suit.

Shelton claims he was forced to resign after 25 years of employment with Social Circle and that he was a victim of retaliation.

Shelton spent most of his tenure with Social Circle as fire chief until the city merged fire and police services into a new Public Safety Department in 2005. In 2007, Shelton was appointed to chief of the Public Safety Department.

He claims in his complaint that his attempts to promote Dixon were rejected by the city manager. Furthermore, Shelton claims, an investigation into an internal complaint against him and Dixon was handled improperly by the city manager.

"Defendant White retained the Grovetown Police Department to conduct an investigation into the complaints against Dixon and Shelton. Before the investigation began, Defendant White fired Dixon and placed Shelton on administrative leave," the complaint states.

Investigators then found that Dixon and Shelton violated city policies and various laws.

"The Grovetown investigation and report were a sham," the complaint states.

Shelton alleges the investigators did not follow proper procedures, did not thoroughly question witnesses and provided no details or dates of Dixon's and Shelton's alleged wrongdoing.

The lawsuit continues: "On Aug. 31, 2009, Defendant White called Shelton into his office and told Shelton he had two options: to resign or be fired."

Shelton said White provided him "a typewritten letter of resignation and Shelton, acting under duress and coercion, signed the letter."

Shelton has asked in his suit that he be awarded front and back pay since his resignation, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.