A Walthourville police officer who recently settled a lawsuit against the city was fired Jan. 19.
Officer Latarchia Lee claims she was fired in an email from Mayor Daisy Pray and City Clerk Melissa Jones.
Lee said she’s been on medical leave since Dec. 26 and was fired for failing to complete two hours of annual training in 2017, which she said resulted in her power to make arrests being suspended by the Georgia Peace Officer’s Standards and Training board.
Lee said her leave was due to work-related stress, high blood pressure and a pending surgery, but claims she’s been a target of harassment and retaliation since October, around the time her suit was being settled.
She said the city council and mayor violated federal and state labor laws.
According to court documents from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Savannah Division, there is a pending settlement requiring Walthourville to pay $7,142 in legal fees and $12,154 in overtime and back pay to Lee.
Lee said she was harassed by Jones, who questioned her medical leave.
But Jones said Lee went on medical leave Dec. 29, not Dec. 26, and as required by the city’s policy, “A physician excuse is required if the duration of sick leave is three or more days.” Jones added that, “At least one of Officer Lee’s doctor’s notes appeared to have been altered. We asked Officer Lee for an explanation of the apparent discrepancy or permission to verify with the facility. She did not respond to the request.”
Lee said the mayor accessed her POST records looking for anything that could be used against her as punishment back in October.
She said Jones and Pray first tried to force her to take training that wasn’t necessary for her position. When she went on medical leave she missed training and was suspended by POST, and they pounced on the opportunity to fire her, Lee claims.
Former WPD Chief Bernie Quarterman said it was common for an officer to be temporarily suspended due to training. The officer signs a waiver saying he or she will complete the training by a certain time and the officer is reinstated, he said.
Jones said Lee remains under POST suspension.
Quarterman, who was fired Jan. 10 for violating overtime policy and failing to comply with city requests after a suspension in November, said that as a result of the suit, the city had to compensate other officers for past mistakes.
City Attorney Jeff Arnold said the mistakes were made by police officers and they cost the city money.
“The city is having to pay fees and penalties due to the overtime not being reported correctly from the police department,” he said.
Quarterman said those “fees and penalties,” were actual overtime hours Lee and other officers worked but were not compensated for.
He said the city is blaming him for the payroll errors but the responsibility of payroll processing is handled through the mayor’s office.
He said some officers were owed back pay for hours worked in 2012.
“This was the responsibility of payroll processing, done at city hall, under the directives of the current administration,” Quarterman said. “The police department submits the hours worked, which it did, and payroll department processes payroll. Once again that department needs to be held accountable.”