A Hinesville Police Department narcotics officer resigned, then was put back on the force and demoted after the mother of a confidential informant reported she and the officer had an affair, according to documents obtained by the Courier through an open records request.
Former Narcotics Division Investigator Tony Mitchner was assigned to the patrol division after the affair, which lasted about a month and could cast doubt on his credibility on cases he investigated, officials say.
Mitchner has been with HPD since 2005 and had served with the narcotics division for several years.
After the affair was reported, HPD Chief George Stagmeier met Dec. 1 with Mitchner, and told him he was recommending the officer be fired if he didn’t resign.
“After reviewing the facts and circumstance leading to the current situation, it is my opinion that there is sufficient evidence to believe that you did violate several sections of department SOP (standard operating procedures),” Stagmeier wrote in an official letter to Mitchner. “It is further my belief that your retention as a member of the Hinesville Police Department would be contrary to the principles of the department and its members, and detrimental to its overall good operation.”
Stagmeier’s recommendation was to be submitted to Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards. However Mitchner resigned the same day he met with Stagmeier, records show.
Stagmeier said he accepted the resignation and considered the matter closed.
“He resigned and we marched forward with that,” he said.
Instead, Mitchner appealed his case to Edwards a few days after he resigned, requesting his resignation be rescinded. He said Stagmeier only gave him two options, be fired or resign.
Stagmeier disputes that.
“He was not forced to resign,” Stagmeier said. “He asked if he could and I allowed him to do that. We talked for about 45 minutes. I told him I would be moving forward with his termination recommendation and he asked if he could resign, so I don’t think that is forced.”
But in his appeal to Edwards, Mitchner said he pleaded his case with Stagmeier, noting that this was his first write up and that he had no prior disciplinary records on file.
He said he resigned only because he thought he was going to be able to keep his leave and find a new job. But after tendering his resignation, Mitchner said he found his record had been reported to the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and
Training Council, known as POST, with the note he had resigned in lieu of termination.
Edwards accepted Mitchner’s request and reinstated Mitchner effective Dec. 20. He also gave the officer an administrative hearing. According to city policy, the city manager has the right to affirm, deny or alter the recommended disciplinary action.
The hearing was held in January.
Records show the woman reported the matter Nov. 14. She said the affair lasted about a month between October and November.
The woman is not being identified because of her claim she is a victim and to avoid identifying her son, who at the time was a juvenile and also was an informant for the narcotics team.
After the woman contacted police, HPD immediately opened an internal investigation interviewing the woman and Mitchner.
Evidence presented at the hearing indicated that Mitchner met with the woman on several occasions using his city-owned vehicle. He was on duty the three or four times the two met to have sex.
The woman said it all started after she met Mitchner when registering her son as a CI.
Her son registered after he was arrested for a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana by HPD. Records show the son also has a felony drug violation that occurred in Bryan County.
The woman alleges Mitchner said he would help clear her son of the felony charge and that he placed calls to the Richmond Hill Police Department on her son’s behalf.
The woman said she was never forced to do anything but felt “obligated,” to Mitchner because she thought he was helping her son.
Internal Affairs investigator Capt. Bill Kirkendall called the Richmond Hill Police Department to confirm the woman’s story and found the boy had a felony charge. But Kirkendall reported that RHPD Maj. Mike Albritton said no one had called on behalf of the boy in regards to dropping, reducing or clearing the charge.
At the completion of the hearing, Edwards agreed there was sufficient evidence to find Mitchner had acted inappropriately. Edwards went on to note that due to the inappropriate relationship, Mitchner’s credibility “may be called in to question as an effective witness for the prosecution in the criminal cases for which he is involved,” and that the woman, “felt she was under obligation to engage in sexual relations.”
“These factors collectively substantially diminish the ability of Corporal Mitchner to serve as an effective law enforcement officer for the city of Hinesville,” Edwards wrote.
However Edwards decided to modify Stagmeier’s recommendation, and reduced Mitchner’s rank and pay grade instead of firing him.
“I had to weigh everything…consider everything and put it into balance,” Edwards said in an interview.
Under city policy, a personnel board comprised of local business and government professionals that have experience in human resources and personnel matters was appointed.
On April 10, that board unanimously agreed to affirm Edward’s decision to reinstate Mitchner at a reduced rank.
Mitchner’s case is being reviewed by a POST investigator, who will then make a report to the POST Probable Cause Committee.
It can recommend revocation or suspension of certification, probation or other sanctions.
If Mitchner’s certification is either suspended or revoked he will be fired immediately, according to Edward’s recommendation made after the hearing.
Mitchner has hired lawyer Cris Schneider and filed an appeal of Edwards’ decision.
Mitchner’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.