Fulton's City officials take no action regarding suspended police officer
Over 50 people were a part of the audience for the Aug. 12 regular session of the Fulton City Commission and a number of those present addressed Mayor David Prater, Commissioners Martha Vowell, Elaine Forrester, Jeff Vaughn and Darcy Linn, as well as City Manager Mike Gunn.
Mayor Prater welcomed those in attendance and requested during the designated portion of the night's agenda for remarks and requests from visitors, each speaker limit comments to three minutes.
With the exception of one public comment, all others addressed the status of a Fulton Police Officer who was placed on paid administrative leave last week, in connection to a Kentucky State Police investigation regarding the discovery of cats in the area of The Keg restaurant, which appeared to have been shot.
Reportedly security video viewed by Keg management, depicted a person exiting a vehicle and shooting a cat, or cats. That video was subsequently turned over to Fulton Police Department, and in turn, the video was then submitted to the Kentucky State Police to assist with the investigation.
Early last week, a Fulton Police Officer was placed on paid administrative leave, and on Friday, City Manager Mike Gunn confirmed the officer had been placed on leave in connection to the incident or incidents involving cats found shot.
Late Friday, James B. Luckett with the Kentucky State Police, after earlier in the week confirming the KSP's involvement in the investigation, responded to an email from The Current, stating as of Aug. 9, no charges had been filed in the case, and further, he knew nothing of the suspension of the FPD Officer. He also explained each department has different policies and he could not confirm whether the suspension was related to the case, or not. He suggested contacting the Fulton Police Department for information regarding the officer's suspension.
Among those who addressed the elected officials and Gunn was Gary (Bubba) Grooms, Jr., who owns a business in Fulton and also owns property in South Fulton where he resides.
"I am disgusted with what happened with the cop," he began. "I work my butt off to pay taxes here....you have evidence, you have tape, and you put him on paid administrative leave? How sad, that I have been trying to help animals. They (the cats) came up and thought they were going to be fed. And he shot them. I take it to heart, the person who did this and the person who paid him to do this. I can say the names, I already know...", he said.
Grooms also told those in attendance he had filed a report with the South Fulton Police Department, regarding the discovery of the cats which appeared to have been shot, at his family's East State Line property.
South Fulton resident Judy Maynard was next to speak.
"Ghandi said that the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. It would seem our small hamlets of South Fulton, Tennessee and Fulton, Kentucky have fallen short on both moral progress and greatness," she said.
"Cruelty to animals is unacceptable and we must demand that every instance of animal cruelty is investigation and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Both in the states of Kentucky and Tennessee, the murder of a cat is a felony and punishable by a fine and jail sentence. We are a nation of laws, not of violence. For this to hold true, we must remain vigilant against every act of violence inflicted on any victim, even if that victim is a cat," Maynard said.
"Interestingly, the only suspect," Maynard said "is connected to this ongoing investigation and is a Fulton Police officer, suspended on paid leave. This person was trusted to safeguard our property, our children, our schools and our very lives. Instead, he is guilty of these heinous crimes, in the dead of night, was slithering around our streets looking for small animals 1/1000 of his size to shoot, throw in a bag and count the tiny cat ears for demented joy or some unknown profit, yet to be discovered.......I call upon you as fellow citizens to raise your voices in disgust of these acts against the least defenseless among us."
South Fulton resident Beth Smithson asked who was responsible for employment decisions, referencing the status of the officer on leave.
Mayor Prater reiterated Kentucky State Police was conducting the investigation, and that "all allegations" associated with the case are being investigated, adding it was "out of our hands"
"We are all appalled," Mayor Prater said.
City Attorney Allison Whitledge stated she had advised the commission to take no further action, including any action associated with the officer currently on paid leave, pending the receipt of a report from the investigation by the Kentucky State Police, however the employment status of the police officer and the crime itself were two separate issues.
Typically, the responsibility relating to the hiring or firing of a city employee, with certain exceptions, falls under the duties of the City Manager.
As to the officer on paid leave, South Fulton resident Elizabeth Hickman said "It's interesting you have someone on paid leave, but no one knows anything about anything. Some one know something. "
She referenced a system in place by which stray animals may be spayed or neutered, and re-homed through shelters, "not killed with air pellet guns, which is a cruel way, and especially when there is a fee paid per cat involved, a bounty, being offered by a person very important to economic development and the establishment of this town," Hickman said, adding "voices have to be heard. There are ways, such as if you don't want animals in mulch or digging up mulch, there is a spray available, rather than just being a person with money who it seems can get anything done."
Fulton resident Judy Lancaster noted she saw a problem in the city at times before, in regard to stray cats, with steps taken to humanely trap them and take them to rescue facilities for spaying and neutering, at some time using available grant funds.
"We need to see what we can do to remedy this problem, moving forward," Lancaster said.
"This body will move forward. We will wait on Kentucky State Police and see where this investigation leads," said Mayor Prater.
Commissioner Darcy Linn, who has volunteered extensively in the process of capturing cats, as well as dogs within the city, and assisted in maintaining the city's pound, as well as transporting animals to be spayed and neutered and locate homes for the animals, told those present she had a great deal of equipment which she uses to assist in her volunteer duties and those interested in possibly helping could contact her.
"We also need pet owners to be responsible and get them spayed and neutered," she added.
Grooms offered those interested, the supply of appropriate equipment to use in attempting to humanely trap the cats, for transporting to be spayed and neutered.
Prior to the topic regarding the cats found shot and the suspension of the police officer, Fulton citizen Dave Branch requested the city consider allowing him to pay his $26 on average monthly sewer bill, instead of a bill he had received for $252, the result of extra water usage from his in ground swimming pool. He said he had spoken with Public Works Director Bubba Nelms and plans were underway to install a separate meter for his pool prior to opening it next Summer, which he believed would alleviate the increased billing. He said his pool water did not enter the sewer system, and he had no problem in what he now paid for water usage. He told the commission he understood he was the only citizen with an in ground pool who paid for the increased sewer billing for his pool and requested the average billing be applied for the next two months, until he could close his pool for this season. Mayor Prater requested Branch meet with City Manager Mike Gunn Aug. 13, to update him on the issue, as he was not aware of the circumstances. Branch said he would meet with Gunn.
In other action taken by the commission, the officials accepted the Notification of Retirement of Danny Joyner from the Pubic Works Department, effective Aug. 13, 2019, after 43 years of service to the city, and in connection, authorized Gunn to advertise for a Utility Maintenance Worker in the Public Works Department.
The Mayor and Commissioners, as recommended by City Manager Gunn and Fulton Police Officer Terry Powell, supported the hiring of Donald Vanvalkenburg as a police officer.
Commissioner Jeff Vaughn expressed his appreciation to former resident Tony Burton for his and his family's efforts to provide free school supplies to children in the Twin Cities, through their annual Alice Burton held Aug. 10. He reported next year's date for the event is set for Aug. 1 and urged area citizens to consider "putting energy into Fulton's kids."
The commission adjourned from open public session into closed executive session for the purpose of discussing pending litigation and personnel in compliance with Kentucky Revised Statute 61.810, which includes the discussion of proposed or pending litigation against or on behalf of the public agency; and discussion or hearings which might lead to the appointment, discipline or dismissal of an individual employee, member or student without restricting the employee's, member's or student's right to a public hearing if requested. This exception shall not be interpreted to permit discussion of general personnel matters in secret.
The commission reconvened into open public session and reported no action was taken as a result of executive session.
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