City council suspends police chief - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

City council suspends police chief

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August 11, 2005

Ashburn-- Ashburn's top cop is on probation, and some say it's retaliation for the arrest of a county commissioner.

Officially, city councilors say they reprimanded Ben Sumner because he didn't properly handle paperwork. It's an issue that has divided the small town along racial lines.

After four years on the job Chief Ben Sumner says this is his first reprimand. 'I've been in this business a long time now and I take pride in my professionalism and ethics," he said.

At Wednesday night's council meeting Ashburn City Council members voted unanimously to put him on a 90-day probation and dock two weeks pay from his salary.

Mayor Bob Hunnicutt did not vote on the issue, but believes the punishment was too harsh. "Was it too severe? I think so," says Hunnicutt.

Hunnicutt says Sumner should receive a letter by Monday explaining the grounds for his probation. "I'm looking forward to getting the letter and seeing what specific concerns they had and until I receive that, I just can't comment any further," says Sumner.

City Attorney Tommy Coleman says the council thought the chief was not properly informing them about recent arrests and wasn't completing paperwork to their satisfaction.

He says some even expressed concerns that Sumner was unfairly targeting black residents. "We have a policy here against racial profiling. Also, I don't believe in that," says Sumner.

Others say Sumner's being targeted because of the dog fighting arrest of County Commissioner Joe Burgess, who is black. Burgess is out of jail on bond, but won't return our calls.

Last week a group of citizens presented a petition with more than 400 signatures calling for the termination of Sumner and his ranking officer Major Scotty Ireland, citing mismanagement of the department.

Wednesday a group of Sumner supporters presented their own 500-signature petition to keep the chief on the job.

"Is our chief perfect? Of course not. None of us are," said the mayor.

Hunnicutt says the probation was a compromise solution to both petitions, but admits it is one that will likely cause more racial divisions.

Ben Sumner says he won't make a decision about whether he will appeal the decision until he reviews the written reprimand.

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