Outside investigation: Hogansville officers accused of sexual misconduct, falsifying records

Published 10:00 am Saturday, November 14, 2020

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More details have been released about a third-party investigation into the Hogansville Police Department, just days after Hogansville Police Chief Brian Harr retired, another officer resigned and a third officer was fired.

Lt. Raymond Gates was the officer fired and Sgt. Shane Fitch resigned, according to the City of Hogansville. Their departures and Harr’s retirement were announced on Nov. 3.

The investigation was completed by Southern Professional Investigations, a private investigator service run by retired Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers. City Manager Jonathan Lynn said SPI only presents findings and does not give recommendations.

According to the report filed by SPI, 24 people were interviewed as part of the investigation, though a lot of the 10-page report focused on the allegations against Gates and Finch, as well as Harr’s overseeing of the department.

In the midst of the investigation, SPI wrote that Gates admitted to regularly spending part of his shift at his own residence and visiting his mother.

He also told SPI he regularly had other employees clock him in and out so that he didn’t have to come to the office.

“Lieutenant Gates stated if he was at home and on the clock, he might be eating and watching TV,” the investigation report reads. “He stated he used to play video games with his son four to five years ago, but he didn’t do that anymore. Lieutenant Gates stated he had watched YouTube videos at home while he was on the clock. He stated he watched videos about electronics, the latest Amazon gadgets, and fake prankster videos. Lieutenant Gates stated there were times he went home just to go home. He stated he sat at the pool hall and watched videos in his patrol car. Lieutenant Gates stated there wasn’t a huge call volume and that’s how he spent his time.”

Gates told investigators that he had a faster computer at home than at the office, so at times he would stay several hours. 

The SPI investigation looked into a sexual misconduct allegation made against Fitch. A woman told SPI that her son had a current drug charge against him in the City of Hogansville, and Fitch allegedly told her that if she didn’t agree to have sex with him that he would make sure her son went to prison.

According to the SPI, two written complaints were filled out by the two officers that she told the information to. The female said she felt she had to protect her son, so one day she decided to have sex with Fitch and followed him to his apartment in Hamilton. She said Fitch was in his patrol car and in uniform during that encounter. The SPI report does not specify if Fitch was on the clock.

Fitch told SPI that it was consensual and that the female was pursuing him. He also admitted to texting her sexual explicit images and that he’d also been texting with another female in Florida, who he was in an online relationship with. The SPI report does not detail if he was using his work cell phone or a personal cell phone.

Another complaint investigated by SPI was filed on Sept. 17, 2019, against Fitch by another officer and a Hogansville resident.

The complaint took place at National Night Out, a yearly event the police department holds to interact with the community. A small boy about 7 to 10 years old was handing out Bible verses printed on the back of play $1,000,000 bills.

The witnesses told SPI that when the boy handed Fitch one of the bills and told him, “I would have to shoot you in the back.”

According to SPI, during the interview of Sgt. Fitch, he said he remembered attending National Night Out and the little boy coming up to him, but he said he does not remember telling the boy he would shoot him in the back.

SPI also said it examined Fitch’s records from previous employments. According to their investigation, he had been previously employed with Pine Mountain PD, Athens-Clarke PD, Toccoa PD and Warm Springs PD. One of the agencies stated he was terminated. Another one stated that he resigned in lieu of termination and the rest were listed as resignations.

“This should have been a red flag and more investigation should have been done to contact his previous employers to determine the circumstances of his termination and resignations before he was hired by Hogansville PD,” the SPI report reads.

According to SPI, Harr was asked why he hired Fitch without a complete background check. The report said Harr needed an officer that was already a certified instructor, and Fitch was a firearms instructor. Harr also told SPI that Fitch also had supervision training, and he did not have to send him through the academy.

Harr was also asked specifically about record keeping in the department, which he told SPI was not up to par. SPI told Harr there appeared to be a chain of command issue in the department, as there were several incidents referenced in the report that he was not aware of.

The city announced on Nov. 3 that Jeff Sheppard was taking over as interim chief.