Bribery charge against city councilman not prosecutable
Blackshear Councilman Timmy Sapp will not face additional charges of bribery in connection with his arrest for disorderly conduct last May.
District Attorney George Barnhill issued a statement to that affect earlier this month. Sapp’s case will be handled in Pierce County State Court as a misdemeanor and has been set for the April 2020 court calendar, Barnhill says.
Blackshear Police Department turned the matter over to the DA June 10, 2019.
“Back when the arrest was made, the Blackshear Police Department referred to the issue of whether a prosecutable bribe had occurred to us for review. We looked at all of the facts and determined there was no conscious, knowing, and prosecutable offer of a bribe made,” Barnhill told The Times.
“The charge Mr. Sapp was being arrested for was a misdemeanor of disorderly conduct at his own home, involving his ex-wife and adult sons. Under the ‘rule of lenity,’ (which is binding case law in Georgia) boosting a misdemeanor to a felony over intoxicated comments to a third party friend would doubtfully stand appellate review,” Barnhill continues.
Sapp deferred to his attorney when asked for comment on the matter.
“I don’t know nothing about it. You’d have to call John (Thigpen),” he said.
Sapp was arrested after officers responded to two calls at his Strickland Avenue home Sunday, May 5, from family members supposedly claiming Sapp was drunk and disorderly. Sapp reportedly threw a liquor bottle through a window of the residence prior to his arrest.
In a letter to Barnhill, dated Monday, June 10, Police Chief Chris Wright says Sapp was “extremely intoxicated” when the incident occurred. A copy of the official investigative file alleges Sapp called BPD Major Robby Boatright, claiming to have $1,200 in his pocket, and asked if anything could be done to “make this go away.”
“The officer who received the comments by telephone, was not at the scene and felt Mr. Sapp was too intoxicated to make a knowing and willful bribe attempt,” Barnhill says. “These two men had, and have known each other for a long time. The officer did not take this seriously. Said officer was not the arresting officer, and lacked the power to un-arrest Mr. Sapp (or) to provide anything of value in return.”
According to the June 10 letter, Wright turned the matter over to Barnhill’s office because of a potential conflict between medical records he possessed which were reportedly in conflict with Sapp’s later claims of a medical condition, not being drunk, causing his behavior that night.
Barnhill told The Times Sapp does have some medical issues, and takes prescription medication which likely influenced his intoxication level.
Wright stood by Barnhill’s opinion to not press further charges last week, reiterating it was his duty as police chief to turn the matter over to the DA last summer.
“When any potential felony violations of the law by a member of the governing body of the arresting agency occurs, it becomes the duty of the Chief of Police to forward all information and investigative materials from such arrest to the district attorney for independent review and inspection by an outside, independent agency,” Wright told The Times.
“Peace officers must always be objective finders of facts and consider all elements involved. My officers never asked to be put in the position of arresting a member of the council. However, when presented with probable cause for arrest, an officer must affect such arrest, regardless of an individual’s stature in the community,” Wright continued. “We must preserve the peace without prejudgment. The additional information presented in this case did not call for immediate action but gave further cause for independent review, therefore, I referred the matter to our district attorney for his independent review. The department takes no stance in any cases submitted to the district attorney for review.”
Mayor Kevin Grissom appointed Councilman Charles Broady and Councilman David Smith, who left council at the end of his term in 2019, to a committee last year tasked with reviewing any ethical violations potentially resulting from Councilman Sapp’s arrest, but that committee never pursued the matter.
Grissom told The Times last week a citizen must first bring a complaint to the council. The committee then reviews it. If they find merit to the complaint, the committee forwards the matter to the city’s Board of Ethics to provide a recommendation on disciplinary action.
No complaint against Sapp was ever brought to the council.
Former council member Mary Lott Walker, Bob Knapp and Reginald Taylor currently sit on the Board of Ethics.