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Murfree reduces DCSS police officer's suspension

ALBANY, Ga. -- It was one of retired Superintendent Sally Whatley's final acts -- a move that has been reversed by new Supt. Joshua Murfree.

After a recommended termination from Dougherty County School System Chief of Police Troy Conley wasn't approved by the Board of Education, Whatley put school system Police Officer Keith Frazier on a 35-day unpaid suspension on June 7.

Excluding the summer in which he wasn't scheduled to work, Frazier would've been due back to work Sept. 21. The 35-day suspension could have jeopardized his state POST certification.

Conley recommended Frazier's termination April 21 after Frazier allegedly failed to notify Conley of serious incidents/intelligence and for dereliction of duties as a law enforcement officer. Frazier has worked 4 1/2 years on the DCSS force after working more than 10 years for the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office.

One allegation included Frazier not reporting to Conley that a bus driver had seen what he believed was a student possessing a shotgun March 19 near an alley by Merry Acres Middle School, where Frazier was assigned. The incident followed Frazier not notifying Conley of a Dougherty Middle School student getting "assaulted by his hair being set on fire," which caused Conley to give him a written reprimand Jan. 14. Frazier was assigned to Dougherty Middle at the time.

A week after Whatley issued her 35-day suspension, board members Milton "June Bug" Griffin, Velvet Riggins, James Bush and Anita Williams-Brown sought to reduce Whatley's recommendation during an executive session, retiring board member Michael Windom told The Herald June 22.

During the May 26 board meeting in which the board voted on the recommended termination of Frazier, Griffin voted against it, Riggins, Bush and Williams-Brown all abstained. Windom, Emily Jean McAfee and David Maschke voted to terminate Frazier.

Although the board ultimately decided not to publicly vote on the suspension reduction, Murfree told Frazier in an Aug. 2 letter that his unpaid suspension was 15 days and that he could return to work Aug. 3. The letter was obtained by The Herald through an Open Records request.

"It is the expectation of the Board of Education as well as my expectation that every professional perform his/her duties and uphold the highest standard of ethical behavior in all actions and circumstances," wrote Murfree, who took the school system's reins June 8. "Further, it is expected that you follow all departmental guidelines, procedures and communicated protocol in fulfilling the requirements of your position as a DCSS police officer as the safety of the DCSS students and employees depend on your efforts to be responsible and engaged in the execution of your assigned duties."

Murfree then advised Frazier that if further unbecoming behavior occurred it would not be "tolerated" and that additional "corrective action" would be taken.

"I talked with Officer Frazier about the expectations of the job he holds and he agreed that his behavior would follow procedure and protocol required of our police officers," Murfree said to The Herald Thursday. "I strongly believe in holding people accountable for their behavior. There should be a progression of discipline from warnings through suspension and termination. After our discussion, I decided to allow Officer Frazier to return to work on his new assignment (at Dougherty High School) with the understanding that he is being held accountable for proper procedure."

Board Chair Maschke said he was disappointed by Murfree's decision.

"After I reviewed Chief Conley's recommendation and his concerns about this employee not following procedure that put students at risk, I supported the termination recommendation of Dr. Whatley," Maschke said. "I felt that after the board would not support Dr. Whatley's termination recommendation, a 35-day suspension would make a strong statement that the board and the administration takes school safety very seriously. I did not favor, nor support the reduction of the suspension. I also believe this compromises the Dougherty County police chief's ability to demand attention to procedure and lacks accountability."

Conley, Bush, Griffin, Windom and Riggins couldn't be reached for comment after messages were left for each of them. Williams-Brown said she couldn't talk because, "I just walked into the airport here and I will get back with you."

Bush, McAfee and Griffin are on the school board's Safety and Security Committee. Williams-Brown chairs the Personnel Committee, which Windom and McAfee also sit on.

"I was disappointed in the way that was handled," McAfee said of Murfree's decision to reduce Frazier's suspension. "I think there was a legal opinion that it was the superintendent's call, (but) I thought we had been involved in it and that we should've seen it through. But, I would've been opposed to it being reduced, but it didn't come to me. I don't like it; just the process and the consistency. I don't think it looks good as to how we handle things."

The Herald filed an Open Records request with the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council in Austell for any record they had on file for Frazier. The four-page POST Officer Profile Report listed Frazier had 1,007 training hours as of Dec. 28, 2009, including 18 hours on gang-related training. It noted that under Investigations that Frazier had "No Cases on File."