Three Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputies have been disciplined as the result of an internal investigation into a January incident at a local restaurant.
According to documents from the sheriff’s office of professional standards and conduct, the deputies were off duty and had been drinking alcohol when they involved themselves in what at first was thought to be a drug deal.
Sgt. Stephen Bradley and Deputies Travis Bishop and Scott Collett were reprimanded Feb. 9 for unbecoming conduct.
Sheriff Ted Paxton said the deputies shouldn’t have gotten involved in the incident.
“That was the tremendous error in judgment, was to become involved in something when they were already in that social setting and had already had something to drink,” he said. “They should have never, never got involved in it, but they did.”
The incident occurred Jan. 17 outside The Ridge off Ga. 400 at Exit 15, Bald Ridge Marina Road.
According to individual accounts of the night’s events, a Transportation Security Administration air marshal told the deputies he heard a man in the bathroom having a phone conversation that sounded like a drug deal.
The air marshal, Brian Selke, is the husband of another deputy who was not involved in the incident, though she was at the restaurant that night, according to the accounts.
Selke and Bradley then went to Sheriff’s Investigator Ron Tomblin with what Selke overheard. Tomblin, who was off duty, was working security at the restaurant.
Bradley also reportedly told Tomblin that he saw the man make a hand-to-hand exchange with another man inside the restaurant.
According to Lt. Richard Holcomb’s written summary of the investigation, Tomblin stopped one of the men as he was leaving the parking lot and questioned him about the incident. Bradley, Selke, Bishop and Collett also came out and stood near the man’s car.
“Tomblin stated that while he was talking to the subject, he heard a ‘smack’ on the window of the vehicle and Sgt. Bradley began screaming ‘get your hands out of your pockets,’” Holcomb wrote. “He said he did not remember if [Bradley] was cussing at the person or not.”
According to the report, Bradley apparently reached back and raised his shirt, as if to grab a weapon, and told the person inside the car to put his hands up. Tomblin told Holcomb he never saw a weapon.
The summary goes on to say that at that point, the driver told Sgt. Bradley the person in the back seat was his 10-year-old autistic son.
Tomblin explained no drugs were found and that the man told him he had come to the restaurant that night to pick up $50 a friend owed him.
In his own account of the incident, Bradley denied using foul language and admitted he was armed.
He said he backed off once he was made aware that an autistic child was in the back seat.
“I asked (Bradley) if he attempted to draw (his weapon) at any time and he said ‘no,’” Holcomb wrote.
According to the father’s account, his 15-year-old son jumped into the back seat to protect the 10-year-old after Bradley smacked the window.
The father also said Bradley cussed at the boy.
The father said another man identified himself as a federal agent and “told him to stop throwing his son’s autism at the other officers,” Holcomb wrote.
“He said the man proceeded to tell him that he had been shot at by 15-year-olds that looked like they were 22 or 25.”
Each deputy, as well as others who were at the restaurant that night, were interviewed as part of the investigation.
As a result, Bradley was suspended for 16 hours without pay.
He was suspended for eight hours without pay in 2006 for the same violation after he reportedly threatened over the phone to kill a man and insulted another deputy.
Bishop was suspended for 40 hours without pay, according to sheriff’s records, because the reprimand was his second within a year for the same violation.
Records show Bishop’s previous reprimand stemmed from a June incident where he consumed alcohol and then drove three unauthorized passengers in a county vehicle.
Collett received an eight-hour suspension without pay.
Paxton said he does not condone the deputies’ actions that night. Once the incident was brought to his department's attention, it was investigated immediately by internal affairs.
He said Bradley had taken a defensive posture, as trained, when he saw someone in the back seat of the car and had “stood down” once he realized the person was a child.
Selke “leaped to a conclusion,” said Paxton, who added that he still doesn’t understand what about the conversation indicated criminal activity.
“I’ll have to paraphrase, but he heard something along the lines of, ‘Yes I’ve got it. I’ll be right out front to meet you,’” Paxton said.
“That could be a to-go order ... There was absolutely nothing inferred in what this person overheard that would indicate, in my opinion, that there was any criminal activity afoot to start with.”
Paxton said he did not know what, if any, disciplinary action would be taken against Selke, adding that he believes the man's supervisors are aware of the incident.