Forsyth County's civil service board heard an appeal Tuesday from a Forsyth County Sheriff's deputy demoted after he arrived late to pick up a juvenile runaway at the Atlanta airport.
The 17-year-old girl was supposed to be picked up May 6 and brought back to her home in Forsyth County. Instead, she escaped from the airport and was not found again for about a week.
The board, which took no action at the public hearing, has 30 days to decide whether to rescind Jimmy Caldwell's demotion from Deputy 1st Class to Deputy 2.
Caldwell said his failure to arrive on time at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport stemmed from a "combination of circumstances that all came together at one time."
His supervisor, Sgt. Jessica Daves, disagreed. She relayed the events of that particular day to the civil service board.
Daves, who wrote up Caldwell for "neglect of duty," said she warned him multiple times on May 6 to "get going" to the airport.
She said Caldwell ate a snack before leaving for the airport at 3:01 p.m. The flight was scheduled to arrive at 3:30 p.m.
Caldwell disagreed on the time of his departure.
"I have in my records that I left at 2:39 p.m.," he said, adding that he may not have informed his supervisor by radio of his departure until after 3 p.m.
Daves told the board that Caldwell had previously been disciplined for other conduct-related matters and had issues with time management.
Civil service board members seemed most concerned with the county's potential liability in the matter.
"It was the responsibility of the sheriff's office to pick up this young lady," said Avery Howell, chairman of the civil service board. "What if she would have gotten killed?"
Sheriff's Col. Dennis Nelson, who recommended Caldwell's demotion, said he thinks the county was liable for the girl's well-being.
"This was a person that was in custody and was supposed to be handed off to us at the airport, and this didn't occur," he said.
Daves said the juvenile had been put on a plane unattended in Texas. Because there was no representative from the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office to meet her at the gate, she was "allowed to leave."
She said it's up to the arresting agency whether to escort a runaway juvenile on the plane.
"Some agencies will actually put a deputy on to ride back with them," she said, which did not happen in this case.
Caldwell contends that arriving late at the airport was not "an intentional or malicious" act.
"There's just a lot of variables," he said. "It's one of those things where you do something right, nobody notices. You do something wrong and everybody's looking."
Caldwell said he was backed up in traffic from an accident on his way to the airport and that he was on the phone with his ex-wife before he left for his destination.
She told him there was a change of plans at her workplace and that she could not pick up their daughter from school.
"I told her I had to go to the airport," he said.
Caldwell added that the flight arrived early, which further complicated the situation.
"The flight arrived at 3:10 p.m.," he said. "It was scheduled for 3:30 p.m."
Caldwell maintains he arrived at the airport at 3:30 p.m., a claim that sheriff's office records do not support.
Caldwell told the civil service board he has executed "many successful transports," and that in this instance it was "just beyond my control."
Daves said the juvenile turned up about a week later in Texas.
She was flown back to Atlanta on May 30 after arrangements were made with the arresting agency. Caldwell was not assigned to pick her up the second time.