The Forsyth County Civil Service Board has upheld the termination of a law enforcement officer with more than 30 years of experience.
During its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, the three-member panel announced its decision to uphold the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department’s firing of Paul Whitfield.
During a two-day hearing in August, the panel heard Whitfield’s appeal. At that time, his attorney, Steven Lydell, argued that Whitfield should be reinstated since procedures weren’t followed properly and that Whitfield was denied his right to proper due process.
Representatives of the sheriff’s department maintained that Whitfield was rightfully terminated after an internal affairs investigation found that he had been untruthful and uncooperative.
That probe came as a result of a case involving Kimberly McAfee Pruitt. In May, Pruitt was arrested on four charges related to fraudulent legal practices, and a few days later for a felony theft by taking. Pruitt, who was employed by an attorney, allegedly offered to provide services to the attorney’s clients and took money from them without authorization to do so. She then didn’t provide any of the legal services promised, despite accepting more than $20,000.
Whitfield’s termination came after an investigation into Pruitt and other deputies who were possibly leaking information about people who had been arrested to her so she could in turn contact them. While no evidence was found that Whitfield had provided any inappropriate information to Pruitt relating to the charges against her. However, Whitfield was terminated after he reportedly lied about having had contact with Pruitt.
Authorities discovered he had left a voice mail message for Pruitt and had spoken briefly to her after one of her friends called Whitfield and passed the phone to her. Both the voice mail and call occurred after the investigation into Pruitt’s actions and into Whitfield’s relationship with her had begun. As a result, he was obligated to report any contact he had with her to internal affairs investigators. He failed to do so until placed under a polygraph test administered by a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent.
In a letter to Whitfield, the civil service board outlined its reasons for maintaining his termination. “After consideration of the testimony of the witnesses, the evidentiary exhibits introduced, as well as arguments by counsel, the Board [sic] finds that the evidence presented by the Sheriff’s Office was credible,” the letter states. “The Board [sic] finds there was sufficient evidence presented to support violation of Sheriff’s Office Policy No. 2-7.006 and the termination of employment.”
The letter goes on to state, however, that the panel believed the sheriff’s office did fail to provide the appropriate notice of termination to the Forsyth County director of personnel services. According to county policy, the director should receive notification by the end of the following business day after a termination. “The evidence was not disputed that you were terminated on May 30, 2014, and [the personnel director] was not notified of your termination until she received the termination packet on June 10, 2014,” the letter states. “However, the Sheriff’s Office presented evidence that prior to your termination, the Sheriff’s Office conducted a pre-termination dismissal conference to which you were provided notice and attended.” The board determined that since the conference was held with participation from Whitfield, his due process requirements under state law were satisfied.