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Embattled Forsyth County deputy 'voluntarily' leaves Sheriff’s Office

A Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was fired over allegations of domestic violence but later reinstated has “voluntarily separated his employment,” according to the local agency.

The Forsyth County Civil Service Board awarded Tom McCullagh, 39, back pay but no further financial settlement, the Sheriff's Office said in a statement to the Forsyth County News. 

McCullagh received $47,917.59, according to Karen Shields, director of communications with Forsyth County government.

The agency said it has notified both the Forsyth County Solicitor General’s Office and the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council about McCullagh’s employment status.

McCullagh was fired on Dec. 10 2019 after 16 years with the Sheriff’s Office after he was arrested and charged with battery family violence for a domestic incident involving his wife at the couple’s residence in North Forsyth two weeks earlier.

After an internal affairs investigation, the FCSO said that McCullagh had violated nine agency policies. 

McCullagh appealed his termination during a hearing on June 11, 2020 with the Civil Service Board. The Board determined that the Sheriff’s Office’s testimony and evidence only supported one of the nine policy violations, and that violation — conduct toward fellow employees — did not warrant termination.

The Board reversed the FCSO decision during a meeting on July 9, 2020. McCullagh was reinstated and immediately placed on administrative leave by the Sheriff’s Office.

At the time, the Sheriff’s Office told the FCN that the outcome was impacted by a “technical error” made by the agency’s legal counsel.

According to a letter from the Board obtained by the FCN, the Sheriff’s Office based McCullagh’s termination on violating state law for attempting to influence a witness instead of the pending criminal charges against him for battery family violence, which the Board said would have been cause for termination under Forsyth County employee policy.

In addition, the Board found that the Sheriff’s Office’s evidence did not prove that McCullagh attempted to influence his wife’s statements to detectives during their investigation of the incident. 

The Board’s letter indicates that McCullagh’s wife signed separate written statements on Nov. 29, 2019, and Nov. 30, 2019, with contradicting versions of the domestic incident.

In one, she said McCullagh “put his thumb in [her] mouth pulling [her] cheek [and] then hit me twice with a closed fist in the left side of my face twice, once at the temple, the second one in the jaw line,” according to the letter. 

In the other, McCullagh’s wife said “she first put her hands on Mr. McCullagh and bit his thumb, and that Mr. McCullagh did not hit her on purpose.”

During the June 11 hearing, the Sheriff’s Office’s legal counsel played a recorded phone call between McCullagh and his wife after McCullagh’s arrest in which he told her to “fix this” and that “we’re going to lose everything we ever worked for, you need to fix this,” according to the letter.

The Board found McCullagh’s wife’s testimony at the June 11 hearing “to not be credible” and that McCullagh’s statement to “fix this” and the “totality of the evidence” did not support policy violations of solicitation of favorable acts, moral conduct, violation of law, and conduct unbecoming - on/off duty conduct.

“It would appear that the Sheriff’s Office would have the authority to suspend or terminate Mr. McCullagh based on the family violence battery charge, subject to his right of appeal to this Board of the decision,” the Board wrote. “... however, Mr. McCullagh was not terminated by the Sheriff’s Office based on the pending charge against him for family violence battery.”