FOREST PARK, Ga. (CBS46) – The City of Forest Park says the police department is making changes after announcing that an audit revealed a former police chief told officers to spy on two city council members.
City leaders fired Dwayne Hobbs back in September of 2018. Hobbs was ousted from the job as Forest Park's chief after 22 years on the job, and 45 years on the force. The city council voted to remove him after some city employees claimed residents were being racially targeted by the police department. Hobbs told CBS46 at that time, the complaints were investigated and found to be unsubstantiated.
On April 15, 2019, the City of Forest Park confirmed Nathaniel Clark as its newest Chief of Police. City leaders tell CBS 46 that Chief Clark immediately began assessing all aspects of the police department and he is now prepared to implement significant changes to address several key issues. These issues include systematic financial mismanagement, surveillance of Forest Park City Council members and restructuring.
The City of Forest Park confirms the two council members are Ms. Latresa Wells and Mr. Dabouze Antoine, and that they were under surveillance for about three years. Officials say the pretext of the investigation centered around unsubstantiated allegations that the two were involved in voter fraud and illegal drug activities.
The city released the following information regarding the investigation into those claims:
• The investigation showed that members of the now-disbanded VIPER Task Force physically followed, watched, monitored and photographed the two council members.
• Pole-mounted cameras near homes were utilized and activities by the councilpersons were notated.
• In addition, their curbside garbage bins were emptied, contents collected and reviewed and, in some instances, processed as potential evidence.
The city says the investigation ultimately found nothing could substantiate the allegations and all information has been referred to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells says she feels violated by the entire situation.
“My heart is hurting so bad right now. I feel violated. What is worse is that this does not just affect me — by placing cameras outside my home, it affects my children, my husband, my whole family, and all my friends and neighbors. They were spying on all of us. This is simply ridiculous," Akins-Wells said.
Akins-Wells says if this was done to members of the city council, then she wonders who else in the community was also impacted.
"Since my first campaign in 2011, I have advocated for making a change and finding out what was really going on in our police department. I have fought for transparency. I have fought for a police department that is just and fair — one that is more focused on keeping our entire community safe rather than harassing the innocent," Akins-Wells said.
Akins-Wells also commends the actions of current leadership. "We finally have a police chief that will do the right thing and turn our police department into the type of department the people of Forest Park need and deserve," she said.
"While I am glad this has been referred to the GBI, I do not think we need to wait to take action. I support Chief Clark’s efforts and stand ready to assist him as he makes the changes that are needed.”
Forest Park City Mayor Angelyne Butler is publicly apologizing to the new city council members. “On behalf of the residents of the City of Forest Park, I extend my apologies to Councilwoman Wells and Councilman Antoine, and I extend my gratitude to Chief Clark for making every effort to help us move past this situation in a positive manner,” Butler said. “Chief Clark has complete and full support from me, the City Manager and the City Council as he continues to make much needed changes at the police department, including reassignments, changes in policy, separations of some officers, and criminal charges if necessary.”
Butler continued: “We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable and punished to the full extent of the law. We now need to restore and build the highest-possible level of trust between the entire Forest Park community and the police department — that will be one of the highest priorities of this City Council.”
The Forest Park Police department also released an apology of their own, "The Forest Park Police Department would like to issue a heartfelt apology to Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells, Councilman Dabouze Antoine and the entire Forest Park community. We acknowledge that the accusations of financial mismanagement and illegal surveillance are an ugly scar on the department. We are working diligently to regain the trust of the community. The dedicated men and women of the Forest Park Police Department put their lives on the line daily to protect the citizens and visitors of our great community. The actions of a few, have violated the trust of many. We ask that everyone allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) time to conduct a complete and thorough investigation."
Chief Clark says he will continue working hard to restructure the police department. “I am committed to addressing the findings of the audit and investigation, and to moving the department forward. Our officers are committed to serving the citizens and guests of Forest Park and turning this department into a world-class police agency,” Clark said.