The Athens-Clarke County Police Department fired Officer Taylor Saulters for hitting a fleeing suspect with his police cruiser

By Kara Warner and Adam Carlson
June 04, 2018 12:13 PM
Athens-Clarke County Police Department

A police officer in Georgia has been fired after hitting a fleeing suspect with his patrol car late last week, PEOPLE confirms.

In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department said the incident occurred Friday night while Officers Hunter Blackmon and Taylor Saulters were on patrol.

Blackmon spotted a man, Timmy Patmon, whom he knew had a felony probation warrant, authorities said in the statement. The officers confirmed the validity of the warrant and attempted to make contact with Patmon, but he ran away.

Saulters pursued the suspect with his patrol car and attempted to block Patmon’s path twice — all of which was captured on video and released publicly by Athens-Clarke County PD.

“During Saulter’s first attempt to block Patmon, Saulters struck a curb and flattened his driver’s side front tire,” the department said in a statement. “On Saulter’s second attempt to block Patmon’s path with his patrol car, and during the maneuvering of the patrol car, Patmon impacted the right front quarter panel of Saulters’ car as Saulters was attempting to accelerate past Patmon.”

A subsequent internal affairs investigation into Saulters’ conduct found he used excessive force in arresting Patmon. “Saulters did not have any information that would justify using a patrol vehicle to affect an arrest,” the investigation’s summary report states.

At the scene on Friday, officers called for an ambulance to evaluate Patmon, who sustained minor injuries, after which he was turned over to the Clarke County Jail, authorities said.

The extent of Patmon’s injuries “were scrapes and bruises,” police said. He has been charged with violating his probation and obstructing a law enforcement officer.

Patmon remains in custody, and court officials said Monday he has not entered a plea and is scheduled to return to court on July 12. Records did not list an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

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In the wake of the incident, Officer Saulters was initially placed on administrative leave by Chief Scott Freeman and an internal affairs investigation was opened. The Georgia State Patrol and Georgia Bureau of Investigation were also brought in to conduct independent investigations of the incident.

The GBI will find if criminal charges are appropriate against Saulters, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

“After reviewing the officers’ body camera footage, and all the other facts and circumstances of this case Chief Scott Freeman terminated the employment of Officer Taylor Saulters,” the department said in its statement.

Saulters reportedly graduated from the police academy in the last year and was a rookie on the force.

While Saulters said he did not meant to hit Patmon with his car, the summary report of the internal affairs probe, which was obtained by PEOPLE, says he “used poor judgement in using his patrol vehicle as a means to apprehend a fleeing suspect.”

Officer Blackmon was not cited for any “policy violations or areas of concern.”

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“There are no facts that were uncovered that would have led to the justification for this level of use of force in this incident,” the report continues, noting that Patmon was clearly visible along the right side of Saulters’ car when the officer turned it in his direction.

For his part, Saulters told investigators that he had trouble controlling his car after the driver’s side tire went flat and that Patmon “ran into his vehicle,” according to the report. He said he only wanted to block the suspect from further escape. (Efforts to reach Saulters for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.)

Once in custody, according to the IA report, Patmon talked to Saulters about being hit by his car, to which Saulters responded: “I know, I know what I did. Why did you run?”

After Patmon was struck, an onlooker said, “You didn’t have to hit that man like that.”