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Following a closed-door session last Thursday night, the Chickamauga City Council announced that Police Chief Jerry Parrish is taking a voluntary leave of absence from his job.
The action stems from an incident that took place May 4, during preparations for Down Home Days, in which Parrish overturned a golf cart after admittedly drinking alcohol.
Parrish said that he had a couple of beers that night, but says emphatically that alcohol had nothing to do with the accident.
His admission, he said, came before the council went into its the closed-door session.
I made a mistake and Im just sick over it. I should have known better than to have had those drinks and been out there, he said Friday. But I am not an alcoholic.
Parrish said that he was driving the golf cart while assisting with the various aspects of set-up that night for the performance stage near the Shop-Rite supermarket on Thomas Avenue.
It was dark, it had started sprinkling rain a bit, and I made a U-turn too quickly, he said, adding that he apparently collided with some cinder blocks at the edge of the road, causing the cart to flip over. I really didnt know what I hit.
Parrish, who was off-duty, suffered a severe compound fracture of his lower right leg. He was stabilized by emergency medical personnel at the scene and then transported to Hutcheson Medical Center for treatment, which included surgery for a severed tendon. He was released the following Monday morning.
Mayor Ray Crowder says that the morning after the accident he received the first of what would be more than 100 phone calls over the next week pertaining to the incident.
The first one was an anonymous report that Chief Parrish was under the influence of alcohol at the time, Crowder said, adding that most of the calls were from people just wondering what the city was going to do.
The mayor said he also received an anonymous letter from a concerned citizen who stated a similar report of Parrish being under the influence.
He read from the letter, I have chosen not to give my name at this time because I dont want any problems from anyone in the police department or the city officials. Most of the witnesses who were present are afraid of the same.
Crowder said, I dont like anonymous phone calls and letters, so I didnt pay much attention at first. But through the week there was more and more smoke to where I felt there could be a fire.
Investigation of incident ongoing
Randal Dalton, the City Council member who oversees the police department, said that the facts of the case are still being investigated by the Peace Officer Standards and Training commission in Georgia, a professional organization that certifies and offers continuing training for public safety employees.
No police report was filed for the incident, Dalton said, as officers at the scene were primarily dealing with getting Parrishs injuries treated.
He said to his knowledge there was no blood sample taken from Parrish at the hospital that night. The whole alcohol thing didnt even come into question until these anonymous calls and letters started coming in, Dalton said.
He said that the City Council plans to craft a new ordinance which requires that any accident involving a city police officer be investigated by the Georgia State Patrol. This caught us off guard a bit, he said. We have never had to deal with anything like this before.
Mayor Crowder agreed, saying, I hate this whole situation, and I wish I could just rub it out.
Parrish, though he denies an addiction, has agreed to seek professional counseling for alcohol abuse. I dont want to simply say Im sorry without having any action behind those words. And I think counseling may help me realize why I made this bad decision.
The City Council has decided not to make any immediate decision regarding Parrishs employment, opting to allow him time to seek help as he indicated. We want to do whats best for the city and whats best for Jerry, Dalton said.
Dalton pointed out that Parrish has been with the city police for nearly 23 years without any mark on his record. I feel like he deserves the opportunity to try and make things right instead of just losing his career over one mistake, he said.
City Council member Mark Askew said he has received some phone calls from Chickamauga citizens expressing their admiration of and support for Chief Parrish.
Jerry and I are lifelong friends, and I know he just wants to do what it takes to put this thing behind him, and I support him in that, Askew said. I have a feeling this thing is being blown out of proportion.
According to Chickamauga City Manager John Culpepper, as a salaried employee Parrish will continued to receive pay while he is on leave. Culpepper said that Lt. Michael Haney will serve as acting chief during Parrishs absence.
Parrish said that he got into law enforcement for the sole purpose of helping people, and he realizes that this incident puts him on a long road to regaining peoples confidence and trust. Thats what tears me up the most, that I let the people of this city and my city council down. But I guarantee that if I can keep my job, nothing like this will ever happen again.
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