UPDATE: Varnell mayor vetoes city council, reinstates police dep - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Varnell mayor vetoes city council, reinstates police department

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WHITFIELD COUNTY, GA (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Two days after city council members voted to eliminate the Varnell police force, officers are now back on the streets, patrolling the area.

Mayor Anthony Hulsey vetoed their decision on Thursday and reinstated the nine-officer police department.

In less than two weeks, city council members will meet and they could override the mayor's veto. 

"The police department for the city of Varnell has officially been reinstated per my veto power as allowed by our city charter," Mayor Anthony Hulsey said.

A veto message filed with the city of Varnell from the mayor means that officers can now get back to work. Business owner Vishal Patel hopes it stays that way.

"We definitely need to keep our police department for our protection," Vishal Patel, a business owner said.

Before the department was reinstated, The Whitfield County Sheriff's Office and the Cohutta Police Department made sure there was a law enforcement presence as they have in the past.

Now four full time and five part time officers will be putting their uniforms on again and patrolling the area.

"It feels good to get back to work and get back to serving the community of Varnell," Chief Lyle Grant of the Varnell Police Department said.

Varnell's mayor said his veto may not be a permanent solution for the police force. He predicts city council members may override his veto.

"This is not the end of it. It's going to continue and I cannot actively say how long it will continue," Mayor Hulsey said.

The thought of being without a police department again isn't comforting for Patel to hear. He wants the mayor and city council members to solve their differences.

"I hope that it works out where we can keep our police department continue going. I definitely do not want them to go away," Patel said.

If the city council members decide to go against the mayor, he would not be able to veto it. 

From there, it could be taken up in court or new city council members could re-instate the department. That election is this November. 

City council members will meet on July 25th at 7 p.m. at the Varnell gym.


Varnell residents want answers from city leaders about why the police department was dissolved.

At a special called meeting on Tuesday, city council members voted three to one to eliminate the police department.

Channel 3 spoke with several people who said this is more about politics than the police department.

Stephanye Sumner believes there's value to a local police department. She said Varnell police officers were like family.

"You always see them out there patrolling. They stop and talk to us. They're very involved in our community," Stephanye Sumner, a Varnell resident said.

Sumner is one of many neighbors pushing for city leaders to change their minds. It wasn't until after city council members voted to dissolve the department that she learned about what happened.

"I want our officers back on patrol. We need our officers in Varnell," Sumner said.

The Whitfield County Sheriff said deputies will continue patrolling the area as they have done in the past.

He said Varnell's open and active cases will most likely be transferred to his department.

Sumner worries about response times, but the sheriff said that shouldn't be an issue.

"We've designated a patrol unit right there for the immediate area of Varnell, so hopefully the response times will be very good," Sheriff Scott Chitwood of the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office said.

Other neighbors like Brent Newsome are making sure their voice is heard. His main concern is how this was handled.

"There was no public input. There was no public notice. They brought this to the table without it being on the agenda. So, everything about this is wrong," Brent Newsome, a Varnell resident said.

The city attorney said proper notice was not given to talk about the disbanding of the police department.

On Wednesday, the mayor said he plans to veto the city council's vote from Tuesday. He also said they could override that veto.


PREVIOUS STORY: A turn of events Tuesday afternoon during a Varnell City Council meeting, where members voted to do away with the city's police department.

The elimination comes after police say former city council member Sheldon Fowler assaulted police officers. As a result, then Varnell's Police Chief Lyle Grant was put on paid leave for the way he handled the investigation.   

The Varnell City Council called a special meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the police chief’s suspension.

After a closed-door meeting, Mayor Anthony Hulsey announced that Grant acted accordingly and reinstated the chief.   

Just minutes later council member, Jan Pourquoi motioned to disband the police department.

"People in Varnell will get value from county tax dollars to the sheriff’s department and will free up money to do other things such as recreation, things for the elderly, things for the young and the community,” Pourquoi explained.

He said people would save about $250,000, which is how much he estimates the city spends to have their own police department. The council voted 3 to 1 in favor of eliminating the force. The one person in attendance said he was shocked his city leaders voted so quickly. 

"This is absolutely, I can't believe. The citizens of this city, the city of Varnell need to be at the next council meeting and they need to start asking questions of our council people,” said Bill Morgan.

Varnell's police officers are now without a job. After the meeting adjourned, the four full time and six part time officers handed in their uniforms.

The Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office will now patrol the area. Pourquoi said he wants to hire another deputy for the area. Some former Varnell officers said that's not enough.

"Not only for the citizens of Varnell but the burden it's going to place on the Sheriff’s Office and the cost to cover this town,” said former Varnell Police Officer Chris Clark.

As it stands right now, Varnell does not have a police department.

Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood said this doesn’t change much. He added that the county protects all people in the area, including Varnell.

Terry Miller, the city attorney said they are unsure of the legal aspect of the actions made Tuesday. After the meeting, some council members said they did not come to the meeting well informed for this vote and need to research.

"We’ll determine whether or not it was the proper day, time and forum for this motion and vote or whether under the open records law, if this will have to be done at a later time with a properly called public meeting,” Miller explained.

Stay with Channel 3 as we continue following this story.


PREVIOUS UPDATE: In a rancorous meeting Tuesday morning, the Varnell City Council voted to eliminate the city's police department.

The vote is expected to go into place immediately.

Before the vote, the council voted to reinstate police chief, Lyle Grant.

The meeting was called to discuss Grant's future with the department and resulted in the council voting to eliminate the entire department.

Mayor Anthony Hulsey said he is going on the record that he doesn't agree with this decision. During the meeting, some council members want to know if they are violating the city charter without law enforcement.

PREVIOUS STORY: Channel 3 has obtained the 911 call that led to the arrest of Varnell City Councilman Sheldon Fowler. 

Fowler was charged with simple assault after an argument with police. Fowler announced he's stepping down from city council, and the police chief was put on administrative leave. 

Fowler's wife, Stephanie, called 911 after an argument between the two on June 13. She told dispatch Fowler had taken Ambien while drinking alcohol throughout the day and was harassing the family.

"My husband is drunk and half naked," Mrs. Fowler told the 911 dispatcher. "He will not leave my daughters alone, won't go to his room and go to bed."

For two minutes, Stephanie Fowler talked to Whitfield County 911 dispatchers from her home on Country Way, asking for help. She told them her husband, Sheldon Fowler, was falling over furniture and wouldn't leave their daughter's room. 

"He's been calling her a fat (expletive), which she is special needs," Mrs. Fowler told the dispatcher. "He's calling names and he just won't go to bed."

"He's standing here slurring his words," Mrs. Fowler continued. "He will not go to bed. I can't do anything with him." 

Mrs. Fowler told dispatchers there were weapons in the house but that her husband was unarmed.

"Do you feel safe with me getting off the phone with you before the officers get there or do you want me to stay on the phone until they get there," the dispatcher asked Mrs. Fowler. 

"I think I'll be fine," Mrs. Fowler replied.

Varnell Police Chief Lyle Grant says when his officers arrived, Fowler insulted them and poked them in the chest with his finger. 

Ten days later a warrant was issued for his arrest. 

In a Facebook post, Grant wrote in part: "This was all done to ensure we had all facts together as needed and to allow me time to report to my superior's the information."

READ MORE | Varnell Police Chief Lyle Grant's full response

Fowler later responded to the Facebook post with the following comment:

It's not clear if Chief Grant broke any laws. But, city officials say they hope the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will help them determine how to move forward. 

"Law enforcement professionals go behind, look and fill in the blanks to answer some of these questions," city attorney, Terry Miller said. "So hopefully, that will happen in the next few days or weeks."

Fowler will step down on July 3.

His position on the city council is up for grabs in the November election. 


PREVIOUS UPDATE: Varnell City Councilman Sheldon Fowler will step down from his position, effective July 3, following the altercation that ended with him being charged with simple assault.

Varnell Police Chief Lyle Grant has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the GBI investigation in the incident.


PREVIOUS STORYChannel 3 has learned that Varnell City Councilman Sheldon Fowler has turned himself Tuesday evening.

The Whitfield County jail confirmed his surrender.

Fowler is charged with simple assault because police say he poked officers in the chest while they were responding to an incident at his home.

Varnell Police Chief Lyle Grant posted a lengthy response on the Varnell Police Department's Facebook page, which can be read here.

In that statement, Grant acknowledges that police knew Fowler was under the affects of alcohol and Ambien, a sleeping aid. He also admits he might have handled the situation with Grant differently, be didn't say how.

Fowler later responded to the Facebook post with the following comment:

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.


PREVIOUS STORY: The Whitfield County Sheriff's Office issued a warrant for a Varnell City Council member.

Deputies arrived at Sheldon Fowler's house after his wife called 9-1-1 on June 13th.

They say Fowler took Ambien, a sleeping aid, with alcohol and became aggressive towards his family.

When deputies arrived at the home, they say Fowler insulted the officers and poked them in the chest with his finger.

He wasn't arrested at the time of the incident but warrants were issued ten days later.

Fowler is expected to turn himself in for simple assault.

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