UPDATE: Varnell police chief being investigated by GBI, per Whitfield Co. Sheriff's Office
UPDATE: The Whitfield County Sheriff's Office has confirmed that the Varnell police chief is being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
A sheriff's office spokesperson said Police Chief Lyle Grant is accused of providing a local towing company with an encrypted county radio.
On March 25, the sheriff's office said they learned Bob's Towing and Recovery was using an encrypted police radio. According to Mayor Tom Dickinson, Bob's Towing and Recovery is the only company authorized to respond to police calls in Varnell because they're the only company that applied.
The report states that a Whitfield Co. sergeant was instructed to get the radio from the business and speak with employees upon hearing the rumors that they had the radio.
When the sergeant asked the owner of the wrecker service about it, he confirmed he had it. The owner said he asked Chief Grant if he could have an encrypted radio to use since he was having to pay employees to stay at the office and monitor calls coming in, the case report explained. The owner said Chief Grant agreed.
"Based on [the owner's] admission of obtaining the radio so he didn't have to keep/pay an employee at his business, it appears that [he] was using the radio of business gain," the case report said.
The sergeant recovered the radio from the owner who said he did not want the chief to get in trouble.
The case report goes on to say the sergeant also reached out to Chief Grant who said the City of Varnell was paying a yearly maintenance fee for the radio and "needed to know if he needed to remove it from their bill if he wasn't going to get it back."
The radio was taken back to the sheriff's office, and it was confirmed that it was owned by Whitfield County and had encrypted channels.
When the sergeant spoke with Chief Grant again, the chief said he did not know he was not allowed to loan the radio, which he pays for, out. He added that he did not know there were secretive channels on it and did not know how long the wrecker service had it in their possession.
It was one of several radios purchased by Whitfield County, each costing about $5,200. The city pays the annual maintenance fee on the radios used inside city limits.
The case report explained that the sheriff's office found that "there is a potential for criminal violations to have occurred."
The report listed those violations as::
- Theft by conversion because the chief made county-owned property public by "willfully gave/loaned" the radio to the business owner to use.
- Reckless Conduct - "Due to Chief Grant providing an encrypted police radio to a private citizen and his employees to use and disregarding the potential safety risks to law enforcement officers engaged in undercover/sting/narcotics operations"
The Whitfield County Sheriff's Office turned the case over to the GBI for review because a police agency is involved.
The City of Varnell has not taken any administrative action against Chief Grant. Mayor Dickinson says he's waiting on the results of the GBI investigation to determine what happens next. For now, Grant remains on the job as chief of police.
Channel 3 will keep you updated on the case.