(Editor's note: The following is from Varnell Police Chief Lyle Grant in response to questions from the Daily Citizen-News about the incident involving Sheldon Fowler, a member of the Varnell City Council, on June 13. Grant declined to answer questions from a reporter over the phone and asked the reporter to send him a list of questions. Below are the questions and Grant's unedited responses that he emailed on the night of June 27.)
I have received numerous questions from the local news media and public alike concerning the incident with Mr. Sheldon Fowler on 6/13/2017. I asked our local newspaper The Daily Citizen in Dalton, Georgia to compile a list of questions they would like for me to answer. I have already conducted a personal interview on camera with News Channel 9 out of Chattanooga, Tennessee and other various news outlets including WRCB-TV have been reaching out to my agency seeking answers to questions. We are a transparent agency, and given that fact I want to answer the below questions that have been asked of me by Chris Whitfield with the Daily Citizen on 6/26/2017 to clear up any questions the local media may ask. The below six questions is all Mr. Whitfield wanted clarification regarding when he emailed me yesterday at 1338 in the afternoon. I told him I would answer as many questions given to me – he asked a total of 6.
Why Mr. Fowler wasn’t arrested that evening?
On the day of 6/13/2017 the Varnell Police Department received a dispatch to the Sheldon Fowler residence by 911 regarding a “verbal disagreement” by Mrs. Stephanie Dawn Fowler who is the wife of Mr. Sheldon Fowler. I, Chief Lyle Grant, was the responding officer to the scene and my Lieutenant Greg Fowler (NO RELATION TO SHELDON FOWLER) responded as well, to offer assistance. The incident was not dispatched as a domestic family violence incident, but rather a verbal disagreement only. Upon my arrival Mrs. Fowler even stated that there was NO physical conformation or evidence of physical abuse by Mr. Fowler towards her or their children. Mr. Fowler, Mrs. Fowler and two adult children all share the same home located inside the city limits of Varnell, Georgia. Mrs. Fowler as you are aware from the incident report our city manager released stated that Mr. Fowler had been using both alcohol and Ambien mixture throughout the day. Mrs. Fowler stated that it was a verbal disagreement, and he was being excessive with his language and being very boisterous and argumentative. During my interview with Mrs. Fowler she stated that “all she wanted was for him to go to bed and sleep it off” and she had no intentions (nor was there any evidence) supporting an arrest or prosecution for domestic “family” violence. Georgia defines “family violence” as any commission of a battery, simple battery, simple assault, assault, and stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, criminal trespass, or any felony committed between the following persons:
• current or former spouses
• persons who are parents of the same child
• parents and children
• stepparents and stepchildren
• foster parents and foster children, or
• persons currently or formerly living in the same household.
Georgia’s definition of family violence expressly excludes a parent’s “reasonable discipline” of a child that takes the form of corporal punishment, restraint, or detention. (O.C.G.A. § 19-13-1). None of the aforementioned elements were met that would support an arrest for family violence. The charge of disorderly conduct under (O.C.G.A. § 16-11-39) possibly would meet the elements of arrest; however, we begin to ask the question: How can someone be disorderly in their own home? Mr. Fowler had a right to be in his own home that he pays a mortgage and he was not out in public causing an issue. Furthermore, he was not prohibiting his wife or children from leaving to get away from him, so on surface level per the Constitution people have a right to be secure in their own home so we didn’t want to overstep our boundaries of his rights inside his own home. Last, the complainant Mrs. Fowler (the spouse of Mr. Fowler) has no legal obligation to testify against her husband (nor was she/the children willing) which would have been needed to support an arrest for anything regarding Mrs. Fowler or her children in the home at the time of our arrival.
Furthermore, the Varnell Police Department has a criminal investigator on staff with the same training and experience as detectives with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office. I gathered the facts, wrote a report, and turned over my findings to my impartial criminal investigator for him to follow-up with the complainant and review all of the evidence to ensure that all avenues were covered. Typically these investigations are completed and closed within 10 business days; however, as with any investigation some may take longer or less time as they are all unique to themselves. I too, wanted an opportunity to allow others that I report to (the city manager, mayor and council) to be afforded an opportunity to review the incident after my investigator closed the case and had all the facts in order. This was all done to ensure we had all facts together as needed.
Why was he afforded “tolerance” for being a city council member at all?
Mr. Fowler was shown the same tolerance as anyone in his condition. That being said, we had evidence and knew from Mrs. Fowler that Sheldon had been taking a mixture of alcoholic beverages and prescription Ambien throughout the day. We have been training over the past 24+ months under the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) guidelines to allow for more de-escalation and be fair to those we come in contact with to ensure that we only use force (both verbal and physical) when needed. This year alone Georgia POST and the Georgia Public Training Center gave specific instruction about dealing with non-compliant/violent suspects. Specifically we have learned: “Given an encounter with a non-compliant, non-violent subject, the officer will employ de-escalation techniques to stabilize the situation, in accordance with the concepts included in the GPSTC Police Legitimacy, Procedural Justice, and Community Relations Curricula.” This “Tolerance” is the same tolerance that we give all citizens to help reduce both liability, injuries and use of force incidents across the board for all parties involved. This training specifically taught us (prior to this incident) how to successfully deal with Emotionally Disturbed Persons (EDP). Emotionally disturbed persons are those who show one or more signs:
1. Demonstrating symptoms of Mental Illness;
2. Under the influence;
3. Experiencing medical problem;
4. Experiencing extreme situational stress.
There are many advantages and disadvantages both of using this new system of de-escalation. Regardless of the disadvantages it is to the benefit of the City of Varnell Police Department to fully comply with this training and use it as much as possible to help reduce liability to those we serve. Benefits and Disadvantages of De-escalation
1. Less chance of injury.
2. Better chance for necessary force to succeed.
3. Increased officer safety.
4. Increased positive community relations.
5. May reduce liability and complaints.
1. Requires more time and resources.
2. Decreased officer safety.
3. Manipulative suspects can take advantage of officers who let their guard down.
We are required by Georgia law, POST mandate and our policy to use de-escalation and tolerance.
Why was he allowed to make physical contact with an officer and not be arrested?
Again, this goes back to our training and experience. We knew that Mr. Fowler was under the influence of both alcoholic beverage and Ambien. Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic sleep aid, which does not force the individual to fall asleep, but helps put the person’s brain into an “in-between” sleep and waking state, which should help lull the person to sleep. Many people who suffer from sleep disorders, like insomnia, have difficulty getting into this brain state. The American Addiction Centers study proves “many intoxicating substances that can interact with Ambien in dangerous ways, and one of the most commonly abused, even unintentionally, is alcohol. Alcohol by itself can lead to serious side effects, and when Ambien and alcohol are ingested together, many of the more dangerous physical side effects of Ambien are enhanced. This is because Ambien acts on some, but not all, of the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. Although it is not a benzodiazepine medication, it can have similar central nervous system (CNS) depressant effects. Alcohol is a CNS depressant.” When mixed together, Ambien and alcohol can enhance each other’s intoxicating effects. The following effects may be felt: Dizziness, Confusion, Difficulty concentrating, Impaired cognition, Loss of physical coordination, impaired judgment, Sleepiness or drowsiness, Somnambulance (sleepwalking), and depressed breathing, Sleep apnea. This information can be located online at: http://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/mixing-ambien/
Knowing that the above mixture was in play at the time of the incident and that Mrs. Fowler and her children had already left the home we used our training (which above takes time) to best of our ability. I want it to be known that I had another officer out in the city at the time of this incident who was patrolling and catching any 911 calls that may arise. I, Chief Grant, and Lt. Fowler wanted to give Sheldon the most benefit possible given his inebriated condition inside his own home to calm him down and not have him in a possible state of “EXCITED DELERIUM” which would have been the worst case scenario. It should be known that Sheldon did touch officers (not in a provoking manner) nor were we in any danger of his actions. There is NO NEED to escalate a situation just because someone is under the influence at home.
Can you explain the delay from the time of the incident to the time of warrants being sought for his arrest?
As stated earlier in question # 1: The Varnell Police Department has a criminal investigator on staff with the same training and experience as detectives with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office. I gathered the facts, wrote a report, and turned over my findings to my impartial criminal investigator for him to follow-up with the complainant and review all of the evidence to ensure that all avenues were covered. Typically these investigations are completed and closed within 10 business days; however, as with any investigation some may take longer or less time as they are all unique to themselves. I too, wanted an opportunity to allow others that I report to (the city manager, mayor and council) to be afforded an opportunity to review the incident after my investigator closed the case and had all the facts in order. 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 Mr. Fowler’s arrest will affect – IE. The citizens that he serves in a capacity with/on the Varnell council.
Why didn’t you request an outside agency when you became aware a city council member was involved?
We answer the calls as they arise in our jurisdiction. We are not required by any law or mandate to turn over an investigation in any capacity. We will from time to time ask the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to take over or look over an investigation we have ongoing, but given the fact there was not going to be an arrest made at the time of the incident there was no need to tie up any other resources in the county or abroad. On the same date range (6/11-26/2017) as Mr. Fowler’s incident there was a total of 31 other incidents just as this with Mr. Fowler by other agencies inside Whitfield County where there was not an arrest made. These other 31 calls were the same type and nature given by 911 dispatchers as the Sheldon Fowler incident and on all 31 there was not any arrests. My criminal investigator followed-up as needed and if there was a need for an outside agency to assist or take-over, then our investigator has the full power and authority to ask for that assistance without my approval. Again, given the fact that Mr. Fowler was in his own home and no-one inside the home prior to our arrival or before they (wife and adult children) left the scene wanted to press charges (again, no evidence to support an arrest for domestic “family” violence, then there was no need for further outside assistance. Had it been a clear cut case of family violence we would have turned the incident over to the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office as we have done in recent past when it involved a member of the City of Varnell Council. We do this as needed to show we are impartial.
Looking back, would you have handled the situation differently?
Yes, I would handle it differently, but who, what, when, where and how I don’t have that answer. As I stated before all cases are different and unique and each has a twist or turn different from the others. No two cases are the same. From a criminal standpoint I would not change anything…