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The bad cops club 

Here's how you get in: Drive like a madman, abuse an inmate or shoot a civilian. Here's how you get kicked out ... wait a second, you can't get kicked out

At first glance, it might seem an isolated event. A Fulton County deputy working off duty is accused of shooting an innocent bystander. The unlucky bastard fell victim to a freak accident. Someone must have pulled a gun, and this guy got caught in the mess. The deputy's probably not to blame.

Club rules
How misbehaving cops stay in the ranks
You never know, though. Maybe the deputy could have shown a little more control over his trigger finger. Maybe it's worth a peek into his personnel file, to see what else he's done.

Turns out Herman Ingram's file reads like a character profile of a deputy from days of old, a regular gun-slinging rogue who stepped straight off the set of a dusty Western. The alleged shooting wasn't exactly an anomaly. Ingram, who like most deputies worked in the jail, was cited for numerous similar misdeeds, like pointing guns at innocents and driving drunk.

It appeared that Ingram was the exception.

Then came a rumor about a man named Tim Peck. He was picking up a to-go order at a pub when he got into an argument with an off-duty deputy. The deputy broke both his legs. Medical documents and a sheriff's incident report proved the tale true. Fulton Deputy Kelvin Smith pulled his baton and beat Peck's knees and shins until one of each shattered.

A look at Smith's personnel file revealed 10 previous allegations of physical abuse on jail inmates. Smith was exonerated in each case -- even the one in which he failed a lie detector test, his accuser passed and 10 witnesses backed the accuser's story.

In September, CL published a story about the assault on Peck. Since then, internal affairs issued its decision that Deputy Smith did no wrong. No lie detector tests were given. Peck wasn't even interviewed.

Stand the two incidents side-by-side, and they seem more like red flags than coincidence. You wonder how long the line of delinquent deputies might be, how often their aggression seeps from the jail into the streets and what Fulton County Sheriff Jacquelyn Barrett is doing to control wayward cops.

An examination of 1,500 pages of internal affairs documents shows there's something wrong with the system that's supposed to keep deputies in line. Fulton investigators are hesitant to find that a deputy has committed physical abuse -- a violation that carries mandatory termination. The Fulton County Personnel Board, which handles appeals of terminations, has overturned the only two physical abuse dismissals in recent years -- due to mistakes the board blames on the department. And the independent state agency that attempts to regulate cops' behavior often is in the dark about the misdeeds of Barrett's deputies. Agency officials claim that Georgia law didn't give them enough power to enforce agency rules.

The result: Fulton's bad cops aren't going anywhere. Neither are their problems.

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This is the jail. Rice Street, Fulton County. Six hundred and fifty deputies work here. They guard. They feed. They counsel. They protect.

It's tough work. Inmates aren't a fun bunch. Especially in these numbers. Some nights, there are 1,000 more inmates than beds. And there are countless attitudes. Yeah, they'll push a deputy. And push, and push. Sometimes, beating an inmate is the best a deputy can do to keep the jail in order. Nobody spends an easy eight hours here.

And at the end of the shift? The end's hard to find. When a deputy is off duty, he's searching for diversions. But sometimes he loses track of the line between work and leisure. Except that on the outside, he's no longer the law. And that's when knowing how to act gets tricky. Especially when alcohol enters the equation.

It takes a certain person to do a deputy's job. It's tough work, even off the clock. Deputies have to do what they have to do.

Here's how some of them do it.

Drinking and Driving -- Part I

  • At 5:30 a.m. internal affairs got the call. It came from a Henry County police officer. Someone needed to come down to the Waffle House off Highway 138. There was trouble.

    A Department of Transportation worker had been the first to notice the silver Mercury Sable on the morning of April 5, 2000. It was backing down the entrance ramp to I-75. It was all over the road. It nearly hit the worker's car.

    A Waffle House waitress looked out the window and watched the Sable tear into the lot like a zigzagging bullet. It swerved, jumped the curb and landed diagonally in front of the entrance. "I was beginning to wonder if we were about to become a drive-in restaurant," she later would tell internal affairs.

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