ATHENS, Ga. – A former UGA cop claims he lost his job because he refused to arrest underage drinkers he thought should have been covered under a new amnesty law. That law allows someone to call 911 without fear of arrest if an underage drinker or drug user has a medical emergency.
Officer Jay Park joined the department nearly five years ago. On September 26, 2014, the Friday night before last year’s Tennessee football game, he responded to a 911 call by a friend of a teenage student worried that she had too much to drink.
“Uh-oh. Uh-oh You all right?” Officer Park’s body flex cam video shows him asking the unsteady student. As she’s about to be loaded into an ambulance, Park asks his partner a question that no one in the department has figured out so far.
“Is the amnesty only for the one who calls? Is that how it works?” Park asks.
Three months earlier, a new law took effect that gave amnesty from arrest in cases where an underage drinker got so sick they needed medical help. And that brings us back to that Friday night in the parking lot in front of Reed Hall. An 18-year-old student is taken away by ambulance. But Officer Park is still ordered to charge her with underage drinking because to qualify for amnesty, he’s told she had to be the one to call for help, instead of her friend.
“Captain’s interpretation made absolutely no sense. I told them it made no sense.” Park said to FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis.
Senator Cowsert says the amnesty law applies even if someone other than the drinker calls worried about their medical condition.
“I wanted to encourage their roommates to call for help and not be in fear that they would also be arrested and their friend in distress would be arrested,” he said. “That’s what I was hoping to do. But I never got that chance,” Park told the FOX 5 I-Team.
The Saturday night after the Tennessee game, Park responded to another underage drinking call from a resident assistant at Creswell Hall.
“I just didn’t want to send them to bed without officially knowing if they were ok or not,” the RA says on Park’s body camera video.
“So are you calling because you know they’re drunk or because you want to see if they need medical assistance?” Park asks.
“Medical assistance,” replies the RA.
So Park tells the two 18-year-old students who admit drinking that they qualify for amnesty.
“I’m going to do what the law says to do. I am not going to charge you with underage possession even though you admit to drinking.” he said.
But on the video, Park’s sergeant shows up and orders them to be charged anyway… sending Park home.
“I got to leave because he told me to leave,” Park explains to the two students.
“Wait! Wait! He told us we were not going to be in trouble.!” they plead to the supervisor.
“I’m a police officer. My sgt’s telling me to get an arrest warrant for someone where I know I’m not supposed to. What am I supposed to do?” Park said later.
Park went back to the station and then went home. On Monday, chief Jimmy Williamson called him back in and told the five-year veteran he was fired for calling outsiders on his own to ask about the amnesty law.
Park’s personnel file shows an earlier reprimand for going outside the chain of command. As for the amnesty law, Williamson says they were initially unclear about how to handle cases where the caller doesn’t ask for medical assistance… but just reports a drunk person.
Chief: Amnesty doesn’t apply if we are required to get EMS involved.
Randy: So the caller has to use the magic words “I want an ambulance” for the amnesty to apply in that situation?
Chief: I think when it says seeking medical help, that’s kind of how we’re looking at it.
“Say that you’re trying to embarrass our department? There’s no embarrassment. That makes the department look absolutely good. That you have officers of this caliber that do what most officers don’t do,” said Park’s attorney Mike Puglise of Snellville.
“He was released for insubordination. He could still have that point of view today if he’d let us deal with it,” stressed chief Williamson.
Park has twice appealed his firing. Twice he has lost. The only alcohol he deals with now is what he sells at a Gwinnett County convenience store, hoping what happened in Athens won’t cost him his POST certification to be a cop somewhere again.
Well that sums up pretty much everything you need to know about 99% of campus cops right there. 99% took the job to go on a power trip and look for college kids to arrest for drinking. 1% actually have the common sense and decency to realize there’s more important things than hitting your quotas. Like Jay Park for example, who understands that a kid could possibly be dying, but their friends are scared to call for help because they know people like this sergeant are around who will just toss them in jail. A sergeant who either doesn’t under the amnesty laws he’s supposed or purposely looks for loopholes in them to get somebody locked up. That’s “protecting and serving”? Putting handcuffs on a blacked out unconscious girl then firing the cop who helped her into the ambulance? Guess we have different interpretations of what the role of a campus police officer is.