Atlanta, Ga. (CBS46) – A week after the Rockdale County sheriff announced that a K9 deputy would not face criminal charges in the deaths of his three personal dogs, a CBS46 investigation has uncovered break the reason.
Last week, the ministry said an internal investigation into Deputy Eric Tolbert was conducted in connection with an “animal cruelty incident”.
A search warrant “found unsanitary and improper disposal of his personal dogs, in violation of Georgia law,” the department said. A CBS46 investigation discovered Tolbert had thrown the bodies of three of his American mastiffs in a trash can.
Department investigators also sought a misdemeanor arrest warrant for Tolbert but the department said “the judges refused to sign the order citing lack of probable cause and conflict of interest, with the Police Office of the Sheriff’s Office.” The Rockdale County sheriff is investigating the incident, rather than using the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. “
The Rockdale County District Attorney’s Office is refusing to prosecute the case citing a lack of evidence, the department said. A criminal investigation was closed and an internal administrative investigation found Tolbert in violation of two departmental policies. As a result, the vice captain was suspended for 32 hours without pay and was not assigned as a K9 operator.
Three dead dogs
Rockdale County Sheriff’s Coroner Colleen Jones was assigned the case after Deputy Tolbert posted a Facebook post announcing the deaths of his three American bulldogs, commenting that the heat was “not must be a joke”.
Investigator Jones goes to Deputy Tolbert’s Conyers home and rings his Ring doorbell. Here is their exchange:
Jones: “Hey. Investigator Jones is outside if you can come out and see me, please. “
Tolbert: “I’m not in town. What’s happening? “
Jones: “I’m here to talk about your dogs. Do you have two or three dogs that have passed away? “
Tolbert: “That’s right.”
Jones: “Okay. Where are those dogs? “
Tolbert: “Um, I had no way of burying them so I threw them in the trash.”
Jones: “What did you do with them?”
Tolbert: “Put them in the trash.”
Over the next few hours, investigators searched Deputy Tolbert’s property. They arrested his county-issued police dog, Aegis, whom he had left in a cage in his backyard.
They also looked inside his uninsulated warehouse, where they found a small portable air conditioner and dirty bins lined with feces and mold.
“God Almighty, it stinks,” Jones said, as she walked around the property.
In a taped interview at the sheriff’s office a few weeks later, Deputy Tolbert admitted that after his first dog died, he placed a small portable air conditioner in the barn. However, an internal investigation determined that the unit was “insufficient” for such a large enclosure. Within a day, the portable air conditioner broke down and two other dogs died as well.
“Back to the air conditioner, have you read any manuals?” asked an employee of the Rockdale County sheriff’s office.
Deputy Tolbert replied: “I’ve read it enough, until I put it together.
“So you didn’t read the part that can say something about the effects of not using it as an air conditioner?” asked staff.
“No, I don’t,” replied Deputy Tolbert.
No orders, no arrests
At this point, Investigator Jones believes she has enough evidence to charge. But Rockdale County Judge Nancy Bills disagreed, refusing to sign an arrest warrant and, according to the case, because she felt the sheriff’s office should refer the investigation to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). The Bills called the case a “conflict of interest” for delegates to deal with a case involving one of their own.
It was a decision the police department continued to support.
When asked why the office did not refer Deputy Tolbert’s investigation to the GBI, LeJohn Tate, chief of staff for the Rockdale County sheriff’s office, said, “We have the capacity to investigate our cases. We don’t need to convert it to GBI. We have a crime investigation department. We are a fully operational Sheriff’s office. “
Tate disagreed with Judge Bills’ position because of a conflict of interest.
Deputy Tolbert replied
CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polansky has been to Deputy Tolbert’s home twice. The second time, he was backing out of his driveway. He initially said he didn’t want to talk to us but continued to answer our questions.
“My agency said it had done an investigation and they deemed me fit to return to duty,” Deputy Tolbert said. “There is no bad intention behind it or anything trying to harm my animals. Those are my animals. I love all of them. “
Polansky: “Shouldn’t you know better as a K9 manager not to keep American mastiffs in an open shed?”
Tolbert: “Well, the warehouse is getting cool so I think that’s fine. Since I have them, it has never been this hot. “
Polansky: “It was a June day in Georgia. Shouldn’t you know better? “
Tolbert: “Yeah, but it’s never been this hot, you know, they were fine before.”
Polansky: “Why would you put dead dogs in the trash?”
Tolbert: “My yard is full of trees. I can’t dig so I don’t know any other option.”
After the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office closed the case, Deputy Tolbert received a four-day suspension without pay and was transferred from the K9 unit to the patrol unit. But he also avoided criminal charges, something animal law expert Claudine Wilkins doesn’t understand.
Wilkins, founder of Source of Animal Law. “The temperature heats up quickly and leaving them there and working for hours is completely irresponsible and reckless. Therefore, the level of understanding and responsibility is slightly higher than the average person if it is a K9 officer”.
Wilkins said there was enough evidence to bring a state animal cruelty charge against Deputy Tolbert.
“Heat exhaustion cannot provide shelter,” says Wilkins. “So at a bare minimum of being boneless, this seems to me to be a misdemeanor case in Georgia, under state law.”
The penalty for a misdemeanor animal cruelty offense in Georgia is up to one year in prison and a fine. Do not provide an animal with “sanitary condition” or “ventilation“And improperly disposing of animals violates state law.
Tate defends the department’s actions.
“Given the investigation already underway, the disciplinary measures taken are what we see as appropriate for that particular investigation,” he said.
The Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office has begun changing procedures for police dogs, now directing K9 operators to bring police dogs indoors if the outside temperature is higher than 90 degrees or below 40 degrees.
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