GBI declines to investigate report that Cohutta mayor assaulted and threatened to fire police lieutenant

According to a Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office supplemental incident report, on December 19th, at 6:00 PM a sheriff’s office lieutenant and detective responded to the Cohutta Town Hall in reference to Cohutta Lt. Fowler calling the Whitfield County 911 Center wishing to make a report about being assaulted by a city official.

According to a victim statement from Lt. Fowler, “[I] texted Captain Del Thomasson and all members of the Town of Cohutta Town Council that [I] was declaring a hostile work environment and employee handbook violation by both Cohutta town clerks that has been on going. One of the town clerks is Mayor Ron Shinnick wife, being that it involved the mayor’s immediate family [I] was fearful of retaliation by the mayor.” According to the statements Mr. Shinnick then entered the room where Lt. Fowler was located with the chief and demanded a private meeting with the chief and Lt. Fowler about the incident he had reported. It should be noted that Lt. Fowler was on duty in his issued police attire. According to the supplemental reports, several witnesses claimed that Mayor Shinnick became irate during the meeting. Cohutta Police Sgt. Buddy “Shane” Chastain said that he heard Mayor Shinnick slam his hands on the desk of the office and that he began yelling. Lt. Fowler told the sheriff’s office detective that “at some point during the meeting with Mayor Shinnick, Mayor Shinnick became irate and began slamming his hands on the desk in the office. Lt. Fowler advised that Mayor Shinnick began cursing him but he did not remember specific verbiage. Lt. Fowler stated that he then left the room to avoid further verbal abuse.”

Lt. Fowler then told Cohutta City Council member Randy Stanton that he wished to file (a) hostile work environment claim against the mayor.” Several witnesses to the event advised this further angered the mayor and that Lt. Fowler’s arm was grabbed by the mayor as he threatened to ‘fire your [Lt. Fowler] ass.’” Sgt. Chastain said that he heard the mayor state something similar to ‘You can’t. I’ll fire your ass!’ Shinnick tried to pull him back into the office and told him, “Now sit your ass down.” Lt. Fowler advised that he was able to free himself from the mayor’s grasp and vacated the building.

The report said “ Chief Fowler confirmed the details stated from Lt. Fowler. According to the report, “Chief Fowler confirmed that the mayor did slam his hands on the desk and that he pushed his chair back forcefully, striking the wall. Chief Fowler advised that the mayor began screaming at Lt. Fowler.”

We spoke to Chief Fowler via telephone and he advised this all took place in public area of the town hall across from where the police department used to be. He advised Lt. Fowler’s wife and two kids were also present. Chief Fowler stated they were in the lobby area outside of the office where the closed-door meeting was occurring and all parties witnessed the incident. According to Chief Fowler they had been assisting all day with the fire clean up since the early morning hours of December 19th, 2022. (It should be noted that the Police Department burned down on the morning of December 18th, 2022) Chief Fowler indicated that he and the mayor remained inside the office for some time discussing issues such as lack of transparency with the mayor. Chief Fowler advised this type of angry and hostile behavior from the mayor is very common.

In another supplemental report the detective and one of the sheriff’s office lieutenants later met with Mayor Shinnick at his home. Mayor Shinnick advised that there was a verbal argument between he and Lt. Fowler. According to the report, “Shinnick originally denied ever physically touching Lt. Fowler tonight, however, he later stated that it was possible that he may have grabbed Lt. Fowlers arm but that he meant no harm; he agreed with the hypothetical that he was merely trying to get Lt. Fowler back in the office to further discuss the issues. Mayor Shinnick claimed that Lt. Fowler was the one yelling and cursing at him (even though multiple witnesses said other wise). Mayor Shinnick stated that he may have threatened to terminate Lt. Fowler’s employment and that he may still do that.”

Cohutta Councilman Randy Stanton said to the sheriff’s office lieutenant he did hear a heated conversation in the office during the closed-door meeting. Mr. Stanton stated Lt. Fowler did exit the office, and Mayor Shinnick did come out after Lt. Fowler. Mr. Stanton did see Mayor Shinnick grab Lt. Fowler‘s arm and attempt to pull him back into the office. The detective then spoke with Stanton who “advised that he was in the foyer of Cohutta City Hall when he heard Cohutta Mayor Ronald Shinnick screaming. (Stanton) advised that the content of the yelling was unintelligible to him.” (Stanton) advised that he heard the mayor advise Lt. Fowler that he could ‘fire’ anyone and everyone that he wanted. (Stanton) advised that he then witnessed Mayor Shinnick grab Lt. Fowler’s left arm and that Lt. Fowler broke the grasp just before exiting the building. (Stanton) advised that this type of demeanor is not unusual with regard to the mayor.”

According to the report all of the information that had been gathered and was turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). According to the the GBI they declined to investigate the case. The GBI advised the parties in this case will be referred to Magistrate Court.

According to a Cohutta Police Department report regarding a statement from Chief Probation Officer and Chief Court Administrator Bill Morgan On July 12th, 2021, solicitor Andrew Powell called a meeting about court issues with all personal dealing with court matters. Officer Bill Morgan reported, “After the meeting Chief Fowler and [I], Bill Morgan were in the officers area talking about the meeting when the Mayor Ron Shinnick joined into the conversation and started telling me that the jail bill was getting out of hand and for me to to start cutting the cost but when [I] told him that [I] could not stop the officers from arresting people for DUI, No Insurance or Driving Suspended plus Shoplifting and other Violations that officers could arrest on doing their job, The Mayor then started raising his voice at me and telling me that [I] was going to cut the jail bill back but [I] said No that [I] had money in the budget for the jail bill and that the Court and PD was going to do there job and that [I] had NO control over what the Judge did in sentencing a person to jail. According to the report, Mayor Ron Shinnick continued yelling at Morgan to save money, he then became more furious and then HIT the wall with his hand near his head. Officer Morgan then left to defuse the situation. Officer Morgan reported, “[I] then told the Chief that [I] wanted a report because [I] felt he might still be upset with us due to his demeanor and that he was the most unprofessional official that [I] had ever worked for and never had a hand raised at me till now by Mayor Shinnick.”

Lt. Fowler was unavailable for comment per his legal counsel. Lt. Fowler has retained legal counsel from a law firm in the metro Atlanta area regarding possible criminal and civil actions against the mayor and town government.

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