Community speaks out about officer they say is out of control

THOMASTON, Ga. -- Anger, tears and resolve filled a community meeting Tuesday night, where about two dozen people rose, one by one, to speak about one, single police officer who they say is hurting lives, not saving them.

Some called on the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate not only the controversial officer, Officer Phillip Tobin, but also the Thomaston Police Department for keeping Tobin on the job for more than a decade despite all the complaints against him.

It was standing room only at Saint Mary's A.M.E. Church for the community meeting, organized by the Thomaston Improvement Association, with help from civil rights activists from Atlanta, including Georgia Sen. Vincent Fort, (D) Atlanta, Michael Langford, and civil rights attorneys Albert A. Mitchell and Mawuli Mel Davis.

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A woman said of Officer Tobin as the meeting began, "He's a public servant, he's a public menace."

She and others spoke of Officer Tobin repeatedly losing his temper during routine encounters with the public such as at traffic stops, then using excessive force and arresting people, on charges such as disorderly conduct that he provoked.

One woman said she called police needing help with a restraining order against her husband, and Tobin responded to the call. She said Tobin treated her and her son as if they were criminal offenders, holding a gun to her son's head with his finger on the trigger, threatening to "blow your head off," and, she said, he refused to let her talk.

"I was the victim," the woman said at the meeting, sobbing, saying she had only sought protection that police could give her. "He pulled a gun… I wasn't trying to cause no trouble."

A man spoke of how Tobin beat him unconscious, hospitalizing him. The man claimed the beating was unprovoked.

Someone else brought up the latest incident involving Tobin, from June 11, which the GBI is now investigating. Tobin shot a taser into a man who Tobin believed was loitering at a convenience store. Surveillance video appears to show the man with his hands up, surrendering, although Tobin claims the man made an aggressive move toward him.

Thomaston Police Chief Dan Greathouse says he has received more than 70 complaints against Officer Tobin in the past decade, more than any officer.

Has Tobin been such a proactive crime-fighter that he has generated the most complaints from people simply because they don't like getting caught? Or is he a rogue officer?

11Alive News obtained, through the Georgia Open Records Act, the department's files on the complaints that the department has investigated, comprising a total of more than 600 pages.

In some cases, Tobin was the subject of departmental discipline if the department considered the complaints valid.

The files include complaints of people who say Tobin lost control during simple encounters with them.

One man "thrown to the hood of his vehicle." A woman locked inside a police car "turned off and the windows up, 98 degrees outside." Another woman, "undress(ed) in front of" strangers. In one incident, another Thomaston police officer intervened "trying to keep Ptl. Tobin from throwing (a suspect)... onto a roadway face first."

And there is this – a letter from Captain Richard McDaniel to the Chief in 2008: "If we do not do something about Officer Tobin, then we could be guilty of negligent supervision."

People at Tuesday night's meeting were saying their complaints to the top have gone nowhere. They are convinced Tobin has violated his oath and the department's policies many more times than the official record of complaints shows.

Officer Tobin remains suspended with pay while the police department re-examines complaints against him, and while the GBI investigates the June 11 incident.

Attorneys at Tuesday's community meeting video-taped the complaints from the public and took their names and contact information. The attorneys said they are beginning to build their own record of complaints that could end up being part of a possible federal civil rights lawsuit against the officer, the department and the city.


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