GRIFFIN, Ga. – A Griffin Police officer whose wife was shot in the head with his service weapon in 2016, was arrested and kicked off the force—but it wasn’t for shooting his wife.
Then-Griffin Police officer Matthew Boynton was arrested on July 28, 2017 for giving a false statement to his own department about having possession of a gym bag full of clothes, underwear and dental retainer belonging to his now-former wife, Jessica Lester, who at the time was in a coma fighting for her life—a bag she had packed, with plans of taking their two young boys and leaving him.
A bag that Boynton denied he had.
But after getting tipped off by Boynton’s then-girlfriend, 45-year-old Will Sanders buys the gym bag from her and turns everything over to the Griffin Police Department.
When confronted with the evidence, Boynton admits to everything.
But right from the start, police were investigating Sanders.
Lester’s shooting eventually was ruled a suicide—even though her doctor at Atlanta Trauma Center would question that ruling—and the couple divorced. Boynton was cleared in the shooting by the GBI.
But Lester's story would not end there.
While she was fighting for her life, she said, Boynton took a bag of her belongings—that bag she had packed to leave him.
After they divorced, Lester filed a complaint against Boynton with the Griffin Police Department in December 2016, where he was a sworn officer. She alleged that he refused to return her belongings.
They took statements from both Boynton and Lester.
“He said that he didn't have anything… None of it,” she said.
In fact, he signed a statement indicating just that.
The 22-year-old mother of two said she doubts that her ex-husband will pay for anything he’s done to her.
“He's gotten away with everything so far,” said the petite, blue-eyed blonde.
In 2017, in full uniform, Boynton is questioned by his own department, including Lt. Karen Yancy and Sgt. John Hayes, in an interrogation room.
Boynton walks into the small room and Hayes closes the squeaky door to begin their interview. It’s not an internal investigation, rather a criminal investigation.
Yancy: “You have the right to remain silent. Do you understand that? Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law…”
Yancy: “You wrote a statement saying you didn’t have any of her item.”
Boynton: “We gave everything back that we had.”
Boynton: “Everything that she had that I knew of was gone. I got rid of everything I knew of.”
Yancy: “Through the course of that move, did you find anything that belonged to her at that point?”
Boynton: “No, because if I had I would have turned it over to her. Because I have no need to keep her stuff.”
Yancy shows a photo to Boynton.
Yancy “Do you recognize that bag?”
Boynton “Yes, the bag that Jessica let me use to put all my gym stuff in when we used to be together.”
Hayes: “Alright, Matthew…”
Hayes lets out a deep sigh, as Yancy hands him a folder of more photos.
Inside the gym bag
Hayes: “I’ve known you a long time.”
Boynton: “Yes, sir.”
He shows Boynton another photo of the bag.
Hayes: “This bag you saw moving.”
Hayes: “Yes or no: When you moved from the apartment?”
Boynton: “When I moved, like I said, I had all my stuff in the white trailer.”
Hayes: “Matthew, that’s not what I’m asking. When y’all were in the process of moving, and you moved into the house where you’re at now, your residence, did you or did you not see this bag?”
Boynton: “Yes, sir. It was in my storage room. In my garage.”
Hayes: “Alright. Now why would I be holding a picture of this bag?”
Boynton: “I guess because Jessica brought it into to you.”
Hayes: “Why would Jessica have it if you had it at your house?”
Boynton: “I don’t know. I guess someone got it from my garage and my shed.”
Hayes: “There were numerous contents inside of it, and one of those is this right here. Do you know what this is?
He shows him an evidence photo of Lester’s dental retainer.
Boynton: “It looks like Jessica’s old retainer thingy that she had when we were together.”
Hayes: “The bag was completely filled with female clothes.”
Going through the photos, item by item, Hayes points to the evidence.
Hayes: “That’s not yours?”
Boynton: “No, sir.”
Hayes: “OK. That’s not yours?”
Boynton: “No, sir.”
Hayes: “Right? Who does that belong to?”
Boynton: “Well, it’s got Jessica’s name on so that’d be Jessica’s retainer thing.”
Hayes: “Because she had retainers before you she met you, right? Before you all got married, right?”
Boynton: “I think so.”
Hayes: “So that would make it whose property?”
Hayes: “Not yours, right?”
Boynton: “Right. Yes, sir.”
Hayes: “Whose bag is that?”
Boynton: “Uh, Jessica’s”
Hayes: “And the contents in the bag?”
Boynton: “It’s got all her stuff in it.”
Hayes: “So, why would you not have brought that to us when you saw the bag at moving?”
Boynton: “I understand what you’re saying. It’s Jessica’s and I should have brought it up here.”
Boynton: “I just, I didn’t think about it because I used it as a gym bag and she let me use it.”
Hayes: “Matthew, you’re a police officer.”
Boynton: “Yes, sir. I understand.”
Hayes: “You’re a police officer, Matthew. You know we are held to a higher standard than anybody else.”
Boynton: “I understand.”
Boynton: “I have no excuse.”
Hayes: “I want to say, just a guess, there were probably 30 or 40 articles of clothing in it.”
Yancy hands Hayes Boynton’s original statement.
Hayes: “I do not have any other items of Jessica’s, and it says Matthew Boynton. Is that your statement?”
Boynton: “Yes, sir.”
Hayes: “What’s that Matthew?
Boynton: “Jessica’s bag, Jessica’s retainer.”
Hayes: “You understand that you didn’t buy that. That doesn’t make it communal property. That make it hurt property. That you’re in possession of.”
Boynton: “I understand. Yes, sir.”
Hayes exhales loudly, exasperated.
Hayes: “The bag was turned into us. We have possession of the bag.”
Hayes: “We have evidence that it came out of your storage room. Is that true?”
Boynton: “Yes, sir.”
Hayes: “Is there anything you’d like to say?”
Boynton: “No, sir.”
Hayes: “Do you believe that statement to be accurate and true?”
Boynton: “Not now.”
Hayes: “Did you believe it then?”
Boynton: “No, sir.”
Hayes gets up and walks out, closing the door behind him.
Boynton sits alone, unsettled in his chair, and fidgets with his phone.
He begins undressing—taking off his uniform one piece at a time.
He places his radio and mic on table and wipes away a tear from his eye.
And finally, he removes his bullet-resistant vest for the last time.
Hayes walks back into room while Boynton continues removing his uniform—knowing he will no longer be a police officer with Griffin Police Department.
Hayes: “Why would you say you didn’t have the damned bag when you had it? You know you can’t give a sworn statement and lie on it.
Boynton: “I know, sarge.”
Hayes: “Why would you do Matthew?”
Boynton: “I don’t know.”
Hayes: “It was a bag, man. It’s wasn’t… it’s not like it was…”
Boynton: “I’ve got two kids, three and one. I wouldn’t jeopardize that over a bag. I’m telling you, sarge, if I’d thought about it then, I would have said something.”
Hayes: “But you knew you had the bag. Did you not know you had the bag?”
Boynton: “I’m sorry, my mind’s running. I f***ed up. I know I did. I should have turned it in, but not only because I’m a cop, but I shouldn’t have because it was Jessica’s. Even though she let me use it, it was hers.”
Hayes: “But why didn’t you turn the bag in when you damn moved?”
Boynton whispers, “I don’t know. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Hayes: “Did you think you was going to get in trouble if you turned it in late.”
Boynton: “I guess. I don’t know what I was going through.”
Hayes: “What do you think should happen now.”
Boynton: “I know what’s probably going to happen.”
Hayes: “That’s not what I asked you. I asked what do you think should happen?”
Boynton begins to cry as he talks about his children.
“I don’t want to lose my kids, man. My kids are f***ing daddy’s boys, man. If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done it.”
Hayes: “Of all the stuff you see about you, you know if you were in possession of something that belonged to her, you know… you could have brought it to me.”
Boynton hands his gun belt to Hayes.
Hayes: “You know I’m gonna do the right thing, you know I have to do the right thing. I would have took care of it – I would have gotten the bag back to her. But when you knew you had the bag, and you didn’t do anything about it, man, you put me in a situation where I don’t have any other choice.”
Boynton: “I’m clear. I’m clear. I know there’s no excuse for it.”
Boynton: “I love working here.”
Hayes: “I know you do.”
Boynton: “Ask Jessica, I was so scared to come to work every day.
Boynton: “Because every time I did, it was always ‘1179 or 1022 to 42 come up here.’ It was always something. I don’t know, maybe if I thought if I brought it up here I was gonna get fired and whatever, I don’t know man. I’m so young and stupid.”
Hayes: “You know, doing the right thing, regardless. It doesn’t matter. If you do the right thing, you can live with yourself.”
Boynton: “Nine times out of 10, I do.”
Boynton takes off his uniform shirt.
Hayes: “Stop for a minute and talk to me.”
Boynton: “I don’t know what I was thinking, man. I don’t know if I was scared. I told you I come to work every day scared. There’s no excuse. I’m not trying to make one for myself.”
Boynton: “I know I’m obviously not an employee anymore. The only thing I can think about now are my kids, man. My kids. Daddy’s boys.”
Still crying Boynton says, “You know the baby, especially. I took him in like he’s my own. And I’m not setting a good example right now.”
Hayes: “When you swear an oath, we swear that we’re going to uphold the law regardless. And you know you can’t lie, you can’t lie in an investigation. You know that.”
Boynton: “Yes sir. I don’t know what I was thinking. Like I said, I don’t know if I was scared or what. I don’t know what was going through my mind then.”
Hayes: “Does that make it right?”
Boynton: “No it doesn’t. I know that.”
Boynton: “I know this is everything I’ve ever worked for like out the door.”
Boynton: “I’ve got primary custody over them, and this is going to set me back if I get locked up for this.”
Boynton: “She’s not going to take care of them like she’s supposed to. Like, she’s supposed to put them on her insurance, I had to do that.”
Hayes: “But Matthew, if you did what you were supposed to, we wouldn’t be here in this situation. Do you think I want to be here?”
Boynton: “No, sir.”
Hayes: “I’d rather be anywhere else than be here.”
Hayes: “We have to do the right thing. We have to do what people pay us to do. You know that.”
Boynton: “No matter where I go now I’m not really gonna get a good job now, but.”
“We have to do the right thing. We have to do what people pay us to do. You know that,” Hayes tells Boynton following his admission of guilt.
“No matter where I go now, I’m not really gonna get a good job now,” Boynton says.
Stripped of his uniform, badge and gun, he is arrested and fired from the police department on the spot, and charged with two felonies, filing a false statement and violating his oath of office.
“Matthew, get your phone. Come on,” Hayes said, taking him to be booked on charges.
Boynton walks out – no longer an officer, but a criminal defendant.
The district attorney requested a copy of Boynton's oath of office from the Griffin Police Department multiple times. It would take six months before they would receive it.
Without that piece of paper, they would have to drop the violating oath of office felony charge.
“I went and met with the ADA and the victim's advocate that worked there for the DA's office and she told me that they couldn't find it,” Lester said.
However, a local newspaper reporter and publisher, Sheila Matthews, with The Grip, found a copy on file with the magistrate court—one floor directly below the Spalding County District Attorney’s office.
The original was discovered in police evidence.
“It's just a big massive cover up that nobody can safely get to the bottom of. And it's I think it's more frustrating than anything. Because it's like you never fully get the truth,” Lester said.
“It should concern any and everybody,” Lester warned. “He doesn't deserve to be a cop if he's not going to uphold his oath.”
Sanders, has been in Lester’s corner from the beginning and is the one who finally brought a glimmer of justice to her, she said.
But it would be a year before the case against Boynton would ever see the inside of a courtroom.
On July 11, 2018, the grand jury decides not to indict Boynton on the charges, making a false statement and violation of oath by public office.
They’re verdict was a “no bill,” which means that he was completely cleared of the two felony charges against him.
“It sends [the message] that if you do something wrong, don't worry we've got your back,” Lester concluded.
But none of this would have happened, Lester said, if Sanders, a truck driver, hadn’t come forward with her gym bag.
Sanders also showed investigators a cell phone video recorded by Boynton’s new girlfriend. She’s the one who obtained Lester’s bag from the officer’s storage room, so Sanders could turn it in.
“She had found it and asked Matthew about it and he had said he can't give this back to Jessica because he would get in trouble,” Sanders said.
And because of that sleuthing work, Sanders said, the police department set their sights on a new target… him.
The Griffin Police Department started probing Sanders.
“My reward for doing the right thing was that the chief comes after me,” Sanders explained. “He came straight after me. I mean he makes no bones about it. You know and what he what he put on Facebook.”
Police got four search warrants for seven months’ worth of Sanders’--and others involved, private Facebook messages.
The warrants they obtained, included information about a pair of unrelated commercial burglaries.
But, there were no burglary cases on file for Sanders.
After submitting a public records request, Sanders received a memo stating that it was a clerical error made during the copy and paste of the warrant.
“I was furious that they would have me connected to commercial burglaries. So, I asked for the case number and once I got the case number I asked for the entire case file. You know I wanted everything. I wanted anything in there that would connect me to or exonerate me from these burglaries. And the city's response was there the case file’s missing. It's gone,” he said.
After obtaining those search warrants, Griffin Police Chief Mike Yates sent this text to the district attorney at 9:23 p.m., on a Friday night, asking for special permission to release Sanders’ private Facebook messages before the Boynton criminal case went to the grand jury.
“That sounds like payback,” Lester surmised.
“He knew exactly what he was doing. He came straight after me,” Sanders said. “[It’s] just retaliation. Just to embarrass me.”
“Basically, what the chief wanted, was for me to be quiet and to shut up.”
The chief made good on his promise.
The police department gave 11Alive all of Sanders’ private messages, including some graphic nude photos, when 11Alive’s Brendan Keefe asked for Boynton’s case file.
While Boynton can no longer serve the community of Griffin, he is still a certified police officer in the state of Georgia—and could put on his uniform again and serve as a police officer at any department in Georgia.
11Alive requested an interview with the Griffin Police chief, who declined, citing that this was a closed case. We also reached out to Boynton several times but received no response.