A routine request for public records by 11Alive’s Reveal investigative team resulted in a massive, multi-agency investigation that ended the careers of three ranking Johns Creek Police officers.
The lieutenant, sergeant, and corporal had been researching police pursuits they believed were questionable. 11Alive requested records from two of those pursuits the day after the supervisors had logged into the system looking for those same files.
While investigative reporters never reveal our sources, we can confirm that none of these three men gave us the information. The first we heard from any of them was in late January when Corporal Duane Ferree emailed 11Alive Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe to tell us he’d been fired for leaking information to us.
Ferree and Lieutenant Robert Russo were both terminated. Sergeant Michael Koorey resigned while under investigation.
Our source was completely anonymous. She never gave us her name.
Ultimately, Johns Creek focused on a prime suspect — a police department secretary who was suing the city and its former police chief for sexual harassment.
Chapter 1: Questionable pursuit?
The publicly-available case number was 2017000909. It was a pursuit where the lead officer, Lt. Todd Hood, appeared to forcefully push a handcuffed suspect against a car.
Hood is now a captain, and is the commander of the Johns Creek Office of Professional Standards. In other words, he runs internal affairs investigations.
Hood was completely cleared of any wrongdoing, but the anonymous tipster suggested we request the video under the Open Records Act. The video is considered a public record because it was evidence from a closed case.
Anyone is entitled to a copy, no questions asked.
You can view the case right now online by entering the date or case number.
Once we received the video from Johns Creek Police Records in October of last year, we decided not to investigate further. The use of force did not meet our threshold for a deeper investigation of a years-old case.
But the Johns Creek Police Department was just getting started on its own investigation into who triggered our records request, even though we hadn’t aired the video.
Chapter 2: Twenty witnesses
Johns Creek led the investigation into our source, but enlisted the help of the GBI and the internal affairs unit from the sheriff’s office in the neighboring county.
Forsyth County Sheriff’s Internal Affairs is run by Allison Densmore, the wife of Johns Creek City Manager Ed Densmore. Ed Densmore is the city’s first police chief who is still listed as Johns Creek’s director of public safety, according to Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).
“So who better to get as an ‘independent investigator’ than his own wife’s agency?” Corporal Ferree asked the polygraph examiner during his interrogation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The GBI was brought in to interrogate the three ranking officers for more than nine hours, including while hooked up to a polygraph machine. All three acknowledged researching what they believed to be questionable pursuits, but there was no indication they had turned over any information to the media directly.
In all, twenty witnesses were interviewed during more than seventeen hours of recorded interrogations to find out who gave us a public case number for a closed case involving the head of internal affairs.
Investigators from Forsyth County and the GBI saw the wording of our records request as evidence that the officers must have told us how to word it. We had asked for dash camera records from the system known as L3.
“L3’s important because that’s exactly the wording that was used from the news media who would not know an L3 was,” GBI Polygraph Examiner Sean Edgar said during the Russo interrogation.
11Alive Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe requests L3 video routinely from police departments. It was the most common system for dash camera recordings before departments started going to Axon body-worn cameras and related in-car systems.
A source did tell us that the video was still available, however.
The three ranking officers were interrogated for more than 12 hours. All three have children, and the Forsyth County investigators mentioned the officers’ families during the questioning as they tried to get the fathers to turn on each other.
The lieutenant, sergeant, and corporal were paid more than $65,000 in tax money while on administrative leave during the investigation into our source.
The investigative case file filled hundreds of pages.
Chapter 3: A $325,000 confidential payout
By contrast, the sexual harassment investigation of the previous police chief, Chris Byers, covered only six pages and had no recorded interviews.
An executive assistant with the police department, Paulette Thompson, accused Chief Byers of making sexual comments about sex acts under her desk when he was a major, according to an internal investigation and Thompson's lawsuit.
Byers claimed it was a running joke.
Thompson had been named Johns Creek Police Employee of The Year in 2010 and 2016.
Byers resigned last year after serving as chief for a matter of months.
His resignation was part of a confidential settlement with Johns Creek City Council. Byers was paid $325,000 but taxpayers were not told about the amount of the settlement or about the sexual harassment investigation.
That’s where our 11Alive investigation began in the summer of 2020. We filed a records request for the confidential settlement and related documents on general principle that such records should be public.
Byers had been on leave after a controversial Facebook post about the Black Lives Matter movement during the summer of racial justice protests in 2020. His lawyers initially offered his resignation if the city would pay him $440,000.
As soon as 11Alive Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe received a copy of the $325,000 settlement check and the sexual harassment investigation in August 2020, he went live on Facebook to report the news. Because he’s a resident of Johns Creek, he disclosed that twice during the report.
Mayor Mike Bodker called 11Alive management the next day to complain that he had not been called for comment, even though the city said it was bound to a confidentiality agreement. He also took issue with Keefe reporting on the government of a city in which he lives.
11Alive management reviewed the Facebook report and noted that Keefe had fully disclosed any potential conflict of interest.
The day after Mayor Bodker called to complain about Keefe’s Facebook Live report, a Johns Creek Police cruiser idled in front of the Keefe family home for eleven minutes. Records show it was a ‘residential check’ at an empty lot. The officer never got out of the cruiser.
Chapter 4: The sexual harassment lawsuit
In October of 2020, Paulette Thompson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Chris Byers and the City of Johns Creek. She continued working as an executive assistant while the lawsuit was pending.
Johns Creek asked its insurer to cover former chief Byers and his legal fees related to the suit, even though he was no longer an employee of the city, according to public records obtained by The Reveal.
The former police chief filed a records request of his own with the city for Paulette Thompson’s personnel file. Byers specifically requested “all family members, addresses, and phone numbers including that of her son.”
The internal investigative report mentions Thompson multiple times as a possible source for the case number that led to our records request, but that information was blacked-out in the copy we initially received through another records request. We were able to see behind those redactions.
Thompson told investigators she did not know how the information got to 11Alive.
She resigned on March 10 as part of an out-of-court settlement with the city’s insurer. She was paid $105,000 and her attorney received another $60,000 in the settlement. The agreement prevents only Thompson from talking about the case.
Lawyers for Byers and Thompson said they were bound not to discuss the cases.
Chapter 5: Nobody’s talking
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman refused to answer any questions about the internal affairs investigation conducted by his office.
Johns Creek City Manager and Director of Public Safety Ed Densmore, and Mayor Mike Bodker both refused to be interviewed for our story.
When Densmore was promoted to city manager from police chief, Johns Creek agreed to allow him to keep his police powers. The city manager requalified with his police sidearm in October.
Bodker answered several questions about the case over the phone, but kept delaying an interview for more than a year. He stopped returning our emails, calls, and texts this month in the waning days of his final term.
Because there was an acting chief during the internal investigation, Johns Creek asked Roswell’s police chief to review the case file.
Roswell Police Chief James Conroy recommended all three ranking Johns Creek officers be terminated. Conroy’s predecessor resigned amid a series of investigative reports from 11Alive based on confidential sources within the department.
In June, Johns Creek named a new police chief, Mark Mitchell, from outside the department.
Duane Ferree, Michael Koorey, and Robert Russo remain certified “in good standing” as peace officers with Georgia POST and are eligible for employment. Their files show that POST did not investigate or sanction the officers at all.