FOREST PARK, Ga. — A police department is issuing a formal apology to two city leaders after an audit found a police task force was illegally surveilling the council members under the department's former leadership.
Back in April of this year, the Forest Park Police Department confirmed Nathaniel Clark as its newest Chief of Police, and one of his first acts as chief was to conduct an internal audit.
The independent audit apparently uncovered several instances of "systemic financial mismanagement" and more. But most alarming was the alleged spying of two council members.
A representative for the city said the audit uncovered a task force had allegedly been appointed under the previous police chief to follow, watch, photograph and even dig through the garbage of two of the city's black council members, Latresa Wells and Dabouze Antoine.
The audit outlined how the VIPER task force reportedly had pole-mounted cameras near the pair's homes, with garbage collected, reviewed and processed as potential evidence.
Officials said the task force was operating to investigate two unproven allegations the council members were involved in voter fraud and illegal drug activity. The task force, however, turned up nothing, and has since been disbanded.
In an email to 11Alive's newsroom, Wells wrote that she felt "violated" by the alleged surveillance.
"For 8 years all I have done was do what I needed to do to change the perception of my city where I grew up and he did everything in his power to get something on me as well as councilman Dabouze," she wrote. "I couldn’t do anything but cry. This is just ridiculous!! My rights have been violated! I was discriminated against."
While the police department said it cannot comment on the audit until the Georgia Bureau of Investigation finishes its investigation into the claims the audit uncovered, they did issue the apology, writing that the "actions of a few, have violated the trust of many."
"The Forest Park Police Department would like to issue a heartfelt apology to Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells, Councilman Dabouze Antoine and the entire Forest Park community," the statement opened.
"We acknowledge that the accusations of financial mismanagement and illegal surveillance are an ugly scar on the department," the statement continued. "We are working diligently to regain the trust of the community."
Other findings of the audit reportedly showed there were additional problems with the department - including inventory control of weapons and ammunition and accounting issues. In one instance, the former chief's administrator was allegedly directed to cash thousands of dollars in check without properly accounting for the funds.
As far as corrective measures, department leadership said it is "committed to addressing the findings of the audit and investigation, and to moving the department forward."
"Our officers are committed to serving the citizens and guests of Forest Park and turning this department into a world-class police agency,” Chief Clark said.
The department said it has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to get involved and asked that the Forest Park community allow the state agency to conduct "a complete and thorough investigation."
Meanwhile, Forest Park Mayor Angelyne Butler also extended her apologies to both council members and expressed gratitude to Chief Clark in moving the city forward from the the situation in a "positive manner."
“Chief Clark has complete and full support from me, the City Manager and the City Council as he continues to make much needed changes at the police department, including reassignments, changes in policy, separations of some officers, and criminal charges if necessary,” Butler said.