More than 2000 people… many of them listed as UGA students or alumni… signed a petition in the first two days that urges the school to reinstate a fired campus police officer.
The FOX 5 I-Team reported last week how former cop Jay Park claimed he was fired for refusing to arrest underage students caught drinking on campus because he thought they qualified under a new amnesty law.
The police chief told FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis Park was fired for repeated insubordination, but that hasn't stopped the controversy.
This new amnesty law covers underage drinkers across the state who need medical attention… not just students at UGA.
But the state's largest school clearly didn't understand the new law… until Park spoke up.
THE TENNESSEE GAME
"Please don't arrest me. I'm OK," says the stumbling 18-year-old female student in front of Reed Hall last September.
She's too young to drink. Too drunk to ignore. So a worried friend calls UGA police the night before the Tennessee game last year.
But as she's being loaded into an ambulance, UGA officer Jay Park… wearing his standard issue body camera… calls his supervisor who tells him to arrest her for underage drinking.
"That 911 amnesty thing that just got passed? That's only if you call on yourself, right?" Park asks.
Wrong. Five months earlier a new amnesty law took effect to encourage friends to call for help without worrying about arrest if an underage drinker needs medical assistance. It makes no difference whether the drinker or his friends call.
Park was told amnesty only applies if the drinker is the one who calls.
He thought he was getting bad information from his supervisor. So the next day he called two state lawmakers and a judge to get clarification… then refused to arrest two other underage drinkers that night because an RA originally made the call worried about the medical condition. Park wound up getting fired. Official reason: insubordination.
Here's what chief Jimmy Williamson told him.
"You went outside the chain of command. You're an embarrassment to this agency."
"About 3-4 days after they terminated me they actually changed it to the way I said it should be," Park told FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis while sitting in the law office of Mike Puglise of Snellville.
"So does that mean that you were right and they were wrong?" Randy asked.
"That's what it means but I don't think they'll ever admit that."
The UGA police department now applies the underage amnesty law to situations where a third person calls worried about someone else's medical condition.
"I just want him to know the University of Georgia student body is behind him." UGA student Jake Candler said.
Candler says our investigation left a pit in his stomach. So the finance major put together an on-line petition asking the University to reinstate Park. Park has already lost two appeals and is currently awaiting an answer from the Board of Regents.
"Does this petition have any effect on his appeal?" Randy asked UGA Vice President for Public Affairs Dr. Tom Jackson.
"Well, you're always worried about public opinion, but we can't do personnel matters by petition."
"You may not make decisions based on what petitions say, but you probably should make decisions on what the state of Georgia law says," student Jake Candler stated.
"Do you want your officers to avoid arresting people when they think the law is that they shouldn't be?" Randy asked Jackson. "We want our officers to follow their superiors and if there's a policy question to take it up the chain."
The Fox 5 I-Team examined all the underage drinking arrests that happened during that five months when the policy was still in flux. We found 20 cases that could have qualified for medical amnesty… 20 arrests that the person who wrote the bill says should never have happened.
"That's a big number of cases that shouldn't have been made," said Justin Leef, now a law student at Georgia State. Leef was the lobbyist who wrote the law he thought was clear... especially on college campuses that routinely deal with underage binge drinkers.
"That was the whole point of the bill is to get people to call no matter what," Leef said.
But even after UGA police changed its policy, few students on campus still seemed to know about the amnesty law.
Then came that terrible night in January.
JANUARY UNDERAGE DRINKING DEATH
Police found Mike McClary barely breathing in the East Campus Parking garage. His friends had no idea how sick he was and tried splashing him with water to get him out of the car and into the dorm so they all wouldn't get arrested for underage drinking.
The police bodycam video shows one student explaining, "We didn't want to get in trouble... We didn't want to get in trouble."
According to police reports, they waited between 15-30 minutes after pulling into the garage to call 911... and only after they noticed McClary's fingers turning blue. The beloved sophomore known to everyone as Big Mike died at the hospital of severe alcohol poisoning.
"That is exactly the kind of person we wanted to save," said Leef. "If they had known and been informed on what their rights were in a situation like that, I believe it would have cut down on that time."
UGA will now include the amnesty law in future new student orientation classes.
But current students like the one who started a popular petition say they want the school to admit it made a mistake by not following the law sooner.
"The police department is standing by that no mistake was made. It was insubordination. And there's no chance of reinstatement," said Jake Candler. "We're not buying that. We're not going to take it."
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