Fired UGA Cop Gets $325K
ATHENS, Ga. - The attorney for a UGA cop fired over his handling of underage drinking cases said they've settled his lawsuit against the school.
The FOX 5 I-Team first told you about Officer Jay Park and confusion inside the UGA police department over a new law that gives certain underage drinkers amnesty from arrest.
Park said he was trying to follow a new state law last year that stated there should be no arrest if the drinker or a friend calls police looking for medical assistance.
The law had been on the books for months. But no one in the department seemed to know much about it. When Park refused on two different nights to make an arrest, the five-year veteran got called into the chief's office and fired, the entire incident recorded by the department's body cameras.
"I'm going to try to make sure you're not a police officer anymore in the state of Georgia," the chief told Park. He was upset because Park had twice gone outside the chain of command to ask questions. Park was fired in September, 2014.
Park lost multiple appeals to get his job back. So he sued. This week, his attorney says Park and the state agreed to settle out of court for $335,000, plus a letter to the POST council clearing his name so he can be a cop somewhere else.
"They admit there was wrongdoing involved," said Park's attorney Mike Puglise. "But they took steps to correct it which you rarely see government officials do."
So far this year UGA police have made about 150 underage drinking cases. But of that number, 53 students wound up getting amnesty. That means in one out of every 3 underage drinking cases, the student faced no criminal charge.
UGA also now tells all incoming freshman about the amnesty law as part of orientation. That wasn't the case last year when 19-year-old Mike McClary died in the back of a car in the East Campus Parking Deck. Cause of death: severe alcohol poisoning after a night of drinking. His friends said if they had known about the amnesty law they would have called for help a lot faster, rather than trying to get their passed out buddy back to their dorm room.
"Really the last thing on someone's mind when their friend is in trouble should be getting arrested," said UGA senior Jake Candler.
After he saw our investigation in March, Candler organized an on-line petition drive hoping to clear Officer Park's name. Nearly 5000 people signed. He and Park's attorney believed that helped encourage a quick settlement.
"We did make a difference and it's a pretty unique opportunity to see Point A to Point B result like this," Candler said. "And my hope is the University police department has learned from it. Students have learned from it."
Park still works in a family-owned convenience store, but hopes to get back into law enforcement now that his lawyer says the settlement proves Park really was right all along.
"He dedicated himself to the citizens, more so to the youth at UGA," Puglise said. "And he wanted to make sure the point got across that this amnesty law was there for a reason."