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PO Box 843, Zebulon, Georgia 30295. You can donate through PayPal by clicking here. Becky Watts: Phone # 770-468-7583 editor(@)pikecountytimes.com
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Photo from pullover video obtained through open records to the City of Molena.
BREAKING NEWS: Zebulon City Council Gives Disciplinary Action to Zebulon PD Chief
Part 3 of Investigative Series
By Editor Becky Watts

ZEBULON - On Friday, October 7, 2022, an Atlanta TV station broke the news that Zebulon Police Chief Jonathan Hemphill had been pulled over by Molena police officers on August 25, 2022 and acted disrespectful to the officers involved in the traffic stop.

In this story accompanied by the officer worn body camera video footage, the Atlanta news station stated that Chief Hemphill “blocked” the Molena Police Department (PD) from using Zebulon PD’s radio frequency for its emergency radio traffic forcing Molena PD to ask the Pike County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) for use of its radio channel in order to provide safety for Molena’s police officers and its citizens. The body camera footage is posted on www.11alive.com's YouTube Channel.

Part 1 of this investigative series can be read in its entirety (without a paywall) at www.pikecountytimes.com/secondary/BREAKINGNEWShemphill10.12.22.html. It contains an email interview with Chief Polk of Molena PD, an article describing the events of the October 11, 2022 Zebulon City Council meeting, and in-depth open records information concerning the radio tower issue as well as a statement regarding Hemphill’s personnel file from the City of Zebulon.

Part 2 of this series can be read in its entirety (without a paywall) at www.pikecountytimes.com/secondary/BREAKINGNEWShemphill12.8.22.html. It contains open records information, POST records, standard operating procedures (SOP) for the City of Zebulon and Zebulon PD, City of Zebulon ordinance information, and asked questions about Verizon phone equipment that was mentioned in an editorial to the Pike Journal-Reporter, the local, printed newspaper.

Independent Report Is Presented to Zebulon City Council

Zebulon City Council met on October 11, 2022. After a little over an hour, they reconvened and Zebulon City Attorney Rob Morton read a statement on behalf of the City Council as follows: “The city has received information and allegations concerning Chief Jonathan Hemphill. The city will be seeking a third party independent entity to investigate the information and allegations and provide the city with specific findings and/or recommendations.”

Theodore P. Meeker III from Sumner and Meeker, a law firm in Newnan, conducted that investigation. He was chosen after Zebulon officials consulted with Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), and Meeker was one of those recommended to conduct the investigation. Meeker investigated and sent his report to the City of Zebulon on December 1, 2022 where it was presented to the City Council on December 13, 2022.

Meeker was paid $3,119.08 for the time and mileage that were necessary to prepare this investigative report.

3rd Party Independent Investigation

Meeker reviewed the video of the stop, the City’s charter and ordinances, SOP for Zebulon PD, reviewed the radio agreement between the two police departments, reviewed municipal limits for initiating the traffic stop, and reviewed various news articles and letters pertaining the matter. Meeker also spoke to Hemphill on November 28, 2022 at Morton’s office and Polk by phone on November 30, 2022.

His findings began by saying that there is “no discrepancy as to what occurred prior to, and during the traffic stop.” Hemphill was driving an unmarked police vehicle through the City of Molena, he engaged his blue lights and siren when he passed the officers believing that he was “simply acknowledging them and saying hello,” and a traffic stop was made by officers based on a window tint violation. He said that the stop occurred 1.7 miles outside of the city limits and that the officers were not able to verify the tag on his vehicle. [Note from the Editor: This occurred during the traffic stop and can be viewed on video.]

Hemphill told Meeker that there was “no probable cause for the stop,” but the investigator disagreed. Meeker said that a window tint violation can serve as the basis of a stop with minimal evidence needed to support probable cause. Meeker said that the stop being 1.7 miles outside of the city limits “complicated” the matter and that it would seem to him that under OCGA 40-13-30, it may not have been authorized. [Note from the Editor: Pike County Times will address this in a later part of this article.]

Meeker addressed Hemphill’s conduct during the stop and said that he found Hemphill to be “a man of character and principles.” However, he said that Hemphill told him during the interview that the stop agitated him to the extent that he “acted outside of his normal character.”

Meeker said that this conduct fell under the City’s Personnel Policy reflecting discredit on the City or Department and that the City of Police’s SOP reflected the same thing because it states that “an officer must at all times, on and off duty, conduct himself in a manner which does not bring discredit to himself, the Department, or the City of Zebulon” and that a subparagraph references conduct unbecoming which includes “conduct that has a tendency to undermine public respect for employees and confidence in the Department.”

He also said that since Hemphill is the Chief of Police, “One could argue that he is held to a higher standard than non-supervisory personnel in the Police Department and that one can assume that Chief Hemphill would not have appreciated a chief or higher-ranking police officer from another jurisdiction acting toward Zebulon Police Officers the way that Chief Hemphill responded to the Molena Police Officers.”

Meeker concluded that Hemphill’s conduct on August 25, 2022 was unbecoming of an officer. He then provided that the first offense for this type of behavior is an oral reprimand according to the City Personnel Policy, but he pointed out that this is not mandatory. Meeker said that it was clear to him that Hemphill recognized that his the situation was not handled in his usual or professional manner and said that was a justification for not imposing any disciplinary action.

Meeker was given a letter dated March 8, 2022 from Hemphill to Polk which stated that Molena PD would be permitted to share Zebulon PD’s digital radio band for as long as Polk was the chief at Molena PD but said that this did not constitute an agreement because it was not approved by City Council according to its City Charter, it was not signed by the Mayor, and it “was not definite in term.” [Note from the Editor: Pike County Times discussed this document in-depth in Part 1 of this series.]

Hemphill advised Meeker that during the September 30, 2022 phone call referencing the traffic stop, he told Polk that Molena PD would not be able to connect the new Verizon radios to the Zebulon system which is Motorola based. “As per Chief Polk, Chief Hemphill told him that Molena would have to find a new system to connect to.”

Meeker then said that contrary to various news reports, at no time were Molena PD radios “disconnected from the system.” He then said that Polk confirmed that the radios would still connect to the Zebulon radio frequency on November 30, 2022. [Note from the Editor: Pike County Times discussed this in-depth in Part 2 of this series.]

With regard to retaliation, Meeker found “no basis to support such a charge” and extended that determination to the City of Zebulon as well.

Letter Reveals Further Information

A letter written by Zebulon PD Assistant Chief Michael Johnson was cited in Meeker’s report.

The undated letter/memo given to Meeker states that Johnson and Hemphill, about a week after the August 25, 2022 traffic stop, had a conversation that included the current communications contract with the Pike County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) and Molena PD.

They talked specifically about a request from Polk to add a device to Zebulon’s communications devices and came to the conclusion that it would probably not be in the best interest of the PD to add any devices to their equipment until the following was done: testing the equipment, completing an evaluation to determine whether this would void any warranties or cause issues with their equipment, and discussing the current communications contract with the city attorney.

He also said they concluded that the only way to remove Molena from the communications system would be by PCSO, Motorola Communications, or Transcom Communications.

Johnson ended the memo/letter by saying that around the week of October 10, 2022, Hemphill advised him that he had spoken with Polk and told Polk that Zebulon would not be moving forward with adding the Verizon equipment to the PD’s Motorola devices.

Pike County Times Asks Questions

Pike County Times is not the Atlanta media, and its first two investigative articles are much different than what the Atlanta media portrayed. The totality of information obtained by Pike County Times also differs from Meeker’s conclusion on this complicated situation.

When examining the information in earlier articles, Johnson’s letter, and Meeker’s report, it would seem like the easiest answer to the question of an incompatible system would have been to simply send the Verizon gateway system back to Verizon and Molena PD continue using the Zebulon PD radio tower as has been done for years. But this did not occur.

In Part 1 of this series, Polk advised as follows: “Pike County Times also asked Polk by email for the reason behind the change from the City of Zebulon to Pike County Sheriff’s Office radio tower and when it occurred. The answer was as follows: “The Molena Police Department swapped from the Zebulon Repeater to Pike County after I was advised on September 30, 2022 that I needed to find another radio channel by Chief Hemphill after he was told no disciplinary action would be taken against my officers regarding the traffic stop because after reviewing the video, it was determined they did nothing wrong.”

In Part 2 of this series, Pike County Times wrote: “Polk advised that he and Hemphill had discussed this at the Chief’s Conference in July as a possibility for both PD’s, but the equipment was no longer needed after Polk switched Molena PD to the Sheriff’s Office radio towers. He repeated that the split between the departments about the use of the radio tower had nothing to do with the purchase of the radio equipment.”

In Part 2, Polk answered a question that has been asked to Pike County Times about the radio tower—especially after the editorial in the print paper in November. In the first story that was posted online, the Atlanta news station stated that Chief Hemphill “blocked” the Molena PD from using its radio frequency for their emergency radio traffic forcing the city to work with the Pike County Sheriff’s Office to allow Molena PD to use that radio channel in order to provide safety for Molena’s police officers and its citizens.

Polk also clarified in Part 2 of this series that “there’s not a button you can push that can turn off Molena’s radios as the Atlanta news stations reported. However, he said that when he was advised that he needed to find another radio channel for the Molena PD, he called Major David Neal at the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, and the problem was solved almost immediately.”

The answers given to Pike County Times in the earlier articles answer the question from Molena PD’s standpoint and seem to contradict what Meeker found in his investigation because Meeker concluded that there was no retaliation from Hemphill and therefore none by the City of Zebulon which is represented by its chief of police.

Pike County Times dug into a couple of issues that Meeker raised in his investigation. Meeker said that the traffic stop being 1.7 miles outside of the municipal city limits “complicates” the issue and that no reason was given for this other than the fact that the officers were trying to run the tag on the vehicle after determining that there was a window tint violation that the investigator stated was probable cause for the stop even though Hemphill disagreed. Meeker wrote about the traffic stop as follows: “It would seem to me that under OCGA 40-13-30, initiating the stop outside of the municipal limits may not have been authorized.”

Pike County Times questioned whether “hot pursuit” in OCGA 40-13-30 would apply to this traffic stop because the violation that occurred in the presence of the city officers and the “continuity and immediacy of the pursuit” (though not necessarily the rate of speed) would allow a stop outside of the city limits if the violation occurred within the city limits. law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2021/title-40/chapter-13/article-2/section-40-13-30/

Meeker also questioned why Molena police officers did not know Hemphill when he stated, “…one can wonder if there was not some local knowledge that Chief Hemphill was a law enforcement officer…” Pike County Times questioned whether Hemphill’s identity could easily have been established by an introduction and a simple presentment of his badge and identification when the officer walked up to his window since this is standard conduct on a traffic stop.

Black Dodge Charger

On a side note, Pike County Times has been told numerous times that flashing blue lights automatically means that a police officer is driving an unmarked vehicle. However, Pike County Times was also told rumors that law enforcement in our area had been told to be on the lookout for a dark colored Dodge Charger because a civilian was impersonating a law enforcement officer sometime in the past couple of years.

After asking around at several agencies about the matter, Pike County Times received open records information from Meriwether County Sheriff’s Office which showed an investigation is still open from February of 2021 where a male who was not a police officer used a dark colored Charger with dark tinted windows and flashing red and blue lights to pull over two women, give them verbal warnings about traffic violations, and then drive away. Anyone with information about these cases should call investigators at 706-672-6647 or 706-775-8326.

Pike County Times includes this information because there have been cases around our area where lights on an unmarked vehicle did not always guarantee that a law enforcement officer was the driver of the vehicle. If someone is being pulled over and there is a question about whether the car is law enforcement or not, call 911 and ask.

City Council Makes a Decision

This brings the issue back full circle to the actions of the Chief who was caught on camera behaving toward other law enforcement officers in a manner that Hemphill admitted to Meeker was “outside of his normal character,” “not up to his normal standard,” and not handled in a “professional” manner.

Meeker concluded that Hemphill’s conduct during the August 25, 2022 traffic stop constituted Conduct Unbecoming an Officer.

City Council met in Executive Session for a little more than an hour during the December 13, 2022 City Council meeting. When they came back into the open meeting, Morton spoke before the Council, gave a summary of Meeker’s report, and made a recommendation to the Mayor and Council.

City Council voted to abide by City Attorney Morton’s recommendation to issue an oral reprimand for Hemphill with a condition that Hemphill undergo anger and/or de-escalation training by POST. Council will follow up in six months to ensure that the training has been done and do a review of his progress.

During discussion, Council Member Yarbrough asked the question, “What happens if POST doesn’t offer that class within the next 6 months?” Morton said that this will be noted if that is the case.

Council approved the motion for a reprimand in a 4-0 vote.

Since April 1, 2020, the Georgia Public Safety Training Center has required Use of Force and De-escalation training on an annual basis for all sworn law enforcement officers in the State of Georgia.

According to his POST record, Hemphill has undergone annual training for De-escalation Techniques and Use of Force classes since 2017. He has also taken many classes on community relations and vehicle pullovers over the years as well. Classes like this are often offered on the computer and can be completed in a couple of hours.


Pike County Times did email interviews with Polk on the behalf of the City of Molena and Morton on the behalf of the City of Zebulon in the first two investigative articles. This article is strictly from written records.

The current article is derived from attending a City Council meeting, obtaining and reading through investigatory records, and hours of research.

If either City or Chief would like to clarify any of the information that is contained in this article, Pike County Times can be reached quite easily through email at editor@pikecountytimes.com or by phone at 770-468-7583. Any clarifications will be highlighted, and the article placed back at the top of the page and shared again on social media to highlight the change.

There was more than 20 hours in the first article, more than 30 in the second, and more than 30 hours in this article. Everything that has been printed in this investigative series has a piece of paper to back it up or a claim of ownership by the speaker as noted in each article.

Letters to the Editor will be printed verbatim with the author’s name and the city or county of residence (for locals) or state of residence in which the author resides (for out of state).

Pike County Times does not print unsigned editorials, and editorials must adhere to the guidelines found at the top of my Letters to the Editor page on www.pikecountytimes.com.

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