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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: Pike County Times Investigates Hemphill Pullover Video and Police Radio Band Allegations Part 2
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 pullover.

The body camera footage is posted on www.11alive.com's Youtube Channel.

In the story accompanied by officer body camera video that was posted online, the Atlanta news station also stated that Chief Hemphill “blocked” the Molena Police Department (PD) from using its radio frequency for their emergency radio traffic forcing the Molena PD to ask 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. [Note from the Editor: This word “blocked” is discussed at the end of this article because it is misleading.]

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

A “third party, independent entity” was hired to investigate the allegations and give direction to the City of Zebulon on this incident after the October 11, 2022 Zebulon City Council Meeting.

While waiting for the independent entity to investigate the allegations and issue a decision, Pike County Times asked more questions, obtained and reviewed open records from several agencies for both police chiefs, and reviewed standard operating procedures for the City of Zebulon and the Zebulon PD. Pike County Times also reviewed new information that was disseminated to the public in a November 2, 2022 in an editorial to the print paper.

Some of the information contained in this article may be disturbing to readers, but it is all part of a story that continues to impact our county and surrounding law enforcement agencies even today.

Hemphill’s Record in Law Enforcement

Zebulon Police Chief Jonathan Hemphill has been a certified police officer since September 12, 1994. There was one bump in the road prior to his law enforcement career, but he worked through it and stepped into law enforcement with a clean slate.

In 1990, he was arrested for burglary of a Molena convenience store. He was sentenced to 5 years of probation under the First Offender Act and ordered to pay court-mandated fines and restitution as well as serve Intensive Probation Supervision for the next year with mandatory community service hours and a curfew. He fulfilled the terms of his probation and was granted the request to remove this violation from his record at the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) on December 7, 1992.

Hemphill was authorized to work at the Upson County Sheriff’s Office (UCSO) on September 9, 1993 and met the pre-employment requirements of the Peace Officer Standards and Training POST Council to be certified as a law enforcement officer on September 12, 1994. [Note from the Editor: Georgia used to allow police officers to work for up to a year before being required to complete law enforcement certification training.]

On September 5, 2000, Hemphill received a commendation from Thomaston PD for his assistance capturing two men wanted for an Armed Robbery.

On February 16, 2006, Hemphill was placed on Suspension with Pay by Sheriff Don Peacock while a GBI investigation was conducted into allegations made by a female who was incarcerated at the Upson County Jail about an improper relationship between Hemphill, who was the commander of the Upson County Drug Task Force, and a confidential informant for the Drug Task Force.

He initially denied any involvement with the confidential informant but later admitted to an approximately year-long sexual relationship that was consensual, did not involve the dismissal of any charges, and said that the woman involved was not working as a confidential informant during the time of their affair. The GBI investigation confirmed that Hemphill did have a sexual relationship with a former confidential informant of the Drug Task Force who was not active at the time of the relationship so this did not constitute a case for sexual assault of a person in custody. The case was closed, and Hemphill resigned from UCSO.

On February 6, 2008, the UCSO received a release of information consent form from the Griffin PD where Hemphill had applied to work under Chief Frank Strickland.

Hemphill then applied to work at the Zebulon PD on September 11, 2009.

A pre-employment investigation was conducted for the City of Zebulon that showed 12 years in law enforcement as a certified peace officer, a resignation from UCSO after an internal investigation conducted by the GBI and District Attorney Scott Ballard showed that he was cleared of all allegations, and that he had no investigations pending with POST or other agencies. He was cleared for employment with the City of Zebulon.

Hemphill has worked for the Zebulon PD since September 29, 2009 and was appointed as Chief of Police on January 13, 2015.

During his time at Zebulon PD, he has been commended by his Chief for his response to a domestic involving elderly subjects, commended by a father from Florida with regard to an incident involving his son, thanked by an investigator of Georgia Power Company for the assistance in thefts of wire, and thanked for assisting with the 2014 Pike County Youth Christmas Parade. On April 28, 2015, DA Scott Ballard nominated the Zebulon PD as the Law Enforcement Agency of the Year. He praised Chief Hemphill for completely turning the agency around.

There are no sanctions and no investigations in his POST Individual Officer Profile, he is an officer in good standing, and he has a grand total of 1,592 hours of training in the past 27 years.

City of Zebulon Personnel Manual and Disciplinary Actions

The City of Zebulon Personnel Policy covers all employees of the city including law enforcement. The City Administrator is the Chief Administrative Officer of the City and is responsible for administering these policies according to the direction of the Mayor and Council.

Some specific sections that may apply to this situation are listed below.

According to the manual, all public officials, officers, and employees have taken an oath and are expected to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. Failure to do so could result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. (Par. 3.300)

The City is an “At-Will Employer,” and all employees may be terminated “with or without cause” by the City Administrator subject to the approval of the Mayor and Council as long as the termination does not violate state and federal anti-discrimination laws. (Par. 4.8.04)

Progressive disciplinary measures can be used for conduct reflecting discredit on the City or department. Disciplinary actions may include but are not limited to reprimand (oral or written), suspension (with or without pay), demotion, transfer, probation, and/or dismissal. (Par. 7.3)

When a disciplinary action has been taken against an employee, that employee has the right to notification, response, hearing, and appeal. There are specific time constraints that must be followed in order to file an appeal.

City of Zebulon PD - Conduct Unbecoming and Providing Identification

Chapter 5 of the City of Zebulon Police Manual legislates the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics as a general standard of conduct for police personnel which includes obeying local, state, and federal laws, and not violating any policies or rules of the City of Zebulon or the police department. Below are some actions that may apply to this particular discussion.

Conduct unbecoming an officer is defined as conduct that “adversely affects the morale or efficiency of the Department” and “has a tendency to undermine public respect for employees and confidence in the Department.”

Officers who are on-duty are also required to carry proper identification and give their names and assignments to anyone who asks. The manual specifically states that the information “will be provided in a civil manner.”

Editorial Reveals Further Information

On November 2, 2022, an editorial written by Michael D. Wright appeared in the Pike Journal Reporter entitled, “In defense of police chief Jonathan Hemphill.” In it, a paragraph was written that seemed to add information to the situation that had not been obtained or mentioned in prior open records requests.

The paragraph read as follows: “…Chief Hemphill did not advise Molena Police Chief M. Polk they were not allowed to use Zebulon’s radio channel. Molena PD had purchased about $5,000 worth of communication equipment before getting permission to put it on Zebulon’s repeater. Chief Polk requested to add this communication equipment to the Zebulon police radio. Chief Hemphill denied his request to do so. Molena P.D. still has the capabilities to use Zebulon’s radio channel, Chief Polk chose not to use it. Chief Polk switched Molena P.D. to the Pike County Sheriff’s Office radio, by his choice. The Pike County 911 Center dispatch logs can verify times, etc…”

Pike County Times asked Polk about the radio equipment and was advised that this equipment is a system that would allow the police department to work from cell phone to cell phone with a secure push to talk app through Verizon rather than the current way of tower to tower. This was an opportunity to provide better coverage for officers; whereas portable radios only work when they are within a certain distance of a tower.

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.

Polk then answered a question that has been asked to Pike County Times about the radio tower—especially after the editorial in the print paper. 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 said 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.

When asked if there have been any problems using the new radio towers, he replied, “None whatsoever. It’s been amazing.”

Body Cameras in Molena

One final item of note from Molena that may or may not have any bearing on this story. When reading through City of Molena minutes, Pike County Times noticed that the City of Molena PD has not had officer worn body cameras for very long.

Councilmember Damon Riggins made a motion to purchase body cams for Molena PD in February of this year.

These units are made to be worn around the neck of officers and were used to tape the video shown on Atlanta news.

A Written Reprimand Regarding De-escalation

Pike County Times also pulled Molena PD Chief Polk’s POST record and personnel record.

Polk worked at the Zebulon PD from September 26, 2016 through the time that he was appointed acting chief of the Molena PD on July 16, 2021.

While Polk was working at Zebulon PD, he received a written reprimand from Chief Hemphill for not de-escalating an incident at the Circle K. He required Polk to complete a course of study on de-escalation to correct the problem.

Lexipol defines de-escalation as follows: "When circumstances reasonably permit, officers should use non-violent strategies and techniques to decrease the intensity of a situation, improve decision-making, improve communication, reduce the need for force, and increase voluntary compliance (e.g., summoning additional resources, formulating a plan, attempting verbal persuasion)." https://www.lexipol.com/resources/blog/de-escalation-a-commonsense-approach/"

Pike County Times included this information because the two incidents have some similarities.


Since the night that the story first aired on Atlanta news, Pike County Times has been the recipient of numerous phone calls, messages, and in person discussions in which citizens of Pike County as well as those outside of our county have asked questions on the verbal altercation between the Zebulon PD Chief Jonathan Hemphill and City of Molena Police Officers who stopped his car because of a ghost tag.

Over time, the situation has calmed down somewhat. However, Pike County Times is still receiving questions about whether Hemphill is employed by Zebulon PD and when can the public expect to hear the findings and recommendations of the third party, independent entity who is investigating the incident involving Chief Hemphill.

City Attorney Rob Morton advised on December 8, 2022 that Chief Hemphill “is still employed as the Chief of Police for Zebulon and the investigation report is anticipated to be discussed next Tuesday.”

Pike County Times followed up with Part 3 of this investigation on December 20, 2022. Click here to read it.

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