Valdosta Police Department

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History

1990s controversies

In 1995, the VPD faced a severe controversy over their handling of a murder case involving one of their own patrolmen Maurice Cassotta. Cassotta's ex-girlfriend Donya Jones and their 2-year-old son Seth Cassotta were found dead in a bathtub on March 30, 1994 by Cassotta himself. Despite evident foul play, investigators ruled the case a murder-suicide and had the officers scrub clean the crime scene. Two days later, autopsies showed that both Jones and her child were murdered. Cassotta was charged for the murders but was acquitted by the jury in February 1995, which prosecutors and other observers attributed largely to the Valdosta police's unwarranted destruction of forensic evidence.

As a result of the misconduct in the Cassotta case, police chief Charlie Spray and three other high-level VPD officers were put on leave while the mayor asked the Georgia attorney general's office to review the VPD's conduct. The state attorney general found no definitive evidence of criminal intent, but concluded there was "substantial malpractice" at the very least and left open the possibility of "intentional conduct by the Valdosta detectives". Just before the state AG report was released in mid April of 1995, Spray resigned, while the formerly-suspended assistant chief David Whitfield and major Remer Croft were fired.

Turning over a new leaf

Valdosta City Manager Larry Hanson hired Frank Simons as the new police chief in June 1995.[1] City officials hoped that Simons, who had come from a nationally accredited police agency, would be able to restore the credibility of the Valdosta Police Department after its cloud of corruption scandals. By 1999, the department received accredited status from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).[2]

Ray Lemme death

With alleged reformer Frank Simons still as police chief[3], the VPD was rocked by new allegations of cover-up in a July 2003 death case. Florida state investigator Ray Lemme, who was looking into corruption surrounding Yang Enterprises, Tom Feeney, and state government malfeasance going all the way up to Governor Jeb Bush, was found dead in a Valdosta motel room on July 1, 2003 just weeks after stating that he would soon be breaking the case. Valdosta police quickly ruled his death a suicide, which is what it superficially appeared to be at first glance. The report claimed that there was no evidence of foul play and that no photos would be included with the report due to a malfunction of the flash memory card. It was subsequently revealed that crime scene photos did exist, and showed notable bruising on Lemme's neck; indeed, the crime scene technician specifically went to take a close-up highlighting the neck. Subsequent police investigation also showed that many items in the room were never entered into evidence as part of the report.

Employees

  • Chief of police: ..., Charlie Spray (1986-1995), Frank Simons (1995-2013)[1], Brian Childress (2013-2018)[4][5], ???? (2018-present)

Controversies

Harmon Tucker

Main article: Valdosta sex ring allegations#Valdosta elite pedophilia

Allegedly a perpetrator or witness in the Franklin scandal, Harmon Tucker was a school superintendent in Council Bluffs IA who was found shot to death just outside of Valdosta GA in late October of 1988, a week before the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union was shut down by the authorities. Author John DeCamp asserted that Tucker's death "had signs of satanic ritual murder", and that the Georgia area where Tucker was found was close to a plantation where Omaha World-Herald publisher Harold Andersen and Omaha FBI chief Nick O'Hara would hunt together. Tucker was apparently driven down to his death in Georgia by a man named Walter Gerald Ellis. The circumstances of Tucker's murder were extremely perplexing to a local Lowndes County GA prosecutor, who called it one of the "weirdest" he had ever seen. Law enforcement and news reports suggest that Ellis might have been a serial killer, being tentatively linked to a 1984 murder near Council Bluffs, a February 1988 murder in Idaho, and an abduction of a 6-year-old boy near the Nevada-Arizona border. He made frequent unexplained references to serial killer Richard Speck right after law enforcement arrested him. Ellis was convicted solely for Tucker's murder, which he claimed occurred because Tucker made sexual advances and talked about "things he had done to boys in the past", and died in 2017 while incarcerated in Lowndes County.

Maurice Cassotta

Ray Lemme

Main article: Ray Lemme

Child abuse cases

In the middle of 2005, multiple independent journalists alleged that Valdosta was home to a pedophile ring that involved local politicians, businessmen, and police.

VPD officers confirmed to be involved in child abuse:

  • Otto Pena: officer since September 2006; arrested on May 5, 2011 for one count of aggravated child molestation
  • Michael Linger: fired on October 3, 2013 the day after a child pornography probe implicated him; indicted on March 4, 2014

VPD officers alleged to be involved in child abuse:

  • Charlie Spray: former police chief who resigned in April 1995 after being suspended over his handling of the Maurice Cassotta case; alleged to have allowed brothels to operate after accepting bribe money, and to have molested two young girls

Kendrick Johnson

Kendrick Johnson was a high school student who was found suffocated inside a rolled-up gym mat in January 2013. [...]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 WCTV, "Valdosta Chief of Police Frank Simons Announces Retirement" by the Valdosta Police Department, 2012/11/28: "Valdosta Chief of Police Frank Simons has announced his retirement from the City of Valdosta, effective Jan. 1, 2013, following 17 ½ years of public service “to protect and serve” the city of Valdosta and its citizens. In June 1995, Valdosta City Manager Larry Hanson—then interim city manager—hired Chief Simons as one of his first tasks in office and at a time when the city department was without a chief and was facing many challenges. Chief Simons rebuilt the department and restored the trust and confidence of the community. Under Chief Simons’ leadership and with strong mayor and council support, the VPD regained credibility with state and federal agencies and became state certified and nationally accredited within just five years. [...] Chief Simons began his career in law enforcement as a Police Officer in Americus, Ga., and moved through the ranks to detective at the Columbus Police Department. He worked as an Instructor at the Regional Police Academy in Tifton, Ga., and later became the Director of the Academy. In 1987, he became the Chief of the Perry Police Department. During his tenure, he modernized the department and the agency was nationally accredited in 1995. Throughout his career, Chief Simons has continued to impact and improve the law enforcement profession. He has served as the President of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, as a member of the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council, and on numerous committees through the years. He also received the highest honor in his profession when selected by his peers for the 2005 Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Outstanding Chief of the Year. [...] The City of Valdosta will conduct a professional search for the most qualified candidate to take over the reins as Chief of Police and oversee the VPD’s outstanding agency."
  2. CALEA Update Magazine Issue 88, "Using the Accreditation Process as an Organizational Change Device" by Brian Childress: "In the early 1990s, the Valdosta, Georgia, Police Department was a law enforcement agency in crisis, receiving precious little public confidence as a result of several scandals, some of which received national attention by the media. The agency was being intensely criticized by the public it served, the media, and other law enforcement agencies. City officials found themselves in the midst of several scandals involving allegations of police cover-ups and corruption at the top levels of the department, and replaced the Chief of Police. [...] In 1995, the city selected Charles F. Simons to lead the Valdosta Police Department into the future and out of the abyss of negative publicity. Having come from an accredited agency and already aware of the intrinsic value to be found in law enforcement accreditation, Chief Simons advised city officials he would use CALEA Accreditation as one of his management tools to ensure Valdosta’s citizens received professional law enforcement services. Chief Simons was tasked with major challenges to improve training, upgrade equipment, and improve police practices. The department entered the accreditation self-assessment process and began revamping policies and procedures to meet compliance with CALEA Standards, while also seeking cooperation from outside organizations to include other law enforcement agencies, civic groups, and the media. The men and women of the Valdosta Police Department worked steadily toward the goal of accreditation, and the department achieved its initial accredited status in 1999."
  3. 2003 Valdosta Police Department website
  4. WALB, "New Valdosta Police Chief sworn in", 2013/03/20: "City and county leaders and his friends and family attended as Brian Childress was sworn into his new role as police chief. After two weeks on the job, a special ceremony sealed the position. Childress has been with VPD for 12 years. Childress says he has big footsteps to follow in after Frank Simons' 17-year career as chief. "Frank Simons is the father I never had, he's just a great role model. But I'm excited because I love the men and women of the police department, I love the community," said Childress. Childress says the first program he'd like to bring to the department is a police advocacy program. He says it's already in the works."
  5. Thomasville Times-Enterprise, "Valdosta bids Childress farewell", 2018/08/29: "Childress has been with the VPD for 18 years. Childress joined the department as a lieutenant in 2001, was promoted to captain in 2004, named commander in 2007 and appointed chief in 2013."

External links

  • Maurice Cassotta case
    • Atlanta Constitution, "OFFICERS ON LEAVE", 1995/02/26: "Valdosta Police Chief Charlie Spray and three other top-level officers have been put on administrative leave as part of an investigation of how the department handled a double murder in March 1994. Valdosta Mayor James H. Rainwater also is asking the state attorney general's office to review the case. Patrol Officer Maurice Cassotta Jr., 36, found his former girlfriend and their son lying in a bathtub. Other officers decided the deaths were a murder-suicide and cleaned up the tub, according to recent testimony. Two days later, autopsy reports showed both mother and child were murdered. Cassotta was later charged in the deaths, and a jury found him not guilty last week. The other officers put on leave are Assistant Police Chief David Whitfield, Maj. Remer Croft and Detective Carl Smith."
    • Savannah Morning News, "A trying time in city of Valdosta", 1995/03/20: "When does Southern hospitality include using the radio waves to label outsiders as "roaches" and "witches" engaged in a smear campaign? Let two Chatham County prosecutors tell you and they'll say such ugly words were part of the welcome they received after arriving in Valdosta in February. Chatham County Assistant District Attorneys Ronald Adams and June Fogel went to the southwest Georgia city to try a popular, local police officer accused of drowning his 2-year-old son in a bathtub and strangling to death the child's mother in March 1994. Adams and Fogel were assigned the case after the Valdosta District Attorney recused himself, citing the possibility of being called as a witness. Their two-week trial ignited daily radio commentary criticizing the prosecutors and a state investigation of a possible police cover-up. After nearly 25 hours of deliberations, jurors acquitted Maurice Cassotta Jr. on Feb. 20. The acquittal means he cannot be tried again for the murder of Donya Jones, 21, and Seth Cassotta. Although prosecutors do have some limited appeal rights, they cannot appeal a trial where the defendant is hot found guilty of the charges, Chief Assistant District Attorney David Lock said. Suspicions of a cover-up prompted Gov. Zell Miller to ask Attorney General Michael Bowers to investigate the police department's handling of the murders, which included a cleanup of the crime scene that destroyed physical evidence. "The police department literally scrubbed down the tub, the walls of the tub and then released the house to members of the family of Cassotta," Adams said. But Adams and Fogel say a lack of physical evidence wasn't the only difficulty they encountered while trying the case. They wonder whether daily radio broadcasts might have influenced the jury's decision. Those broadcasts attacked their professionalism in court, the strength of their case against the accused and.suggested a sexual relationship existed between the two attorneys. However, Valdosta disc jockey Mike Howard says his Z-97 FM-radio broadcasts were harmless and only meant to parody the prosecutors. Humorous or not, the prosecutors say the daily jokes became slanderous and might have jeopardized their case. They would not comment on whether they planned to sue [...]"
    • Atlanta Constitution, "Valdosta police cited for 'inept' probe", 1995/04/19: "The state has found no criminal intent in the Valdosta Police Department's investigation of a 1994 double homicide, although a review uncovered evidence of "substantial malpractice" by several officers, said state Attorney General Michael Bowers. "The investigation was handled in such an inept and reckless manner as to indicate possible intentional conduct by the Valdosta detectives," Bowers said Monday. "However, the evidence is insufficient to prove criminal intent to sustain a conviction." The report by Richard Hyde, the attorney general's investigator, focused on former Police Chief Charlie Spray, former Assistant Chief David Whitfield, former Maj. Remer Croft and Detective Carl Smith. It concerned their handling of the deaths of Donya Jones and Seth Cassotta, who were the former girlfriend and son of Valdosta patrol Officer Maurice Cassotta Jr. Investigators at the March 30, 1994, crime scene wrongly referred to the deaths as a murder-suicide and cleaned a bathtub where the bodies were found. Autopsies showed that both were homicide victims, and the scouring of the scene left little physical evidence. Cassotta was acquitted of murder charges in February. Spray resigned last week, and Whitfield and Croft were fired. Smith returned to work last month."
    • List of Valdosta Daily Times articles in 1995 about Maurice Cassotta
    • Court TV, "Cop on trial, scapegoat or murderer?", 1995: "Valdosta, Georgia police officer, Maurice Cassotta, was on trial for the murder of son, Seth, and child's mother. Police, on arrival at murder scene, had assumed a murder/suicide and cleaned area so that important evidence was destroyed."
    • Florida Times Union, "Double Slaying Still Unsolved", 1996/02/25: "Forever young in the color snapshots dotting a refrigerator door in Tifton, Donya Leigh Jones, 21, and Christopher Seth Cassotta, 2, are dead and buried, and, some family members fear, at risk of being forgotten. A year after the sole suspect in their murders was acquitted, the killer has yet to be found. Four Lowndes County sheriff's detectives continue to work on the slayings virtually full time, but those close to the case think the efforts are futile. "As a practical matter, I think it's over," Lowndes County District Attorney H. Lamar Cole said. [...] Sheriff Ashley Paulk insists his deputies are following leads and collecting evidence, but some family members of the victims who long ago lost faith in the justice system aren't expecting a miracle. They say the best chance authorities had to solve the murders was the day Valdosta police found the bodies of Jones and her son nude in a bathtub at a home in the city's northeast side. After discovering the victims on March 30, 1994, veteran investigators ruled the deaths a murder-suicide despite obvious hints of foul play, and ordered officers to clean up the crime scene. Police did not question fellow Valdosta patrolman Maurice Cassotta, who fathered the boy with Jones and found the bodies that day. Though Cole, fearing a cover-up, called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation after learning of that action three days later, authorities say the damage was done. A pair of Savannah prosecutors who watched a jury acquit Cassotta in February 1995 said their case was ruined by the Police Department's botched probe."
    • Florida Times Union, "Trail Cold in Lowndes Slayings", 1997/02/10: "The killings of Donya Leigh Jones and Christopher Seth Cassotta remain a mystery two years after one-time Valdosta patrolman Maurice Cassotta was acquitted in the March 1994 deaths of his estranged ex-girlfriend and young son. Lowndes County sheriff's Capt. David Arnold said four investigators probing the killings of Jones, 21, and Christopher Seth Cassotta, 2, have run out of leads and witnesses. The case has been put on indefinite hold, he said, and might not be solved unless investigators come up with a lucky break. [...] Investigators suspected Cassotta as the killer because he had a stormy relationship with Jones, had access to her residence and the opportunity to kill the victims, said Ronald Adams, the Savannah assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case. Cassotta was the last person known to have seen Jones alive after she returned from her job at a steakhouse on the night of March 29, 1994, Adams said, adding that the police officer also was the beneficiary of a $50,000 insurance policy taken out on the boy. While it is not unusual for parents to buy such policies on their young children, the coverage amount of $50,000 is "somewhat out of the ordinary." Adams said. The policy, issued by Jacksonville-based American Heritage Life Insurance Co., was paid, he added. [...] The Sheriff's Office, which is not responsible for investigating crimes within city limits, entered the case to see if the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had overlooked evidence that might have led to the identification of a suspect. The GBI concluded its probe by the end of the trial, Adams said. Deputies in May 1995 returned to the crime scene, a home on the city's northeast side owned by Cassotta, in search of fingerprints and other evidence that might have been overlooked by Valdosta police when the bodies of Jones and her son were found on March 30, 1994. But Arnold said no new evidence was uncovered in the home, then occupied by new residents."
    • Comment from 2015/01/14 on Re-NewsIt!, "Kendrick Johnson's True Crime Scene Photo", 2014/02/10 by a purported friend of Donya Jones: "CHARLIE SPRAY FORMER POLICE CHIEF VALDOSTA GA COVERED UP THE MURDER COMMITTED BY MAURICE CASSOTTA OF MY FRIEND AND THEIR CHILD IN THE EARLY 90'S!!!! THE JURY TOLD DATELINE TV AND COURT TV THE ONLY REASON THEY COULD NOT UNEQUIVOCALLY FIND CASSOTTA GUILTY WAS BECAUSE SPRAY HAD THE CRIME SCENE WASHED CLEAN SO WELL AND THE INVESTIGATORS WERE FIRED WITH SPRAY WHO SERVED PRISON TIME FOR STEALING. SPRAY USED TO ALLOW BROTHELS TO BE RUN AS LONG AS HE GOT PAID TO LET THEM BE. HE MOLESTED TWO YOUNG GIRLS WHO HAVE NEVER HAD JUSTICE BECAUSE THEIR FAMILIES WERE THREATENED. HE ALLOWED ALOT OF INNOCENT WRONGLY ACCUSED TO BE RAILROADED!!! I BELIEVE THIS FAMILY TOTALLY BECAUSE OF HOW DIRTY THE LANGDALE RUNNED CITY OF VALDOSTA DOES WHAT THEY WANT!"
  • Valdosta Daily Times, "Valdosta police agencies frustrate officer-turned-reporter", 2001/01
  • Kendrick Johnson case
  • Other noteworthy cases

Notable personnel

  • Charlie Spray
    • Atlanta Constitution, "Valdosta names Charlie Spray chief of police", 1986/01/04: "A police officer once accused of the theft of more than $14,000 from a police recreation fund here was named chief of police Friday. Charlie Spray, 38, a 16-year veteran of the Valdosta Police Department, was one of eight candidates considered by the city for the post vacated by former Police Chief Roy Little. Little resigned his post after only seven months following conflicts with some members of the City Council. Spray, a native of Lanier County, said he feels his familiarity with Valdosta and the derpartment here will give him an advantage two of his predecessors did not have. Spray was indicted in May 1982 on the theft charge, but special prosecutor O. Hale Almand dismissed the charges in November of that year, saying there was nothing to warrant a trial. Spray has since become captain of detectives."
    • Atlanta Constitution, "EX-POLICE CHIEF CHARGED WITH THEFT", 1995/04/15: "Former Valdosta Police Chief Charlie Spray, who resigned this week after being suspended because of his department's handling of a double murder case, has been charged with stealing government surplus property. Spray, 47, was charged with nine felony counts of theft by taking and released on $50,000 bond. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation seized $140,000 worth of property, including vehicles and power generators, from Spray's home April 5, said GBI agent John Pike. Spray faces up to 90 years in prison if convicted on all nine theft counts."
    • Atlanta Constitution, "Former Valdosta police chief gets prison term for theft", 1996/03/06: "Former Valdosta Police Chief Charlie Spray, who was convicted last month of stealing military surplus equipment intended for drug-intervention work, received a five-year sentence Tuesday. Lowndes County Superior Court Judge George A. Horkan Jr. ordered Spray to serve one year in prison and four years on probation. He also was fined $5,000. The former police chief's attorney immediately filed an appeal, a court official said. A jury con- ' victed Spray, 48, last month of theft, two counts of automobile theft and one count of making a false statement in connection with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency-issued property in his personal possession."
    • Florida Times Union, "Valdosta's Ex-Chief Sentenced A Year in Prison, $5,000 Fine for Theft of Surplus Property", 1996/03/06: "Senior Judge George A. Horkan Jr. handed down the sentence, which included four years of probation, saying the decision "ranks among the most difficult things" he's done during his 24 years on the bench. Horkan then granted a motion to allow Spray to remain free on $50,000 bond while appealing the sentence. Assistant Georgia Attorney General Terry Lloyd said he was disappointed in both the sentence and Horkan's decision to grant Spray an appeal bond, which has rarely been given to criminals in Lowndes County over the last 25 years. "In my opinion, I think Charlie Spray should have gone off with the deputy today into the bowels of the jail," Lloyd said. The judge rejected Lloyd's request to have a hearing on the appeal bond and to have Spray's bond set at $100,000. Horkan could not be reached for comment. The first sitting or former Valdosta police chief to be indicted, Spray was convicted Feb. 9 of eight counts of theft by taking and one count of making a false statement on a government document."
    • Florida Times Union, "Ex-Valdosta Chief in Jail", 1997/03/11: "A calm and quiet Charlie Spray surrendered to Lowndes County deputies yesterday as he began serving a one-year prison sentence for theft and perjury. Spray arrived at the county jail about 7:30 a.m. accompanied by his Valdosta attorney, J. Converse Bright, said Lowndes County Sheriff's Capt. David Arnold. The former Valdosta police chief was photographed and fingerprinted, he said, then placed in handcuffs as deputies took him by car to an undisclosed lockup pending his transfer to a state pris on. [...] At 50, Spray becomes the second high-profile local lawman to serve a prison sentence in nearly 22 years. Former Lowndes County Sheriff Jewell L. Futch was sentenced to five years on federal gambling conspiracy charges. In November 1975, he died at age 62, just a few weeks after arriving at a Springfield, Mo., penitentiary. Spray's surrender was arranged Friday after Senior Judge George A. Horkan Jr. signed an order requiring him to begin serving his sentence. The order came three weeks after the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously rejected a review of Spray's case. Still, word of Spray's jailing came as news to some, including Valdosta Mayor James H. Rainwater, a prosecutor in the Georgia Attorney General's Office who battled the appeal, and even the former chief's father. James Spray Sr., 77, said the subject didn't come up when he talked with his son last week. "I guess they got what they wanted now," he said. [...] Spray was indicted on 10 counts of stealing $143,690 in surplus government equipment and falsifying a state form issued under a program created by Congress following the Persian Gulf war to help police fight drug traffickers. Jurors found him guilty of taking such items as a 1.5-kilowatt generator, a half-ton trailer, an air compressor and a 1985 Dodge van."
    • Obituary for James Willie Spray Jr.: "James Willie Spray, Jr., age 62 of West Berrien, died Monday July 4, 2011 in the Tift Regional Medical Center. He was a retired E-7 US Army with 20 years service. He was a Vietnam veteran and was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic combat action. Survivors include 2 daughters, Stephanie Borden of Swainsboro and Velvet Michelle Spray of Midville; 2 sons, Jared Avery Spray of the US Marine Corps and John Claude Adams of West Berrien; 2 brothers, Roy Spray of Nashville and Charlie Spray of Valdosta; 6 grandchildren."
    • Gilchrist County Journal, obituary for Virgil Sirmons, 2011/12/22: "Mr. Virgil Sirmons, age 91, beloved husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and friend passed away on December 15, 2011, at Cross City Rehabilitation and Health Care. He was born in Lakeland, Georgia, on September 6, 1920, to Chester and Emma Davis Sirmons. He moved to Cross City in 1952. He worked for Liberty National Life Insurance Company and retired after 30 years. He proudly served his country as a Marine during World War II and in the Air Force during the Korean conflict. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge in Cross City and was a very active long-time member in the Suwannee River Shrine Club. He was a member of the V.F.W. of Chiefland. He joined the Methodist Church in Cross City in 1952. He loved to serve his church faithfully. He was also an avid Georgia Bulldog fan. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Betty Craven Sirmons of Old Town; his two children, Patricia (Tom) Auvil of Trenton, and Mike (Cindy) Sirmons of Cross City; five grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. A Memorial Service was held at the Cross City United Methodist Church on Monday, December 19, 2011, with Pastor Juan Ramos, Jr., officiating. A beautiful Masonic Service was performed by Masonic friends including his nephew, Charlie Spray, from Valdosta, Georgia."
    • TODO: verify child molestation accusation
  • Frank Simons
  • Shannon Floyd
  • Eugene Bell
    • Valdosta Daily Times, "Police commander retires", 2015/12/31: "After decades in law-enforcement and the military, Valdosta Police Cmdr. Eugene “Gene” Bell retires his badge this week. [...] Bell will enter retirement after a combined 39 years of service, beginning with the Air Force in February 1976. He joined the Valdosta Police Department in December 1997. “He began working as a Narcotics Detective, and years later, was promoted to the sergeant of the Narcotics Unit,” according to biographical information provided by the VPD. “After working several years in narcotics, Bell was promoted to lieutenant of the Investigations Bureau and eventually to the commander of that bureau. For the past several years, Bell has been the commander of the support services Unit and oversees records, school resource officers, court security, and the Georgia Crime Information Center.” Bell’s final official day with the police department is Thursday, Childress said."
    • LinkedIn profile for Valdosta police commander named Eugene Bell Jr.
    • Whitepages info for Eugene Bell Jr. in his 60s living in Valdosta - landlines 229-247-1521 and 229-244-2453
    • Info for another Eugene Bell: BeenVerified, Whitepages
  • Lynly Penn