Police Chief Nathaniel Clark

by Robin Kemp

11:56am 11/16: Minor proofing throughout; ADDS copy of suit; ADDS Cooper comment; ADDS Horton denied sexual harassment allegations; ADDS Barker firing date; ADDS links to published city financial reports, council/boards minutes; ADDS Judge Scott assigned case

A civil suit filed in Clayton County Superior Court on November 1 contains explosive allegations that the City of Forest Park and Ward 4 Councilwoman Latresa Wells retaliated against Police Chief Nathaniel Clark after, the suit claims, he uncovered widespread financial irregularities in the way the city handled its books, including federal funds related to FBI task force reimbursement and Federal Assets Forfeiture Equitable Sharing.

The suit also alleges that:

  • the city’s E-911 fund may have been used to balance the city budget
  • past SPLOST funds may have been charged to nonexistent accounts
  • over $200,000 in bank discrepancies could not be reconciled

Clark is bringing the action under the Georgia Whistleblowers Protection Act, which covers public employees who report alleged wrongdoing.

A source told The Clayton Crescent on November 2 that an e-mail had gone out to FPPD employees, stating that Clark would be gone for about a month, starting around the first week of October. The Clayton Crescent filed an Open Records Request November 8 with the city for that e-mail and the reason why Clark was on leave. On November 11, Deputy City Clerk Stephanie S. Tigner replied, “Per the City Clerk Department, an additional {3 } business days is needed to process this request.” The Clayton Crescent asked for clarification as to who this response and others recently made were taking an additional three business days to be fulfilled. On November 15, City Clerk S. Diane White told The Clayton Crescent in an e-mail, “This is a personnel matter and there were no emails sent to officers, therefore, no information to provide you.”

The Clayton Crescent asked councilmembers to comment on the suit at Monday night’s council meeting. None did. Wells was absent from the meeting, as was Mayor Angelyne Butler. City officials said Butler had gone to take care of her daughter, who had been in an auto accident in another state.

Asked where Clark was, Cooper told The Clayton Crescent, “He’s not here.” When asked whether Clark was no longer with the city or on leave, Cooper replied, “I don’t comment on personnel matters.”

Shortly after the city hired Clark as chief May 14, 2019, the suit reads, “Clark immediately requested that an audit be conducted on the Police Department to, among other things, determine the financial status of the Police Department.”

Ward 4 Councilwoman Latresa Wells

That audit uncovered “fraudulent, and unlawful, practices that had occurred under prior leadership.” These included “selling ammunition that belonged to the City to civilians…cashing checks made out to the city of Forest Park/Forest Park Police Department for cash and then…not turning it over to the Finance Department for proper documentation, and…some members of the department were doing surveillance on two city council members.”

Wells and Ward 2 Councilman Dabouze Antoine filed separate suits January 4 against the city, the police department, former Police Chief Dwayne Hobbs, and several former officers who were assigned to surveil the councilmembers for at least three years, according to Wells’ complaint. The VIPER team was looking into allegations that Wells and Antoine, who at the time were the only two Black councilmembers, were involved in harvesting absentee ballots and drug activity. Both cases were settled and neither councilmember has commented on the terms of their settlements.

Two more supplemental audits led to some FPPD officers being fired and others resigning. Those cases were referred to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which later sent them to the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office “for possible criminal charges.”

“Give a Christian a Ticket Sunday”

Clark also allegedly “uncovered other illegal practices within the police department including an illegal quota system for citations and systemic race and religious discrimination practices including recruiting disparities and ‘Give a Christian a Ticket Sunday,’ which was a practice whereby police officers would target Black and Hispanic Churches and give citations to members of those communities.”

However, according to the complaint, “some members of the Governing Body wanted the police department to continue issuing citations for profit,” which Clark said he would not do.

No audit of E-911, SPLOST accounts

When the council voted to fire former city manager Angela Redding in January 2020, Clark was named interim city manager in addition to retaining his position as police chief. That gave him access to city financial records, which allegedly showed “unlawful commingling of E-911 funds (balancing the budget by using E-911 funds) and charging SPLOST expenditures to accounts that did not exist.” Clark requested the city conduct another audit, which did not happen.

Former City Manager Albert Barker

As part of the city’s proposed 2019 finances, Redding had noted two instances of SPLOST money going to projects that had not been allocated funds.

In May 2020, the council appointed Albert Barker as the new city manager. The following month, Clark’s annual performance review, conducted by Barker, was “very complimentary” and noted that Clark had “identified and addressed an array of structural and systemic issues (i.e. FLSA and Title VII Violations, Enhanced Recruitment and Disparities, CAD/Record Management System failures).”

On July 1, 2020, Clark was promoted to Deputy City Manager/Public Safety Director, in addition to his position as police chief. That position was created by the City Council, which authorized Barker to fill it.

“Extreme resistance”

According to the suit, “When Barker appointed Chief Clark to that position, his decision was met with extreme resistance from some of the Governing Body as they were worried that, as Deputy City Manager, Chief Clark would continue to uncover fraudulent and unlawful activity as that position had access to the City’s financial documents. In fact, Barker told Chief Clark that the Governing Body in part was going to do all they could to ensure that the audit he had been requesting would never be conducted,” adding that “they would continue to harass and retaliate against him to the point of having his employment terminated.”

According to the court document, Clark e-mailed Barker on September 4, 2020, calling for an external audit of “any and all finances,” citing information from then-Finance Director Ken Thompson. That e-mail was submitted as an exhibit and reads: “Recently Finance Director Ken Thompson brought to our attention that in past years SPLOST expenditures were charged to account(s) that doesn’t [sic] exist. Based on the financial inconsistencies recently brought to our attention, I am recommending that an external audit be conducted immediately regarding any and all finances.”

In July 2018, Butler swore in Thompson as finance director. Thompson had been serving as interim finance director after problems with the city’s finances began to come to light.

In addition, according to the suit, Clark “identified procedural concerns with the City’s federal asset forfeiture account” and requested an audit. Clark had e-mailed then-Deputy Finance Director Darquita Williams on August 27, “Pursuant to the conversation with the city manager on 8/19/21 whereas you were authorized to have an audit conducted on the federal asset accounts(s) [sic], I am respectfully requesting the status regarding said and to be kept abreast.” However, according to the document, that audit was never done. The Clayton Crescent e-mailed Williams, asking whether she had been authorized to have that audit done and whether it ever was done, but did not receive a reply by press time.

Clark then contacted the U.S. Department of Justice about the federal asset forfeiture account and “The DOJ stated that an audit needed to be conducted immediately.”

Clark then allegedly uncovered “other financial discrepancies, which included about $200,000 in bank reconciliations, the FBI reimbursement, and a Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA) grant, all according to the complaint. Clark e-mailed Barker on October 28, 2020, asking for an immediate financial audit “based upon the DOJ’s recommendation, Finance Director Ken Thompson’s admissions, and financial discrepancies previously identified.” The email, also included in the complaint, reads:

Good Morning Sir,

Pursuant to discussions, during the past few months assessments of various city departments have been conducted and several discrepancies were identified in the area of finance, please note the following area of concerns:

  • SPLOST Funds
  • E-911 Funds
  • FBI Reimbursement (task force)
  • Federal Asset Forfeiture/Equitable Sharing
  • Documentary and Procedural Issues with these and other funding issues

I have spoken with Finance Director Ken Thompson regarding these issues and the following were stated/identified in part:

  • Current SPLOST Funds (per Director Thompson’s admission to you and me — funds were charged in the past to accounts that doesn’t [sic] exist
  • E-911 Funds (possibly co-mingled with the city’s general funds)
  • Bank Reconciliations/Discrepancy (per Lori Muse, Finance Dept. approximately $200,000+)
  • FBI Reimbursement — Task Force (per Wanda Dutton, there appear to be funding discrepancies)
  • GEMA — Emergency Management Performance Grant (per Elaine Comer, Fire Department) there appear to be funding discrepancies)
  • Federal Asset Forfeiture/Equitable Sharing (procedural concerns i.e. bank books, employee names on accounts)

“As you are aware, in the past two companies conducted audits of the police department where issues were found and corrected (see audits by Ken Bell and Associates and Lawrence Johnson)

Former Finance Director Ken Thompson

On or about October 23, 2020 I contacted Bryan Boykin, Equitable Sharing Program Manager – U.S. Department of Justice; pursuant to the conversation and updating you, I am recommending an immediate audit referencing procedural concerns, expenditures and balance to ensure transparency and compliance review.

The Clayton Crescent attempted to reach Boykin via e-mail and through a Department of Justice spokesperson to confirm or deny that Clark had contacted him about the matter.

In a second “stellar” performance review for Clark, Barker allegedly wrote that “Deputy City Manager/Public Safety Director Clark was warned that he will face backlash referencing audits (funding discrepancies) and his continual exposure of biased practices.” The suit further alleges that, on November 4, 2020, Clark “overheard” an unnamed city official “make a statement that he (Chief Clark) takes detailed notes, to retrieve everything that he has been working on as a Deputy City Manager and to ‘stop him.'” He was removed as Deputy City Manager the same day, effectively cutting off his access to city financial records.

According to the suit, “Soon after Chief Clark’s report to the DOJ as well as his insistence on a financial audit in part due to Finance Director Ken Thompson’s admissions that SPLOST expenditures were charged to accounts that did not exist, Thompson resigned his employment with the City of Forest Park and took with him what appeared to be an extensive amount of confidential and highly sensitive financial documents belonging to the City. Moreover, on or about November 23, 2020, financial documents were removed from the police department without Chief Clark’s consent.”

Thompson, who had been chief financial officer at Clayton County Public Schools, left Forest Park and took a position as finance director for the City of Jonesboro. When The Clayton Crescent tried to reach him by city e-mail for comment on Clark’s allegations, we got an autoresponse: “I have retired as of July 29, 2021. Please send your inquires to Nina Robinson at: nrobinson@jonesborga.com. Thank you and God bless.” In response to a request for Thompson’s contact information, Robinson replied, “I have forwarded you [sic] email to Mr. Thompson.” We also attempted to reach Thompson via his LinkedIn profile.

Jonesboro City Manager Ricky L. Clark, Jr. told The Clayton Crescent, “He is moving out of the state to be closer to his grandkids.” A Stockbridge house in Henry County at 178 Meridian Drive lists Kenneth A. and Kimberly B. Thompson as owners. Thompson had been CFO of The Meridian Homeowners Association, Inc. according to online corporate filings with the Georgia Secretary of State. As of press time, Zillow lists a home at that address as being under contract after 54 days on the market. Clark could not immediately confirm the address but said he believed it was in Henry County.

“A large sum of money”

According to Clark’s suit, “Barker told Chief Clark that he was getting directives from members of the Governing Body to stand down immediately on the financial audit. In fact, Barker told Chief Clark and others that he had been offered a large sum of money to stop the financial audits.” The document does not specify the amount of any alleged bribe, nor does it state who allegedly offered it, nor the “others” Barker allegedly told about it.

The City Council fired Barker and named Brown director of human resources on November 2, 2020.

The Clayton Crescent attempted to reach Barker via Facebook Messenger and asked him whether he was aware of the suit or the allegations involving someone offering him a bribe in exchange for stopping the financial audits.

“Hostile work environment”

Clark’s complaint alleges that he was retaliated against for having uncovered what he calls “these unlawful and fraudulent activities,” that he was “asked to do things that other department heads were not required to do and his work was scrutinized and nitpicked.”

Clark alleges he has “experienced a hostile work environment in retaliation for his uncovering of these unlawful and fraudulent activities,” and that he was “demoted due to his uncovering of unlawful and fraudulent activity, specifically including his uncovering of financial discrepancies, pay disparities, systemic racism, illegal quotas, and other unlawful and fraudulent activity” in violation of the state’s Whistleblowers Protection Act.

According to the complaint, Clark alleges Wells “continues to attack Chief Clark’s integrity by undermining and questioning” how he handles the police department and “made numerous false and defamatory remarks concerning the Chief Clark’s tenure at the city….For example, every time a police officer leaves the department, Councilwoman Wells takes it upon herself to blame them leaving on Chief Clark” and “is constantly asking for” police department data “to find something to attack or look for ways to blame” Clark. That allegedly included exit interviews and grievances.

In addition, the complaint alleges that a criminal investigation was opened after Cooper got an e-mail around September 12 “from an anonymous individual(s), specifically ‘Concerned Citizens of Forest Park,’ that stated that Councilwoman Wells and her husband had physically assaulted a citizen….Soon thereafter, Chief Clark received information that the investigation appeared to have been compromised as Councilwoman Wells had received confidential information from someone at the police department regarding details of the investigation.”

Clark says he e-mailed Cooper on October 7, “requesting an external investigation (to avoid the appearance of impropriety) as it appeared that someone at the police department has been leaking information to Councilwoman Wells while there was an open investigation pending. Upon information and belief, no action has been taken to investigate Chief Clark’s concerns.”

Clark points to a September 22, 2021 Facebook video by Wells “in which she appears to reference paperwork she was receiving from a member of the police department regarding the investigation. Councilwoman Wells compromised the integrity of the police department which is a violation of her duties as a City Council member.” The complaint further alleges that the video “made several false statements about Chief Clark with the specific intent to do harm” and that “at least one high-ranking City official was aware that Councilwoman Wells had received this information improperly, and had known for some time, no action was taken to investigate.” The city allegedly ignored Clark’s requests for an external investigation.

Horton investigation

Former Fire Chief Don Horton

When former Fire Chief Don Horton was brought up on sexual harassment allegations by Human Resources Director Shalonda Brown and Butler, allegations that Horton denied, Clark claims that he “was subjected to continued harassment and verbal attacks by the Governing Body in part and Councilwoman Wells” during City Council meetings, during which Wells “made comments regarding Chief Clark’s integrity.” He alleges that he was unable to defend himself during Horton’s hearing, although he was required to be present, and that Wells has “verbally harassed and attacked” him.

Around May 28, Clark says that he was “summoned to City Manager Marc-Antonie Cooper’s office and accused of having the Deputy Fire Chief, Latasha [sic] Clemmons, followed.” Clark was then placed under investigation, “but the investigation showed that the allegations were unfounded. Upon information and belief, this was a conspiracy to have Chief Clark terminated. Moreover, Chief Clark has been stripped of additional job responsibilities, including all Fire Department matters, exclusion from hiring committees and meetings, and being ordered to “cease all appointments/promotions at the police department until further notice.”

Clark also alleged in the suit that Wells told him “prior to the sexual harassment allegations against Chief Horton that [Horton] had given her $1,000 and that she had not recorded it to either her ward or her campaign. Chief Clark told Councilwoman Wells twice that the $1,000 Chief Horton had given her needed to be recorded, however, upon information and belief, it was never recorded.”

According to the suit, an unnamed city official allegedly told Clark “the City is attempting to dissolve the position of Public Safety Director, decrease his salary, and eventually terminate his employment based on his involvement in the sexual harassment investigation of Chief Horton.”

Wells: “They want somebody that they can control”

In the September 22 Facebook video, Wells said her political enemies were “doing everything in their power to try to get rid of me. They didn’t put me in office. The people did.”

Wells said she didn’t usually “do the talking to the phone stuff” but that “it’s nine o’clock in the morning and I’m on my way to meet with somebody to give me evidence that the Forest Park Police Department is, um, investigating me again. Again.”

Wells continued, “Um, I got a call the other day and they just called me. The first call I got, they said, ‘Please help us.’ It’s from my police department. Um, please help us. And I’m like, you know, just ‘Everything is going to get better. Just give us time, you know, I’m sorry y’all having to go through this…. I get these calls constantly. Constantly, right? So nobody knows what I have to deal with as a council person and how it affects me, how it bothers me, just trying to fight and do the right thing for my community. And the one that’s doing the most get the most heat. You know, if I wasn’t doing nothing, then they wouldn’t bother me.”

According to Wells, “At first, it was white administration investigating me. Now it’s Black administration investigating me–our new city manager who has been there less than a year, Mr. [Marc-Antonie] Cooper. Um, our new police chief who has been there almost three years, if not three years already, Nathaniel Clark. Angelyne Butler, who is the current mayor, um, [Ward 1 Councilwoman] Kimberly James. So it’s not a black and white thing. It’s not a black and white thing. Race has absolutely nothing to do with it. I guess now, since they’re investigating me.”

As to the claim that she and her husband had gotten into an altercation with someone at JB’s Billiards, Wells said no complaint was filed with FPPD.

“They say that I got into a fight at the club, and that me and my husband sell drugs and we get money from the people in the club. I don’t even go to the club. Yeah, I go to JB’s. That’s the only place in the city for adults to go and enjoy an adult night. So I go when I get ready. I’m human. I can do that. It’s not unethical. It’s not illegal.”

She blamed Cooper, Butler, James, and Councilman Allan Mears for “doing everything y’all can to get rid of Councilwoman Wells” and complained about two ethics cases pending against her: one involving a verbal altercation with an apartment manager on Old Dixie Highway; the other involving a citizen who claims Wells refused to greet them at a city event.

The Clayton Crescent asked Wells on November 13 whether she was aware of Clark’s suit. She said she was but had not opened it. The Clayton Crescent asked her to comment and forwarded a copy of the suit. Wells did not respond to a follow-up asking whether she was represented by counsel.

What Clark wants

The suit alleges one count each of:

  • retaliation under the Georgia Whistleblowers Act against the City of Forest Park
  • intentional infliction of emotional distress against Wells
  • slander against Wells

Clark is demanding a jury trial, as well as front pay, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees and expenses, and “appropriate declaratory and injunctive relief.”

The case has been assigned to Superior Court Judge Jewel Scott.

City Financial Reports

The City of Forest Park has published some of its financial reports on its website, except for FY 2018-19 and FY 2019-2020 Budget Revenues and Budget Expenditures. You can read revenue and expenditure reports for other fiscal years, as well as Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports for 2013-2019 and the approved budget for FY2022 at https://www.forestparkga.gov/finance/page/financial-reports.

City Council Minutes

You can read published minutes and agendas from past City Council meetings, as well as meetings of the city’s Development Authority, Downtown Development Authority, and Urban Redevelopment Authority boards (where available).

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