Credit: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent

The Forest Park City Council is set to consider Clayton County Chief Deputy Brandon Criss as the city’s next chief of police. Tonight’s work session begins at 6 p.m., followed by the regular meeting at 7 p.m.

City Manager Dr. Marc-Antonie Cooper submitted a memo April 12 with the agenda item. The only explanation of the request was a single line: “Approval of Candidate Brandon Criss for Police Chief for the City of Forest Park, Georgia.” Neither the work session nor the regular meeting agenda packets contained any information about Criss’ background, qualifications, Georgia POST record, or resignation from the Riverdale Police Department.

The Clayton Crescent learned of Criss’ resignation after filing an Open Records Request with the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. According to Georgia POST, Criss holds a bachelor’s degree and has done, on average, about 100 hours of annual training over his 16-year career. In 2008, he began his law enforcement career as a peace officer. He was promoted to sergeant in 2014, then lieutenant in 2018.

On March 14, 2021, Criss voluntarily resigned from Riverdale PD. The next day, he joined CCSO as a lieutenant. Less than three months later, he was promoted to captain. Less than eleven months later, he was promoted to major. Less than six months later, on November 1, 2022, Criss was named assistant chief deputy. Now, less than six months later, he is up for chief at Forest Park:

We are awaiting the results of a separate ORR seeking more information about Criss’ time with Riverdale PD.

Criss leaves an agency in turmoil with 100 empty positions, most of which are at the Clayton County Jail. During Criss’ time at CCSO, the jail and the department have been sued over numerous civil rights violations, including those against former sheriff Victor Hill, who is scheduled to report to federal prison on May 15. Hill’s attorneys have asked U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross to allow Hill to remain free on appeal.

If appointed, Criss would be the city’s fifth chief or interim chief since Mayor Angelyne Butler took office. Previously, Nathaniel Clark, the late Jamie Reynolds, Jason Armstrong, and Dwayne Hobbs have held the city’s top law enforcement position.

Criss, an associate of former CCSO Chief of Staff Mitzi Bickers, wrote a federal judge a letter seeking leniency for Bickers after she was convicted in a wide-ranging corruption scheme that stretched from Atlanta City Hall to a McMansion in Lake Spivey.

Criss wrote U.S. Northern District Judge Steve Jones, “I was troubled and surprised to hear about this case as she has always been an upstanding person and citizen….I have known Pastor Bickers for about a year in [sic] a half. During this time, I have grown to love, respect., and appreciate her….I have had the opportunity to attend and visit Pastor Bickers’ Church, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia….I still believe Pastor Bickers to be an honorable individual….” Bickers is serving 14 years on three counts of money laundering, four counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery and making false statements/falsifying tax returns.

While Criss emphasized religion in his letter, he did not include his title at CCSO, nor the fact that, as a member of CCSO’s command staff, he would have reported to Bickers, who was not POST-certified and who was widely rumored to be running the department behind the scenes:

Criss also left out the fact that he was serving on a controversial security detail for three Hill-allied county commissioners amid a GBI investigation of an alleged death threat against Chairman Jeff Turner. The scuttlebutt around the county was that Hill wanted the sheriff’s department to take over the police department, merging the two entities, and to take over the BOC. To do that, Hill needed a 3-2 majority on the board—and those three commissioners are the same ones for whom CCSO provided that security detail, which continues to this day. In particular, according to a figure calling themselves “John David,” the alleged plan involved getting rid of county Chief Financial Officer Ramona Bivins, in order to prevent a closer look at CCSO’s books. Bivins’ contract was renewed and her then-current contract was canceled by that 3-2 majority, which refused to state publicly why it had taken that action. Bivins is now suing the three commissioners in federal court. The three also voted to remove Turner’s power to approve lesser no-bid purchases.

Most recently, The Clayton Crescent uncovered documents showing Clayton County taxpayers had footed the bill for Criss to drive around with $9,000 in modifications to a high-end sportscar. CCSO at first had redacted the documents to hid Criss’ name, as well as that of former Acting Sheriff Roland Boehrer.

CCSO has yet to supply the requested documents showing how much Interim Sheriff Levon Allen spent to put his name on county vehicles, despite a March 14 letter from the University of Georgia Law First Amendment Clinic. The original request was filed February 8, in plenty of time for voters to have gotten that information before the sheriff’s special election. As of press time, one day before the April 18 runoff election, CCSO has failed to supply that information as required under the Georgia Open Records Act.

Criss’ name was written in place of a purchase order number on a November 1, 2022 invoice for $8,899 of dollars in lighting and weapons storage modifications to a high-end Jeep Trailhawk. (A similarly-altered November 15, 2022 invoice for $9,698 had former Acting Deputy Roland Boehrer’s name on mods for a Dodge Charger Scat.) Boehrer retired from CCSO in late December, allowing current Interim Sheriff Levon Allen to take the top spot. Allen is in a runoff against Clarence Cox for the sheriff’s position.

Four months before the county was billed for Criss’ custom lighting, District 3 Commissioner Felicia Franklin had posed next to a CCSO car in what amounted to a county-funded advertisement for HG2 Lighting in her monthly newsletter.

Criss also tried to sell the Board of Commissioners on paying Clayton County Jail corrections officers the same as corrections officers at the county prison. The difference between the jail and the prison is that the jail is a holding facility for people who have been charged but not yet tried and convicted; the prison is for convicted criminals who have been found guilty, are serving their sentences, and require rehabilitation. Jailers are not sworn law enforcement officers, do not have arrest powers, and cannot carry firearms:

In Forest Park, Clark was first brought on as police chief, then given double duty as city manager. During his tenure, Clark uncovered uncovered several discrepancies in how the city had accounted for various law enforcement funds, including from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Emergency Management Association.

In 2021, Clark filed a federal whistleblower suit against the city and Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells, alleging retaliation for his findings.

In November 2022, Butler blocked Clark’s requests for funding and manpower for FPPD’s contribution to the combined countywide drug and gang task force, making Forest Park the only city to turn down CCPD’s invitation to combine crimefighting efforts. Just five months earlier, Forest Park had been the first city to sign onto the venture.

Clark’s federal suit against the city was settled in December 2o22.

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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