Clarkston’s police director sworn in; police chief asked him to turn in his badge, gun and vehicleClarkston Director of Police Services John Pearson takes notes during the town hall at the Clarkston Community Center on Thursday, July 27, 2023. To Pearson’s left are Clarkston Police Chief Christine Hudson and her attorney Ed Buckley. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
Clarkston, GA — Earlier this month, Clarkston City Manager Shawanna Qawiy demoted Police Chief Christine Hudson and hired John Pearson as the city’s director of police services.
There’s a problem, however. Pearson was never sworn in as a city officer and wasn’t on the city’s payroll, but was still issued a badge, gun, and city police vehicle, according to Hudson’s attorney, Ed Buckley.
On July 27, Hudson asked Pearson to turn in his gun, badge, and vehicle until he’s an employee of the city, Buckley confirmed. Initially, Pearson said that he was operating on a “verbal agreement” with the city manager and would be sworn in Aug. 1.
But on July 27, the same day Hudson asked him to turn in his city-issued equipment, Pearson was sworn in, according to Buckley.
“Until today, Mr. Pearson was not a sworn officer and, to our knowledge, has no contract authorizing him to be on the City of Clarkston payroll. Yet, he has been issued a badge and a gun and a city vehicle,” Buckley said.
Clarkston City Councilmembers did not immediately return a message seeking comment about the situation.
The news comes ahead of a town hall meeting planned to hear residents’ concerns about the police department, which is in freefall as officers leave for better pay and a less toxic working environment, and about the city manager, who is accused of creating that toxic working environment. She is also facing allegations from City Finance Director Dan Defnall that she has given him questionable payment requests, including requests involving Vice Mayor Debra Johnson. City Councilmember Laura Hopkins believes there are at least four contracts that would be considered void, according to an analysis by the city attorney: Pearson’s contract, a contract for a human resources consultant, a contract for a public relations firm, and a contract for the cameras.
Buckley questioned whether Qawiy had the authority to hire Pearson without the council’s explicit approval.
“It remains to be seen under what authority the city manager has appointed him,” Buckley said. “The city of Clarkston does not give her authority to appoint new department heads, only to supervise those that exist.”
Buckley added, “It is unclear, at this point in time, whether she had the authority to appoint a new department head and where that authority came from, although it does not appear that it was voted on or approved by the city council.”
The grievance came after Qawiy suspended Hudson without pay, accusing her of insubordination and “conduct unbecoming a city employee,” among other allegations.
Hudson also filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Qawiy denied that racial bias played any role in her decisions.
Decaturish has sent a reporter and photographer to the July 27 town hall meeting and will provide coverage of the event.
Here is the full statement from Hudson’s attorney:
Recently, John Pearson was appointed to head the City of Clarkston Police Department. It remains to be seen under what authority the City Manager has appointed him. The City of Clarkston does not give her authority to appoint new department heads, only to supervise those that exist. Specifically, it reads: “ The chief of police, finance officer, and director of public works shall be considered “department heads” for the purpose of administering city government.” It does not authorize the city manager to create new department heads. It is unclear, at this point in time, whether she had authority to appoint a new department head and where that authority came from, although it does not appear that it was voted on or approved by the city council. When Mr. Pearson was introduced to Chief Hudson, he informed her that he was her “boss.” Chief Hudson viewed this as a demotion, as she was no longer the head of the City of Clarkston Police Department. Until today, Mr. Pearson was not a sworn officer and, to our knowledge, has no contract authorizing him to be on the City of Clarkston payroll. Yet, he has been issued a badge and a gun, and a city vehicle. On July 25, 2023, Mr. Pearson issued a press release in which he informed the public that he had been appointed to this position, but was not sworn in. He also informed the public that he would not be sworn in until August 1. Based on the ambiguity of his position and the authority for it, Chief Hudson has asked him to relinquish his gun, badge, and vehicle until he is an employee of the city.
Sara Amis contributed reporting to this story.
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