Williamson not only fired Park, he also promised to make sure Park would never work as a police officer in Georgia again. And it gets worse.
For good measure, Williamson recorded the firing on a body camera, and posted it on YouTube. In his termination letter, he wrote that Park was fired to avoid “potential embarrassment that the department would suffer as a result of Officer Park’s suggestion that the department was violating the law.”
So Park not only knew the law better than his supervisor, he also knew it better than his police chief. And it isn’t as if this is some obscure corner of the law. Williamson heads up a campus police department, precisely the sort of place where the law in question would be especially relevant. When confronted with his own ignorance, Williamson not only fired Park, but did so while explicitly acknowledging that (a) Park had been right about the law, and (b) Park’s termination was to prevent public embarrassment to Williamson and his department for being wrong about it.
It’s important to understand just how damning this is. It’s bad enough that Williamson fired Park. It’s worse that he did it to save himself embarrassment over his own ignorance of the law. But for him to openly acknowledge as much in Park’s termination letter demonstrates just how contemptuous police culture can be of anyone who dares to cross the blue line. And that Williamson recorded the termination on his own body camera — which is supposed to be a check on police misconduct and abuse — is just audacious.
Williamson also made good on his promise. After his firing, Park was stripped of his certification as a police officer. At least as of October, he was working at a Citgo.
(Note: The alternative explanation to ignorance is that Williamson and his subordinates knew about the law but chose to ignore it. This is more damning still. Yes, it’s true that police have some discretion over when, where and to what extent they prioritize and enforce laws, but that discretion doesn’t extend to making unauthorized arrests. It would be particularly egregious here, since the purpose of this law is to encourage people to seek medical attention for overly intoxicated students without fear of legal consequences for themselves. Put another way, the law is intended to save lives.)
I guess the lesson for Georgia police officers here is that you can shoot unarmed suspects in the back. You can gun down an innocent pastor. You can kill an innocent man in his own home during a botched drug raid. You can blow a hole in a baby’s chest during another botched drug raid. You can repeatedly abuse inmates after strapping them into a restraint chair. You can go to the wrong house, then shoot an innocent man and kill his dog.
But never, ever embarrass your fellow police officers.
In October, Park settled with the department for $325,000. That settlement included a letter exonerating him of any wrongdoing, which will hopefully help him find another job. The money will come from Georgia taxpayers. Jimmy Williamson is still the chief of the University of Georgia Police Department. In a just world, Jay Park would have his job.