Atlanta, Ga. (CBS46) — One week after the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Department announced that the K9 deputy will not face criminal charges in the deaths of three of his personal dogs, an investigation by CBS46 has revealed the cause.
Last week, the department said an internal investigation into Representative Eric Tolbert had been conducted into an “incident of animal cruelty.”
The department said the search warrant “discovered unsanitary conditions and improper disposal of his personal dogs, which is a violation of Georgia law.” An investigation by CBS 46 has already revealed that Tolbert dumped the bodies of his three American dogs in a trash.
Department investigators also sought a criminal arrest warrant for Tolbert, but the department said “the judges refused to sign the warrant on the grounds of lack of probable cause and conflict of interest, with the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office investigating the incident, rather than using the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.”
The department said the Rockdale County District Attorney’s Office was refusing to prosecute the case, citing a lack of evidence. A criminal investigation was closed, and an internal administrative investigation found Tolbert in violation of both department policies. As a result, the MP was suspended for 32 hours without pay and lost his designation as a K9.
Three dead dogs
Detective Colin Jones, a Rockdale County Detective, was assigned to the case after Tolbert’s deputy posted a Facebook post declaring the three American Bulldogs dead, stating that the heat was no “joke.”
Detective Jones went to Deputy Tolbert’s home in Conyers and rang Ring’s doorbell. Here is their exchange:
Jones: “Hey. It’s Detective Jones out there. If you can come out and meet me, please.”
Tolbert: “I’m not in town. What’s going on here?”
Jones: “I’m here to talk about your dogs. You have two or three dogs that died?”
Tolbert: “Yes I do.”
Jones: “Okay. Where are those dogs?”
Tolbert: “I had no way of burying them so I destroyed them.”
Jones: “What did you do with them?”
Tolbert: “Put them in the trash.”
Over the next few hours, investigators searched the possessions of Representative Tolbert. They detained his county-issued police dog, Aegis, who he left in a cage in his backyard.
They also searched inside an uninsulated shed where they found a small portable air conditioner and filthy boxes lined with feces and mold.
“Oh God, it sucks,” Jones said as she walked around the property.
In a taped interview in the mayor’s office a few weeks later, Tolbert’s deputy admitted, after his first dog died, that he put a small air conditioner in the shed. However, an internal investigation concluded that the unit “was not sufficient” for such a large enclosure. Within a day, the portable air conditioner failed and the other two dogs died as well.
“Going back to the air conditioner, did you read the manual at all?” asked a Rockdale County Sheriff’s employee.
Rep. Tolbert replied, “I’ve read it enough, regarding the rally.”
“So, you didn’t read the part that might have said something about the effect of not using it as an air conditioner?” asked the employee.
Rep. Tolbert replied, “No, I didn’t.”
No warrant, no arrest
At this point, Detective Jones believed she had enough evidence to press charges. But Rockdale County Judge Nancy Beals refused to sign an arrest warrant, according to the case notes, because she felt the sheriff’s office should have referred the investigation to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). The bills described the case as a “conflict of interest” for MPs to work on one’s case.
It’s a decision the Mayor’s Circle continues to support.
When asked why the bureau did not turn over the Deputy Tolbert investigation to the GBI, John Tate, chief of staff for the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office, told me, “We have the ability to investigate our cases. We don’t have to hand them over to the GBI. We have a criminal investigation department. We’re a working sheriff’s office.” at full capacity.”
Tate disagrees with Judge Beals’ opinion that there is a conflict of interest.
Deputy Tolbert responds
CBS46 investigative reporter Rachel Polanski has been to the home of Deputy Tolbert twice. The second time, he was backing out of his way. He initially said he didn’t want to talk to us but kept answering our questions.
“My agency said they have conducted an investigation and deemed me fit to return to work,” Tolbert’s deputy said. “There was no ill intent behind this or anything trying to harm my animals. Those were my animals. I love all of them.”
Polanski: “Shouldn’t you have known better as a K9 handler not to keep American Bulldogs in an uninsulated shed?”
Tolbert: “Well, the shed was getting cooler, so I thought it was okay. Since I got them, it’s never been too hot.”
Polanski: It was a June day in Georgia. Shouldn’t you know better? “
Tolbert: “Okay, but it wasn’t that hot, so, you know, they were fine before.”
Polanski: “Why did you put the dead dogs in the trash?”
Tolbert: “My yard is full of woods. I could not dig, so I knew no other choice.”
After the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office closed the case, Deputy Tolbert received a four-day suspension without pay and was transferred from the K9 unit to the Patrol Division. But he also avoided criminal charges, something animal law expert Claudine Wilkins doesn’t understand.
“It’s very similar to putting a dog in a hot car,” said Wilkins, founder of Animal Law Source. “The temperature rises quickly, leaving them there and going to work for hours is totally irresponsible and reckless. So the level of knowledge and responsibility is a little higher than the average person if you were a K9 officer.”
Wilkins said there was enough evidence to bring charges of cruelty to animals against Tolbert’s deputy.
“Heat exhaustion is a failure to provide shelter,” Wilkins said. “So, at a minimum, this sounds to me like a misdemeanor case in Georgia, under state law.”
A misdemeanor of cruelty to animals in Georgia carries a penalty of up to one year in prison and a fine. Failure to provide an animal with “sanitary conditions” or “ventilation” and improper disposal of animals violate state law.
Tate defended the department’s actions.
“With the investigation that has been conducted, the disciplinary actions that have been taken are what we have found appropriate for this particular investigation,” he said.
The Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office has begun changing the protocol for police dogs and is now directing K9 handlers to bring police dogs indoors if outside temperatures are above 90 degrees or below 40 degrees.
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