Audio Recording Differs from Police Report, Public Claims About Commission Meeting Incident

An audio recording from a contentious incident following a Bulloch County Commission meeting offers a different narrative than what has been recorded in police reports, sworn statements, and comments to the media. 

It all stems from an incident which occurred after a county commission meeting on February 6. Specifically, it happened after the completion of the regular meeting but before commissioners went into closed executive session. At the time, there were several members of the public in the room, many of whom were also speaking with commissioners. This is evidenced in an audio recording that highlights several voices and an ongoing conversation. 

Sack & Rushing

Lawton Sack, a citizen of Bulloch County, approached Commissioner Timmy Rushing to discuss a point made by Rushing relating to an appointment by the commissioners. Sack’s intent was to correct a letter Rushing read aloud which had erroneously stated the appointee worked for Georgia Southern. 

Sack approached Rushing from the side of the commissioner’s bench due to the other citizens who were also talking to commissioners at the time. The verbal exchange became heated when Sack stated the error and Rushing rose from his own chair. The exchange prompted Sack to contact Sheriff Noel Brown about the threats that had been made and Rushing to file a report for Simple Assault. No warrants were taken out by the Sheriff’s Office, but 28 days after the incident, Rushing filed for a Good Behavior Warrant on Sack in Bulloch County Magistrate Court.

Incident Report Filed with Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office
Report by Sgt. Jody Deal

The report on file with the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office lists the incident type as ‘Simple Assault.’ Under Georgia law, Simple Assault is defined as an incident in which a person ‘attempts to commit a violent injury to the person of another; or commits an act which places another in reasonable apprehension of immediately receiving a violent injury.’ 

The report also lists Rushing as the complainant and victim, despite the incident being reported by Sack as the victim in the incident. It also lists Commissioner Toby Conner as both a complainant and a witness.

According to the report, Sgt. Deal was notified during the executive session portion of the meeting that Sack had stated to other people that Rushing threatened him. Who notified Deal is unclear from the report, but it was not Sack. Deal inquired about the incident with Rushing, but did not interview or contact Sack because Sack had left the premises. 

The incident report says Sack went to the Sheriff’s Office the following day, February 7, during the lunch hour to offer his side for the purposes of a formal report. He was given a statement form to complete. Deal notes this in a supplemental report dated February 7 and notes he had not received the forms back from Sack.

Commissioner Toby Conner is listed as a witness to the incident on both the report face sheet and in the narrative by Deal, but the incident report does not indicate any statement by or interview of Conner by BCSO. 

No formal charges were filed as a result of this report.

Supplemental Report by Deputy Shafer

Shafer’s supplemental narrative attached to the report is brief, but notes that the commissioners were on a break during the time he observed Rushing and Sack talking at the commissioner’s desk. 

“I observed both parties talking but nothing seems out of sorts just a little heated.”

Written Statement by Sack

The only account of Sack’s is that which he wrote himself. There is no report on file which lists Sack as the complainant. 

Sack says Brown told him on the night of the incident to go to the Sheriff’s Office the following day – on February 7 – to make a report. He and Cassandra Mikell went to the Sheriff’s Office as instructed, but Brown was not there. According to Sack, Sheriff Brown told him he waited on him that morning but when he did not arrive, he directed Sgt. Deal to contact Rushing and do a report. When Sack met with Deal, he says Deal said he already spoke with Rushing and had everything he needed.

“I asked to give him my statement and he said ‘no.’ Finally, he gave me a chance but stopped me when I stated it did not happen during break…The Sheriff showed up as I was leaving and I went to talk to him. I told him that Sgt. Deal refused to take my statement. He walked me inside and gave me the form and told me to bring it back the next day after taking my time to fill it out.”

From an excerpt:

“Mr. Rushing became visibly upset. He stood up, saying that Dr. Woock was the best candidate and that he did not care what I had to say. He stated that this was personal, and he told me never to call or text him again. He became even more visibly upset and said he would not always be commissioner. He then stepped towards me and had his face less than an inch from me. He then stated, “Do you understand?” while looking into my eyes. Mr. Rushing was visibly shaking as he continued to intimidate me while staring into my eyes. I did not respond, refusing to give in to his intimidation technique and his implied threat. I also did not break eye contact. He then balled up his fist, shook even harder, and stated, “Do you understand, boy?” Again, I did not give in to his intimidation techniques or break eye contact with him. He tightened the grip on his fist and shook even further while the fury in his eyes grew even greater. He continued staring into my eyes before finally pulling back and stating, “You don’t understand.” He stepped back and said, “I will not always be commissioner.” Due to his physical presence, his angry tone of voice, his balled fist, demeanor, and words, I took this to be an implied threat of physical harm towards me.”

Sack mentioned in his statement that he believed in addition to Commissioner Conner, Commissioner Stringer, County Attorney Jeff Akins, and CFO Kristie King were in earshot of the exchange.

View the report by Sgt. Jody Deal and Deputy Shafer.
View the written statement of Sack.

Rushing’s Comments to the Statesboro Herald

In an article published by Al Hackle with the Statesboro Herald on March 13, Rushing is quoted as telling Hackle on March 12 that Sack ‘stood very close and leaned over him, until Rushing stood up.’

Rushing then went on to say: “I can just hear somebody, and he touches my arm, grabs me by the arm, and I turn around. He’s over me like this,” Rushing said. “I can’t make out what he’s saying…I don’t even know what’s going on, he said something to the effect of ‘I’ll have you know that man ain’t worked for Georgia Southern in four months.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?”

“He’s still right here…And so I stood up, like this, and I said, ‘Let me tell you, I ain’t going to be a commissioner from now on,” Rushing told the Herald, nothing that it’s a fact that he won’t be a commissioner forever…Rushing said, “I told him just what I think of him,” and told him, “Leave me alone, don’t never text me, touch me, talk to me. Don’t bother me no more.”

Rushing reportedly told Hackle “he would have let it go at that, if Sack had done the same, but that Sack instead told others Rushing threatened him and now “they won’t leave it alone; they won’t leave me alone,” and this is why he sought the good behavior warrant.”

Of note, however, is that the good behavior warrant was sought against Sack, but Sack and Rushing did not communicate again after the verbal exchange.

Audio Recording of the Verbal Exchange

This audio is from an audio recorder is placed on the commissioner’s desk in front of the county clerk during meetings. It was obtained directly from the county under the Georgia Open Records Act.

[0:01] SACK: “Just for further information, he hasn’t worked at Georgia Southern for over four months.
[0:06] RUSHING: “Georgia Southern?”
[0:07] SACK: “Yeah, Mr. Woock.”
RUSHING: “Never said he worked at Georgia Southern.”
SACK: The letter that you read said he worked at Georgia Southern.
Commissioner Toby Conner and citizen Lisha Nevil can be heard talking. 
[0:19] SACK: “Patrick Woock …Georgia Southern Business Innovation Group…
[0:30] CHAIRMAN THOMPSON: “That’s enough folks, we’re going into executive session.”
[0:35] Commissioner Toby Conner and citizen Lisha Nevil can still be heard talking.
[0:44] RUSHING: “You understand? I’ma tell you: I ain’t gonna be a commissioner all my life. Just remember that. Okay. You remember that. Write it down. You better pick with somebody else because I ain’t your boy. I was doing something a long time before doing this. Don’t text me no more, don’t talk to me no more. This is personal. Do you understand? DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
[1:13] UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: “Executive Session, it’s time for you to go.”
[1:15] RUSHING: “You don’t understand? Okay.”
[1:16] CHAIRMAN THOMPSON:: “Deputy.”
[1:18]RUSHING: “I’ve asked you to do it now. I’ve asked you to do it. I’ve asked you. You hear me?”

According to Sack’s written statement, the final ‘You hear me’ by Rushing was when Rushing asked Commissioner Toby Conner if he had heard everything.

Seven seconds of time elapsed between when an unidentified person said they were in executive session and that Sack needed to go and when Rushing concluded his statements to Sack.

You can listen to the raw file, which was obtained through an Open Records Request from the Bulloch County Commissioners, at the bottom of the article. The audio below has been enhanced to the extent that some background noise was removed so that Rushing and Sack can be heard more clearly.

Conflicts with Incident Report, Statements to Herald According to Audio
  1. The BCSO Incident Report indicates Rushing “told Mr. Lawton that the area was off limits to him and he was instructed to walk away and to not talk to him.” According to the audio file, these statements were not made by Rushing to Sack at any time during the exchange. (Note: these statements were reported to Sgt. Deal as told to him by Rushing)
  2. The BCSO Incident Report lists ‘hands/fists, etc’ as the ‘weapon type’ for Sack in the alleged Simple Assault. Rushing’s account to BCSO, which was reportedly made on the night of the incident, makes no mention of Sack touching Rushing or grabbing his arm.
  3. Deputy Shafer’s supplemental Incident Report indicates he observed the exchange and he makes no mention of Sack touching Rushing or grabbing his arm
  4. Only 35 days after the incident in an interview with the Herald did Rushing say Sack grabbed him.
  5. Sgt. Deal’s report says the incident occurred ‘at the time that executive session had been called,’ but the supplemental by Dep. Shafer says it was during a ‘break.’ The audio file from the Board of Commissioners also suggests it was during a break as multiple other citizens were talking to other commissioners when Sack and Rushing were conversing. 
  6. According to the Incident Report narrative, Sgt. Deal was notified by someone other than Sack and Rushing that Sack had made comments about threats being made against him, but Commissioners Rushing and Conner are the listed complainants for the incident.
Body Cam of Sack Served with Good Behavior Warrant Notice

While the incident occurred on February 6, the good behavior warrant was not sought by Rushing until March 4. 

At 9:38 p.m. on March 5, Deputy Shafer with the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office arrived at Sack’s home to serve him with a Good Behavior Warrant Notice. In the video, Shafer says he was going to serve Sack the following day, but the Sheriff told him to “go ahead and get it done today.”

Body cam footage from the incident shows the deputy arrive on scene and begin talking about how he and [Sheriff] Noel [Brown] had discussed the good behavior warrant. 

Sack tells the deputy he has the audio of the incident, to which the deputy replies, “This is going to be between y’all two. There is a court date so, like I said, me and the Sheriff’s talked about it, so whatever evidence you got, take it with you. Whatever evidence he has, take with him. Now this is just a suggestion, and it doesn’t adhere to it until this court date, um, but me and the Sheriff both discussed it and he told me to give you the suggestion, you don’t have to abide by it, but if you do, until this court date, all he would suggest is that you don’t go to the [commission] meetings in person…but that’s why he said it was just a suggestion since this isn’t relevant yet. But if you do go, mind your Ps and Qs until that court date. That’s all we’re asking. For both of y’alls sake. It could hurt both of y’all, it could help both of y’all….So if there’s something you gotta say to him, don’t say nothin’ until this court date.”

Sack replies that ‘that isn’t going to happen.’ “What I’m saying is I’m not going to give up my First Amendment rights because he’s the one that threatened me.”

After acknowledging that the paper was only a notice of a hearing and was not yet in effect, the deputy replied that he was referring to Sack speaking to Rushing personally. “Whatever you have to make for a speech to the community and for the community, that’s one thing. But what you have to say to him, leave him alone. Unless you’re talking to everyone as a whole. So if you’re not at that podium, just don’t go to him and try to say something.”

The deputy said that it’s “everybody’s right.” “If someone don’t want to talk to nobody or have them around them, they can definitely do that,” he said. While true outside of a public place or the official capacity of an elected official, case law on open meetings says otherwise. 

The deputy then tells Sack not to ‘read hard’ into the hearing notice “because it says I’m supposed to take ya in, but it’s a good behavior warrant…It says to apprehend and take you in front of a judge, this court date isn’t until March 25, so don’t read into that.” 

The document, however, makes no mention of an arrest for Sack. The entire middle portion of the warrant pertaining to an arrest, which would need to be signed by a judge in order to be valid, is blank.

Sack’s Concerns Over Report, Investigation by BCSO

In his conversation with Deputy Shafer, Sack expresses concern that the Sheriff’s Office never pulled the audio from the commissioner’s meeting to attach to the report or include for a supplemental narrative to the initial report. He said he had a copy, along with his own report, and nothing was being done regarding Rushing.

“I want to know why the Sheriff’s department is not doing anything when there’s an audio recording, when I gave a report. All I did was go up there and talk with my commissioner, using my First Amendment right, he threatened me and I’m the one…”

Shafer replies that he had not heard the audio and that the incident is not his case. “That was Jody Deal’s case.”

“I’m the one that reported it…to the Sheriff,” Sack tells the deputy.

“The Sheriff made Jody Deal make a report,” Shafer replied.

“Yes, and who did he go to? He went to Timmy. Not the one that was threatened and made the report,” Sack told him. He expressed concerns about the fact that the report was not distributed in the daily media reports either. Sack said it was a problem that no one from the Sheriff’s office pulled the audio from the commission meeting before completing the report.

Shafer assured Sack that the report was on file and he, or anyone else, could obtain a copy. He said he personally put Sack’s witness statement in the ‘linked files’ on the report.

“All I know is that I’m being harassed because I’m using my First Amendment rights,” Sack told him. “Everyone’s believing Timmy and he’s the one that threatened me. Who’s going to protect me?”

“Tell the Sheriff,” Shafer said.

“I did tell the Sheriff and he told me to leave it alone,” Sack replied.

You can view the body camera footage of the deputy who served the warrant notice on Sack below.

Magistrate Hearing 

A hearing for the Good Behavior Warrant by Rushing against Sack is scheduled for March 25 at 2:00 p.m.. Screven County Magistrate Judge Jimmy Griner will preside over the hearing to avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest with Bulloch County Magistrate judges.

Editor’s Note: Lawton Sack has contributed one article to TGV summarizing a Planning & Zoning meeting.

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast.'

Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

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