An officer with the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety has been demoted for taking a city-owned vehicle offline for personal use during the February snow and ice storm.
The city demoted former Captain Robert Wessel after it discovered he used a Department of Public Safety-owned vehicle to pick up a Reinhardt University Police Academy student and housed her at the agency's headquarters during the February winter storm.
Alpharetta learned of the incident after the Waleska-based institution launched an investigation into allegations he was having a personal relationship with a student in the academy, said Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard.
Wessel informed Director of Public Safety Gary George of the investigation, as Wessel was serving as an adjunct professor with the academy during his off-duty hours.
Since the relationship was unrelated to his position with the city, Alpharetta "was not involved in the matter," Drinkard added.
However, Reinhardt University reached out to George in May and told him "that there was evidence indicated Officer Wessel withheld evidence pertinent to the investigation," Drinkard added.
That development, Drinkard said, forced the city to launch an internal affairs investigation, as department policy prohibits officers from "withholding information, lying, or in any way hindering an investigation regardless of if they do so on or off-duty."
That internal investigation determined that Wessel did in fact withhold information from Reinhardt officials during the school's investigation and colluded with the student to hide their relationship.
Drinkard said that same investigation revealed that during the snow and ice storm in February, while the city was under "emergency operation status," Wessel took one of the department's four-wheel drive vehicles offline to pick up the student and brought her to the agency's headquarters.
The student remained at the headquarters during the event, something other personnel had no knowledge of. While Wessel remained in the city's Command Control Center during the storm and did not appear to have interacted with the woman, the use of city resources for "personal reasons" is a violation of Alpharetta's policy, the assistant city administrator said.
Wessel, who has been employed by the city since 1999, has worked as a police officer, lieutenant and captain. Up to that point, Drinkard said the officer had an "excellent" record and did an "outstanding" job in his role.
Alpharetta has notified the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, or P.O.S.T., of its investigation and the subsequent disciplinary action against Wessel.
That state agency will conduct its own investigation and may take additional measures. If they decide to suspend Wessel's certifications, Drinkard said the city would have to revisit his employment status, as he will not be able to work as a law enforcement officer until that certification is reinstated.
Drinkard added he believes the city's measures are "appropriate to the situation and send two very clear messages."
"First and foremost is that we will not tolerate behavior of this nature and will hold accountable anyone who violates our policies," he added. "At the same time, we believe that it communicates that we will not overreact to a situation and will consider an employee’s record of service when making disciplinary decisions."