LaGRANGE — The Georgia State Patrol has concluded its internal investigation into a state trooper and city councilman-elect.
Lt. Mark J. Mitchell, who was elected to LaGrange City Council last month, abused his authority during an ongoing dispute with a construction company near his home, the investigation states.
According to documents obtained by the Daily News through an open records request, Mitchell was approved for medical retirement effective Dec. 1. On Nov. 17, the commanding officer of GSP, Maj. Tommy E. Waldrop, recommended Mitchell be demoted from lieutenant to trooper first class 2, but that action did not take place because Mitchell retired before the recommendation could take effect, Mitchell said.
He is allowed to retain his badge and service weapon, documents show.
Mitchell has previously stood by his record as a 30-year veteran of law enforcement. During his interview with the Daily News in October, Mitchell suggested the timing of complaints by a construction company, which was contracted by the City of LaGrange for work near his home, to the state patrol was curious and may have been tied to his prospects of running for office.
“Twenty-one years with the Georgia State Patrol, almost nine years with the Troup County Sheriff’s Office, and not a single filed complaint,” Mitchell told the Daily News in October. “I have received multiple commendations, including the governor’s award and I stand by my integrity.”
Reached by phone today, Mitchell said he has retained an attorney regarding litigation with the city and plans to let the legal system “work its process.”
He did not care to comment on the internal investigation, nor the litigation, and said, “I don’t think you have enough newspaper to write what I’d like to say.”
Mitchell, who oversaw the state patrols’ drug interdiction unit, was placed on paid administrative leave July 13 following an internal investigation by the state patrol, records show.
Haren Construction Company, an Etowah, Tennessee-based firm contracted by the city to perform upgrades at the Yellow Jacket Creek Pump Station on Lakeshore Drive near Mitchell’s home, lodged six complaints with GSP earlier this year alleging Mitchell abused his authority as a state trooper by intimidating and threatening employees of the company while they were conducting the work next door to Mitchell’s home in 2014.
The complaints, filed by Haren about a year after the initial incidents, included accusations that Mitchell trespassed on job site property while both in and out of uniform, threatened arrests and used his GSP email to correspond with Haren company officials, records show.
The investigation by GSP concluded Mitchell was upset with ongoing pile driving the construction company was performing on the job site, and Mitchell claimed the extreme vibrations were damaging his home and property.
LPD officer Colleen Hewett wrote in an official report dated April 4, 2014, “As I was inside his (Mitchell’s) home, the shaking seemed worse today than it was a couple of days ago. I observed change jars that were on the dressers, lying on the floor with all the money spilled onto the floor. This time, the windows in the house were flexing back and forth vigorously.”
On Oct. 15, 2014, Dan Lee, an attorney representing Mitchell, filed a notice with the city stating litigation was possible and requested damages totaling $353,000. The city denied the claim and by Oct. 22, 2014, the city’s insurance company sent Mitchell a letter stating the city was not at fault. Two months later, Haren Construction Company’s insurance company also denied Mitchell’s claim.
In one exchange noted in GSP’s investigation, the job foreman told GSP investigators that when Mitchell was confronted and told to stay off the job site, he placed his hand on his service weapon and said, “come over here and get you some of this,” according to the GSP investigation.
Mitchell later told investigators that the foreman had approached him in an “agitated posture” and was yelling at him when that particular incident occurred.
The state patrol’s investigation sided with four of the six complaints; one was not sustained because of lack of evidence and Mitchell was exonerated of another, the case summary shows.
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.