The Vidalia Board of Aldermen voted to discipline a police officer and a police dispatcher during a special meeting on the morning of Friday, July 17.
Aldermen met in executive session prior to voting.
One of the officers disciplined was Robert T.J. Cross, who is the subject of a lawsuit filed by a man Cross arrested in May. Other subjects of the lawsuit are the Town of Vidalia, Police Chief Joey Merrill and officer Josh Brewer.
Mayor Buz Craft said at the outset of the special meeting last week that he and aldermen would meet in executive session to discuss disciplinary matters involving the two officers.
The matter involving Cross first came up two months ago but was tabled by the board.
After the executive session, and with little discussion, aldermen first voted 4 to 1 to approve Police Chief Joey Merrill’s recommended disciplinary action that a reprimand of dispatcher Daphanie Cooper be made part of her personnel file.
Aldermen Jon Betts, Tommy Probst, Robert Gardner and Sabrina Dore’ voted to follow the chief’s recommendation. Alderman Tron McCoy abstained.
In another matter, aldermen voted 3-2 approving the chief’s recommendation for the discipline of officer Robert T.J. Cross as follows:
-- Three-day suspension without pay.
-- Successful completion of a cultural diversity program.
-- Successful completion of a de-escalation training program.
-- Successful completion of a rules of force training program.
Garner and Dore’ voted no. Dore’ said she felt the suspension of Cross should have been more than three days.
Cross was disciplined in connection with an arrest he made of Jaris Smith of Vidalia. According to lawsuit filed by his attorney, Bridgett Brown of Alexandria, Smith suffers a “deformity of his legs due to a birth defect, one leg is significantly more impaired than the other.”
The suit, filed earlier this month, alleges that on May 17, 2020, officer Cross arrested Smith and while placing him into the police vehicle, Cross kicked Smith’s legs, slammed Smith’s legs into the door of the vehicle and dragged him across the back seat by the shirt collar. The suit claims officer Brewer failed to intervene.
Additionally, the suit says a video was placed on social media showing the incident and the repeated views and shares have caused Smith “persistent and ongoing trauma.”
Smith is seeking compensation for his injuries, including pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of “residential enjoyment,” and damages for medical expenses.