Originally created 11/14/97

More arrests to come in landfill case, officials say



A sheriff's deputy who is also a city department manager may have asked another city employee to break the law.

Landfill supervisor Robert Blueford Watson, 35, was suspended without pay Thursday from his $26,116 a year job after being arrested and charged with theft of government property and making false statements to law enforcement officials. Both charges are felonies. A trial will determine if he'll keep his job.

Mr. Watson is accused of taking gravel from the landfill and using a bulldozer-like piece of equipment, also owned by the city, to spread the rocks on another landfill employee's private property in Blythe.

City officials said he was acting under orders from his boss, David Smith, the landfill operations manager.

No one answered the telephone at Mr. Smith's office or his cellular telephone. His home telephone number is not listed.

As of Thursday, Mr. Watson was the only city employee arrested in connection with the theft. More arrests are forthcoming, officials said.

Other city employees are involved in the thefts, both Sheriff Charlie Webster and City Administrator Randy Oliver said. Neither would name the suspects, however.

If Deputy Smith made the request, he could lose his commission as a Richmond County peace officer, Sheriff Webster said Thursday.

"If we find that he is involved, it could cause some problems," the sheriff said. "We'd have to call in the GBI. I haven't called them yet because I don't have all the evidence in yet, the investigation is still ongoing."

Sheriff Webster commissioned Deputy Smith as part of the department's litter patrol unit. Even though most of the unit's functions now fall under the Richmond County Marshal's office, Deputy Smith is still a commissioned officer.

Mr. Watson received news of his suspension without pay at a city personnel hearing Thursday. The meeting -- attended by Mr. Oliver, a county attorney, Mr. Watson and at least two other city officials -- was closed to the public.

Deputy Smith didn't attend the meeting, but he was waiting in the hall after it was over, Mr. Oliver said. He refused to say whether Deputy Smith's involvement was discussed at the meeting.

Under Augusta's personnel policy, Mr. Watson has five days to appeal his suspension to the personnel board. The board can then determine whether the decision made Thursday was fair and justified.