Originally created 06/09/01

14-year deputy resigns



A longtime patrol deputy in Richmond County fondled the breasts of a woman while on duty and later resigned after failing a lie detector test over her allegations, according to a sheriff's office investigative report.

Richmond County sheriff's Deputy Gerald Vest quit May 3, a day after he took a polygraph test in which he denied stalking the woman and groping her when he stopped her car outside a liquor store, according to internal documents obtained by The Augusta Chronicle.

He later admitted fondling the woman after investigators told him the store had a video camera focused on the parking lot, the documents show. But the deputy maintained that she invited him to touch her.

No criminal charges have been filed against Mr. Vest, who had been with the department since March 1987, Chief Deputy Sid Hatfield said.

"The whole entire internal investigation is over," Chief Deputy Hatfield said. "To pursue it as a criminal prosecution, she would have had to file the incident report as criminal activity."

But the woman made a full statement and expected the agency to pursue criminal charges, said attorney Pete Theodocion, who was hired by the woman to pursue a civil lawsuit against the sheriff's office.

"I'm not sure how many hoops they want her to go through," he said. "If she didn't want anything to happen, she wouldn't have gone down there (to the sheriff's office) in the first place."

Mr. Theodocion said his client will return to pursue a criminal complaint if sheriff's officials insist.

The woman, 31, has since moved out of Georgia, the attorney said. "It has affected her tremendously," he said.

The former deputy met the woman during a domestic violence call at her apartment April 28. She told deputies that her boyfriend had grabbed her around the neck, choked her and threatened to kill her, a sheriff's report states. The boyfriend was subsequently arrested and jailed for a few days.

During the internal investigation, the woman told authorities that Mr. Vest picked up her panties while at her apartment on the domestic violence call and commented on how "skimpy" they were, Sgt. Wayne Pinkston wrote in an internal affairs report.

According to Mr. Theodocion, the deputy saw the woman driving the next day and pulled her over at a liquor store on Stevens Creek Road. Mr. Vest claims the woman flagged him down.

The woman said she was sitting in her car and the deputy approached her and leaned in the window, internal records show. He didn't say why he stopped her but told the woman he had driven to her apartment to see if she was there, the woman said.

"She said the deputy asked to see her breasts" and asked about her sexual habits, Sgt. Pinkston stated. She told authorities that she showed the deputy her breasts and he fondled them and sexually assaulted her with his fingers.

"She felt like there was nothing she could do" because he was a law enforcement officer, Mr. Theodocion said.

When first questioned, Mr. Vest claimed the woman saw his patrol car, waved at him to stop and asked whether her boyfriend was still in jail. He denied the sexual assault.

"And that's all we had from there on - he said, she said," Chief Deputy Hatfield said.

During the internal investigation, sheriff's officials asked the liquor store for a videotape of the parking lot and were able to see a patrol car and another car. But the tape did not show enough to identify the people or what they were doing, Chief Deputy Hatfield said.

Investigators ordered Mr. Vest to take a polygraph test because of the conflicting stories, and he failed. The internal investigation closed after the deputy's resignation.

Charges will not be sought against Mr. Vest unless the woman requests a criminal investigation, Chief Deputy Hatfield said.

When she first talked to sheriff's officials, she asked to file a complaint, which is different than a criminal incident report, the chief deputy said. They informed her how to pursue a criminal case and she never followed up, he said.

But Mr. Theodocion said the woman wanted to press charges and even reported the incident to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the FBI.

GBI confirmed that the woman visited its office April 30, according to Mike Seigler, GBI assistant agent in charge.

"She was so distraught at the time," Agent Seigler said. "She expressed to me that she was afraid."

GBI cannot investigate an incident unless another agency requests assistance, he said. He referred the woman to the sheriff's office.

A telephone message left at Mr. Vest's home on Chamberlin Road in Grovetown was returned by his wife, who said her husband would have no comment on the incident.

Staff Writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this report.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 orgreg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.