Dunwoody journalist sues city, charges open records violation | Dunwoody News

DUNWOODY, Ga. — A Dunwoody resident filed suit in DeKalb County Superior Court Oct. 31 alleging the City of Dunwoody and three city employees violated the Georgia Open Records Act.

During public comment at the Oct. 30 City Council meeting, Joseph Hirsch, a longtime critic of the Dunwoody Police Department, said responsibility for the attrition rate among Dunwoody police officers can be laid at the feet of Chief Billy Grogan.

Joseph Hirsch’s lawsuit against the City of Dunwoody and three city employees stems from an incident Oct. 13, 2021. Hirsch has blamed Chief Billy Grogan, pictured, for problems he sees with the Dunwoody Police Department.

CITY OF DUNWOODY/PROVIDED

Hirsch lobbed criticism at Grogan, City Manger Eric Linton and the Dunwoody City Council for failing to address concerns he has brought to the attention of the City Council over the years.

Hirsch, a journalist, ran unsuccessfully for the City Council District 1 seat in 2017.

Appen Media reached out to Dunwoody Communications Director Jennifer Boettcher for comment on Hirsch’s lawsuit. 

“We cannot comment on pending litigation, but we want to make it clear that the City of Dunwoody complies with all applicable provisions of the Georgia Open Records Act,” Boettcher said.

The legal action stems from an incident Oct. 13, 2021, involving Police Officer Minh Pham and the manager of an automotive store, Mr. Tire. 

A dispatch communication from Oct. 13 acknowledges the officer’s presence at the scene but no incident report was submitted about any altercation. 

Hirsch’s lawsuit alleges “Dunwoody Police Officer Minh Pham essentially held hostage a Mr. Tire store manager against his will by causing the store manager to believe he was being detained for failing to fix the officer’s wife’s personal car.”

Officer Minh Pham leaves Mr. Tire alongside his wife Oct. 13, 2021. Dunwoody resident Joeseph Hirsch filed a lawsuit stemming from an open records request about the incident. 

CITY OF DUNWOODY/PROVIDED

Hirsch said he began making open records requests for details regarding the incident Oct. 19, 2021. 

When Hirsch filed a request Oct. 28 for Pham’s text messages from 3 p.m. Oct. 13 to 5 p.m. Oct. 14, the city’s record clerk said there were no such records available. 

The open records request was then closed.

Hirsch individually named three city employees as defendants in his lawsuit: Technology Director Ginger LePage, Records Clerk Eric Shealy and City Clerk Sharon Lowry.

Dustin Guwin, a former contractor with the city, contacted Hirsch July 22, 2022, with information regarding his Oct. 28, 2021, open records request.

Hirsch’s lawsuit refers to Guwin as a whistleblower.

In fall 2021, Lowry instructed Guwin to fill Hirsch’s open records request. 

According to the suit, Chief Grogan told Guwin that there were no messages on Pham’s phone from the requested period.

Later, LePage showed Guwin four text messages from the period on Pham’s phone. 

“[LePage]… decided we’d rather not go down the path that accuses Grogan or one of his officers of being… less than forthcoming,” Guwin said. “So, [LePage] told me to just forget [Lowry] had ever asked about it and that they report back to you that there were no texts during that time period, which I believe they did.”

According to Hirsch’s lawsuit, the city and its employees “wrongfully failed to produce the records by claiming they did not exist, when, in fact, they did exist and do exist.”

LePage, Lowry and Shealy are responsible for filling open records request in Dunwoody. Hirsch is asking that each defendant pay a $1,000 fine, the text messages be released and his attorney fees and litigation costs be covered. 

“Our Mayor and Council choose to look the other way as they don’t want to tarnish the image of Dunwoody,” Hirsch said. “However, it’s going to get uglier because of their failures… I have literally begged for their assistance, to no avail.”

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