I-TEAM Update: Indicted deputy on paid leave gets pay raise

Published: Mar. 28, 2022 at 6:44 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A lot of us had to work from home during the pandemic, but how would you like to be sent home, not have to work, and still get paid? On top of that, you would even get a raise.

That happened to a Richmond County deputy, and it wasn’t for good behavior.

Deputy Brandon Keathley is facing two felony charges for assaulting another deputy. That indictment caused the state of Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (P.O.S.T.) to suspend his law enforcement certification, but the I-Team found those charges and suspension were not enough to cost Keathley his job.

Taxpayers have been paying Keathley not to do his job for 481 days now, but it appears someone else didn’t do their job, either. That possibly leaves you, the taxpayer, on the hook to pay to keep Keathley at home for at least one more year.

Meanwhile, his brothers and sisters in blue just want to make sure they make it home after each shift. Sheriff Richard Roundtree even drives it home on his YouTube channel; it can be dangerous to be a deputy.

We rewind to February of 2020 when Deputy Nicholas Nunes was performing CPR on a 17-year-old with a gunshot wound. Deputy Keathley is accused of hitting Nunes in the back of the head with a flashlight. Deangelo Burns died in the Circle K parking lot on Peach Orchard Road a short time later. Deputy Nunes needed staples and stitches.

 Deputy Nicholas Nunes
Deputy Nicholas Nunes(WRDW)

At a news conference in February of 2020, Sheriff Roundtree called the incident “embarrassing not just to those deputies, but to our agency.” Sheriff Roundtree disciplined both Keathley and Nunes following an internal affairs investigation where the sheriff’s office essentially investigated itself. Nunes resigned to work somewhere else, but Keathley returned to work after being suspended.

Fast forward 10 months later. A grand jury decided to indict Keathley on two felony charges for assaulting Deputy Nunes. Keathley was booked into jail on December 2, 2020, for assault and assault on a peace officer. We start the clock when he bonded out that same day because that’s the date taxpayers started paying him to stay at home.

The I-Team sent an open records request for his salary information, and we learned for the first year he stayed off the job, taxpayers paid him a total of $43,394.72.

This year, however, he is earning a new rate of pay, thanks to a 2022 salary increase. Now he’s getting an extra $2,496.37 to stay at home. Keep in mind, Sheriff Roundtree continues to ask Augusta commissioners for money. In this year’s budget, he asked for 60 tasers. At $1860 each, Keathley’s salary could cover around 25 of them. It could pay for the 8 biometric readers the sheriff requested plus the training class with quite a bit leftover.

Keathley’s salary just for 2022 could also cover the entire education program requested in this year’s budget. In 2021, it could have almost paid for all the protective headgear commissioners approved at their January 6th meeting. But this isn’t just about taxpayer money. It’s about a deputy, indicted on felony charges, still employed as a deputy. Even before the dollars started to add up, the ITEAM asked the outgoing District Attorney if this was unusual.

“That is very unorthodox,” Natalie Paine told the I-Team in an interview back on December 3, 2020. “I mean, that has always been the procedure as far as I’m aware that once someone is indicted, they are no longer employed with the sheriff’s office at all.”

That leads us to the current district attorney and where the case stands now. Before Jared Williams even took office, he told me he would be sending the case to the state Attorney General because Williams had a conflict. He was a member of the law firm representing Deputy Keathley.

The I-Team confirmed the Attorney General’s office received Williams’ conflict letter on December 9, 2021. That’s more than a year after Williams confirmed that conflict to the I-Team. That means the case was essentially at a standstill for more than a year. That delay now means hundreds of other cases are in front of it.

In 2020, the AG’s office received 178 conflict cases. In 2021, that number sky-rocketed to 486.

When the I-Team asked about his year-long delay on the Keathley case, the Office of the Attorney General replied: “district attorneys should issue a conflict as soon as it’s noticed.”

During our investigation, the I-Team noticed that, according to Sheriff Roundtree’s policy and procedures manual, a flashlight can be considered a deadly weapon. In the “reasonable force defined” section, it clearly states under impact weapons, it “may be considered deadly force if strikes are directed to the subject’s head” as was the case with Deputy Nunes.

Deputy Nunes is now working in law enforcement in Arizona.  Deputy Keathley, who is still presumed innocent as he waits for his case to go to trial, is making a living sitting at home. Meanwhile, Richmond County deputies are making a living by putting their safety on the line as they protect, serve, and earn their paychecks.

We reached out to Brandon Keathley’s attorney, he said they did not want to make any comments at this time. We also reached out to Roundtree but did not get a response to the request.

It was no secret the ITEAM was working on this story, we had to go back and forth quite a bit to get these salary records. Keathley has been indicted on these charges, but again he hasn’t been on trial, so he is still presumed innocent.

If convicted, he could face one to 20 years in prison just on the aggravated assault charge. For aggravated assault on a peace officer, he could face five to 20 years.

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