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Mayor cannot be charged in Huff incident Usry will seek re-election

Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry cannot be charged for his handling of the Scott Huff incident, Toombs District Attorney Dennis Sanders says, because police did not attempt to stop the mayor from taking the city public works supervisor home as they were administering a field sobriety test.

The mayor said Monday he is not discussing the matter further.

"I did not break any laws," Usry said. "I'm moving past it."

He also said he intends to run for re-election in November. So far no one has expressed a desire to run against him. Qualifying for the race begins Aug. 29.

"I still think what I did was right," the mayor said. adding again that he was concerned for Huff's safety as well as that of others at the scene where a severe thunderstorm had felled a tree on June 18.

Asked if he would handle the situation in the same way, Usry said he might "do it a little different." He did not elaborate.

Huff, the director of water, sewer and gas in the city's public works department, drove a city vehicle to the area where the tree was down. Police smelled alcohol on Huff's breath and had begun administering the field sobriety test when the mayor arrived. After talking with Huff and the police, the mayor escorted Huff from the scene and drove him home. Police had not administered a blood-alcohol test at that point.

Huff was given 10 days' suspension and then was placed on medical leave. City Administrator Don Powers said this week that Huff remains on leave.

To be charged with obstruction, "the mayor has to be given a lawful command," Sanders said Monday. Police did not tell the mayor that he was interfering with an investigation, nor did they attempt to stop him from taking Huff from the scene, the patrol car video shows.

Asked whether his officers could have handled the situation differently, Thomson Police Chief Joe Nelson would not comment.

Sanders said that, based on the field sobriety test alone, Huff could have been charged with DUI less safe, which means that he was too impaired to drive in the judgment of the officer.

But such cases are difficult to prove to a jury, Sanders said, and Nelson recognized that.

"He told me the officer did not think he had enough evidence for a DUI charge," Sanders said.

In the police report, however, the officer says he told the mayor that "Huff drove up ... in a city vehicle and was over the legal limit."

No one can make that determination from a field sobriety test, the DA said.

A group led by the Rev. Fred Favors, a McDuffie County commissioner and the pastor of Springfield Baptist Church in Thomson, demanded during a June 29 news conference that the mayor resign and that Huff be fired. Among those at the news conference was Constance Starr, who was fired after being charged with DUI less safe.

She was also driving on a suspended license.

In an interview with The McDuffie Mirror, she said that she thought her punishment was unfair.

"What he did was a whole lot worse that what I did," she said. referring to Huff. "My punishment was too severe."

However, City Attorney Jimmy Plunkett said this week that Starr was fired because she had been operating a city street sweeper on the suspended license for three months.

"She could not do her job" on a suspended license, he said.

Web posted on Thursday, July 14, 2011

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