John C. Sirmons, a native of Berrien County, GA , made a lifetime career in education. In 1917 he was teaching at Tech High School in Atlanta. There, he suffered the indignity of having his car stolen.
His car was recovered by Atlanta police and in attempting to claim his property, John encountered some difficulty which sparked an investigation into municipal graft.
The February 17, 1917 Atlanta Constitution reported on the incident:
February 17, 1917
Board Will Probe Charges of Graft
Rewards Demanded by Policemen for Recovery of Automobiles, According to Professor J. C. Sirmons.
A special meeting of the police board will be called to investigate Professor J. C. Sirmons’ charges that policemen charged him a reward of $25 to recover his stolen Ford car.
This course of action was decided upon by Chairman Andy King after a conference held by Mayor Asa G. Candler, Chief of Police W. M. Mayo and the board chairman, in the mayor’s office Friday afternoon.
“Of course, Professor Sirmons must make his verbal charges to Mayor Candler against the two policemen in writing,” said Chairman King, “before they can be tried before the police board.
“Chief Mayo has detailed Captain L. S. Dobbs to investigate Professor Sirmons’ charges tomorrow, and if the captain finds that there is sufficient grounds for a further investigation by the police board, I will call a special meeting immediately, and the matter will be sifted out thoroughly.
Rights of Policemen.
“Policemen have a right to receive rewards for cars stolen out of the city and recovered in Atlanta, but they have no right to demand rewards for cars stolen in Atlanta, and recovered here.”
When Mayor Candler received information from Professor Sirmons indicating graft in the police department in connection with the recovery of stolen automobiles, he asserted that Professor Sirmons’ case had the appearance of an “outrageous offense” by the police.
Professor Sirmons laid the case plainly before Mayor Candler, and later told the newspaper men of his grievance as follows:
“My car was stolen from in front of the Lyric theater last Saturday night. I notified the city detective department on Sunday.
“Several unsuccessful efforts were made to get me by telephone on Monday and Tuesday. I was teaching classes and could not answer the phone at Tech High. Early Tuesday afternoon I answered a call at the school and was informed that it was a policeman. The policeman wanted me to offer a reward for the recovery of my car. Finally, at his insistence, I agreed to give $25 for it.
“‘Come down to the police station this afternoon and get it,’ he said.
“I went down, taking a fellow teacher with me.
Wanted $25 Reward.
“When I asked concerning the car, the station sergeant told me that there was my man over there, point to an officer in knickerbockers.
“The officer pointed to my car outside.
“‘What are the charges.'” I asked.
“‘You said you’d give me $25 reward,’ he said.
“I said I’d pay the next day, as I did not have the money with me.
“‘Leave the car here until then.’ answered the policeman.
“I then gave a check, made payable to Chief Mayo, in compliance with his request.
“As I came through up town, I didn’t think I ought to be made to pay for my car, so I stopped at my bank, and ordered payment stopped on the check.
“Later I informed Chief Mayo of my action. I made no explanation of the details to the chief, but laid the matter before Mayor Candler today.”
Chief Mayo said the officers’ names were Barfield and Fain.
Mr. Sirmons said he did not remember any of the names of the policemen he talked with.
“It’s an outrageous offense,” said Mayor Candler, after receiving the facts as laid before him by Professor Sirmons. “I shall insist upon a probe at once.”
The mayor was given facts in a similar case where an insurance man recently had his car stolen, but refused to pay any reward for the recover of his car. The facts were given by a local newspaper man who stated his friend, the insurance man, did not want his named mentioned, but would present his grievances to the police board.
The police board has a rule against policemen receiving rewards, but it is always laid aside and special resolutions passed granting rewards to policemen whenever rewards are offered.
The following week the police officers involved in the case were exonerated of all charges, but John C. Sirmons got his car back and his $25 dollars. The practice of officers collecting rewards for the return of stolen property was abolished by Atlanta mayor Asa Candler.
February 23, 1917
Reward System To Be Abolished
Mayor Candler Tells Commissioners That It “Will Pervert Police Force” if It Is Continued.
There will be no more rewards for Atlanta policemen for recovery of property stolen from citizens of Atlanta, or any property stolen in Atlanta, and recovered here, if the wishes of the police board, as expressed at the meeting last night, are respected.
Mayor Asa G. Candler declared that the “reward system would pervert the police force.” He urged that the system of granting rewards be abolished, and the police board, from expressions of the members, would have taken favorable action on his suggestion at once if City Attorney Samuel A. Hewlett had not informed the commissioners that he was at present drawing up a city ordinance, at the request of a councilman, the purpose of which will be to put an end to the practice of rewarding officers who are paid by the city. Attorney Hewlett informed the board that this proposed ordinance would be introduced at the next meeting of council, and further discussion was dropped.
After hearing numerous witnesses in the cases of Call Officers Barfield and Fain, charged by Professor J. C. Sirmons of the Tech High school, with extorting a $25 reward for the recovery of his stolen Ford machine, the board exonerated the officers on motion of Mayor Candler, which was seconded by Commissioner W. A. Vernory.
On motion of Commissioner Poole, the action of the board at its former meeting in granting the Sirmons reward to the two call officers was rescinded. This made it obligatory upon the call officers to return Professor Sirmons his check, on which the professor Sirmons his check, on which the professor had stopped payment after issuing it, claiming that he did not think he was obligated to pay a reward for his car.
“I do not think these two officers are to blame for taking this reward,” said Mayor Candler. “It is the system. I know the officers are honest men – have known Officer Barfield’s family for many years, and trust him. But a city policeman has no right to expect a reward from a citizen of Atlanta, or for property stolen in this city and recovered here.
“The reward system will pervert the police force, and I am zealous to see the force a good force. Citizens of Atlanta have said to me that the police force is more anxious to catch the stolen car than the thief who stole it. I have several similar complaints to that of Professor Sirmans, and I do not wish that these officers will be allowed to be put in positions where they will bring discredit upon the police department.”
Attorney J. A. Branch, of Moore & Branch, represented Fain and Barfield.
The commissioners present were: Mayor Candler, Chairman Andy King, Commissioners J. Lee Barnes, Poole, B. F. Styron, Maddox, Vernoy, McGee, J. C. Vaughan and Foster.
It appears that after the 1916-1917 academic year at Tech High School, John C. Sirmons had had enough of Atlanta. He sought a chance to return to higher education and an opening at his former institution, Cherokee Junior College, San Saba County, TX provided the opportunity.