Chairman challenges Sheriff’s need for additional staffing


Chairman Billy Thurmond

DAWSON COUNTY, Ga. – Sheriff Jeff Johnson must have felt like he has walked into a minefield when he presented a request for more staffing during Thursday’s Board of Commissioners work session. He was met by a commission chairman, who not only questioned the need for additional staffing, but the overall efficiency of Johnson’s operation.

Chairman Billy Thurmond pointed out that Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office serves a larger population (Approx. 33,000) than Dawson with only 96 employees and a budget of $5.8 million. Pickens County serves a population of 32,591 with 94 employees and a budget of $7.6 million while the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office serves a smaller population (26,108) with 122 employees and a budget of $8.4 million.

Thurmond also pointed out that Dawson County spends more dollars per capita on law enforcement than even larger counties like Hall, Forsyth County and Cherokee. Dawson County citizens spend $324.86 per person compared to Hall $209.21, Forsyth 213.21 and Cherokee $183.41.

Johnson’s overall budget in 2017, his first year in office, was $7,687,803. The overall budget today including all phases of public safety is $10,245,376, an increase of 25 percent in four years.

Commissioner Tim Satterfield also questioned Johnson’s spending. “At the end of last year, you took $330,000 from your employees’ salaries and benefits and spent it on stuff when you could have put people on the roads.”

Sheriff Jeff Johnson

Johnson bristled at the push back he received and addressed the chairman, saying, “You refuse, you preach and you say time and time again that public safety is an obligation. It is number one. But you’re not proving it by your actions.”

Thurmond’s response: “To say that this Board has not taken on the primary responsibility of public safety is absolutely not a true statement and I won’t stand here and let you say that it is without challenging you on it.”

Also on Thursday’s work session agenda, Public Safety Director Danny Thompson provided a brief overview of the Local Emergency Operations Plan that outlines five emergency support functions. The plan must be updated every four years to remain in compliance with Georgia Emergency Management Agency regulations and to be eligible to receive grant funds.

Attorney for family of teen found dead in Dawson County jail begins investigation

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DAWSON COUNTY, Ga. –AJ Richman, the lawyer for the family of the man found dead in the Dawson County Detention Center on June 2 issued a statement today (June 18) regarding the death of 18-year-old Jonathan Sanford.

Richman said his law office has started its own investigation to determine whether jail personnel failures contributed to his death. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is conducting a parallel investigation.

“Georgia’s sheriffs are responsible for every aspect of a detainee’s health and welfare,” said Richman. “Our local government needs to be transparent, and we are calling upon the sheriff to share with us how Jonathan died in their custody.”

Richman said in the 18 days since Sanford died, his parents have not been told what caused their son’s death, which prompted their own investigation.
Sanford’s father said earlier this week that Sheriff Jeff Johnson had not spoken to the family since their son’s death.

The family held a demonstration on the city square earlier this week and demanded Johnson’s resignation. Johnson has not returned our phone calls requesting his comment.

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Angry family members and friends of Jonathan Sanford call for Sheriff Johnson’s resignation

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Jonathan Sanford

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Some 20-30 family and friends gathered at the roundabout Monday carrying signs and voicing their anger toward Sheriff Jeff Johnson following the death of Jonathan Sanford, 18, who died in the Dawson County Detention Center June 2, less than 24 hours after he was arrested for DUI and possession of marijuana.

Carrying signs that read “Justice for Jonathan?” “Was there a medical check?” “I want answers for my big brother” and “He was only 18. He could have lived.”

Sanford’s older sister, Cheyenne Sanford said, “We’re protesting my brother’s wrongful death. We do not want this to happen to any other family. I hold Sheriff Johnson responsible and every other officer who encountered him that night and did not do anything. This was the first time he had been arrested. It should have been a learning experience for him. Not a death sentence.”

She was particularly angry that Johnson had not personally contacted her family in the nearly two weeks since his arrest.

Sanford’s father Jerry Sanford told Fetch Your News he believes they placed his son in a holding cell and did not check on him even though Dawson County Sheriff’s Office Policy and Procedures requires inmates believed to be under the influence of drugs be “kept under close observation.”

Cheyenne Sanford said her brother’s death has devastated her family. “He leaves behind nephews and neices, little siblings that look up to him. He was their big brother and their hero.”

This is the second time in 14 months that an inmate died in the detention center. On April 10, 2019, 57-year-old Joseph Michael Bishop was found dead in his cell.

The incident is under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The body was sent to the GBI Crime Lab and cause of death has not been confirmed.

Fetch Your News tried to reach Sheriff Johnson for his comment but he did not return our call.

Jonathan Sanford Jonathan Sanford

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