Sheriff highlights quarter of a million dollars in illegal drugs siezed

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Recent highlights have shown major steps in our county by the Sheriff’s Office and cooperating agencies and agents with cases like the recent arrest of a wanted member of the Ghost Face gang to arrests made after Gilmer Deputies uncovered the murder of a woman in Cherry Log.

Today, the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Stacy Nicholson released information pertaining towards the seizure of illegal drugs, guns, and operations in the county. Totaling a quarter of a million dollars, this number is only made more alarming to know that it is only the total amount captured in the first half of 2021.

Sheriff’s deputies and agents of the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Operation have reported the majority of captures as Methamphetamines, a drug that has been a problem for Gilmer County for years. Along with the information, they listed many of their seizures and the dates of occurrence:

DrugsJan. 7 – 3.5 gr Meth
Jan. 13 – 3.5 gr Meth
Feb. 21 – 6.8 gr Meth
Feb. 24 – 22 gr Meth
Feb. 24 – 1 oz. Marijuana
Mar. 1 – Meth
Mar 11 – 10 gr Heroin
Mar. 17 – 8 gr Heroin, Meth, Ecstacy
Mar. 23 – 32 gr Meth, 31 gr Marijuana, 25 Schedule IV pills, $1,800 Cash
Mar. 30 – Dismantled “chop shop” operation
Apr. 1 – 1 gr Meth, 30 oz. Marijuana
Apr. 17 – 3.5 gr Meth, 28 Schedule IV pills
May 20 – 14 gr Heroin 4 gr Meth, firearms, 4 gr Meth, 20 THC vapes
May 28 – 40 Ecstasy pills
May 29 – 7 gr Heroin
June 3 – 8 Ecstasy pills, Firearms
June 8 – 3 oz. Meth, 1 oz. Heroin (along with West Metro/Fulton Co.)
June 11 – 167.1 gr Meth, 94.2 gr Heroin (along with GSP/Fannin Co.)
June 12 – 3.5 gr Meth, 5 gr Heroin
June 21 – 3.5 gr Meth
June 28 – 1 kilo Meth, 3 gr Heroin
July 7 – 1 lb. Marijuana, 1 kilo Meth
July 16 – 1.38 lb Meth, 6 gr Heroin

According to the Sheriff, this is not an exhaustive list. During their release “from the desk of the Sheriff,” Nicholson states, “This post highlights some of the more significant drug cases that GCSO Detectives, Crime Suppression Unit (CSU), K9 Deputies and Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement (ARDEO) Agents have made for the first half of 2021. This doesn’t include all cases made, however it does highlight the more significant ones.”

Another point to think about is that this is the amount they seized, continuing operations still have more and more drugs circulating through the streets.

During these operations alone, 33 people have been arrested. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a study in 2018 showed 67,367 deaths by overdose in Georgia alone. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 2020, a year with most people at home in isolation and quarantine, Gilmer County alone saw 534 Emergency Department visits over the year related to Drug Overdose specifically. That number is only those who made it to the Emergency Room to be treated.

Many others offer alternative stories. Stories like a boy who overdosed on his own couch, and rather than call 911 to get help, his friend leaves him to die so he doesn’t get caught with the drugs.

Rodriguez arrested in Delgado murder, extradition could mean trial in Georgia

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CHERRY LOG, Ga. – Joint releases continue from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) as another arrest has been made for involvement with April 2021 murder of Rossana Delgado, this time for Juan Ayala-Rodriguez.

Reaching all the way back to the original warrants for their alleged involvement, the GBI, working in partnership with the United States Marshal’s Service (USMS) Atlanta and San Diego, coordinated the transfer to U.S. custody of Juan Ayala-Rodriguez, age 35, after his arrest in Mexico.

Rossana Delgado, Rodriguez

Rossana Delgado was discovered in April of 2021 in Cherry Log where she was allegedly murdered.

On April 24, 2021, FYN reported Rodriquez, of Gainesville, Georgia, along with three other suspects, as wanted in connection to the murder. Later, in May 2021, reports came of the arrest of two of those original four alongside a fifth suspect. Now, Rodriquez is the third of the original four arrested.

According to the GBI, “Rodriguez was arrested in Durango, Mexico on Saturday, June 26, 2021.  The USMS-San Diego and Customs and Border Protection oversaw the transfer of Rodriguez to USMS custody and subsequent detention at a California facility. Rodriguez is pending extradition to Georgia to face murder charges.”

No specific information is available on which court Rodriguez may face the charges in. Delgado was last seen in Doraville, Georgia on April 17, 2021. Her husband and authorities tracked her phone as a possible location of Delgado to Covington Highway, which is more on the southeastern side of Atlanta. Eventually, her body was found in a residence in Cherry Log, Georgia, in Northeast Gilmer County.

The GBI stated, “USMS and the United States Department of Homeland Security (HSI) have worked diligently to assist the GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office in this case and in this arrest.  The GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office are very grateful for the support and efforts of the USMS, HSI and all agencies involved in effecting this arrest.”

The GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office continue to actively investigate this case and the individuals involved in the murder of Rossana Delgado.  With three of the four original warrants executed and in custody, the fifth suspect arrested and in custody, the GBI asserted that a coordinated effort to locate and arrest the other three murder suspects, Mario Alberto Barbosa-Juarez, Carolina Jazmin Rodriguez-Ramirez and Maria Chavez is active and ongoing.

As always, the GBI requests that anyone with information to please contact the GBI. Tips can also be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS(8477), online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.

Gas leak halts traffic and interrupts Emergency Room

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – This weekend, an incident sent ripples across the immediate area near River Park and the Piedmont Ellijay Emergency Room as a gas leak had authorities responding and diverting drivers.

Services remained in the area on into Saturday, but the initial leak was reported on Friday, June 25. The Sheriff’s Office stated that South Main Street shutdown and drivers were  being sent to Highway 282 or along Progress Road to avoid the area.

One associate at the Emergency Room said that they had redirected ambulances as well, avoiding the Emergency Room due to the road issue and traffic.

According to reports, Ellijay Police were diverting the traffic. Despite some ambulances being rerouted, the emergency room stayed open with locals using back roads and still able to reach the facility.

FYN is reaching out to find out more information about the leak and repair and will provide more information when available.

Delgado case updates with new warrant and suspect

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Encarnacion

CHERRY LOG, Ga. – New information is continuing to come out from authorities on the April 20, 2021, discovery of the murder of Rosanna Delgado.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations has issued yet another warrant in the investigation, this time for Maria Katherine Chavez Encarnacion, 28, of Marietta, GA. The warrant was officially issued for murder due to her alleged involvement.

According to authorities, Encarnacion’s last known location is Mexico. They did not say exactly how Encarnacion was involved in the murder.

As always, officials are asking anyone with any information about Encarnacion’s current location to contact the GBI.

Tips can be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS(8477), online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app. If anyone sees Encarnacion, please contact 911.

This case has been ongoing since late April, but it has seen consistent updates as GBI, Homeland Security, and Gilmer Sheriff have supported and continued investigations that started with a welfare check at a Cherry Log Residence. Since then, they have issued seven warrants for arrest, Encarnacion being the seventh. They have also made three arrests of those warrants and one related arrest.

As the investigation nears two months, this latest warrant could indicate new information or changes in the case, as the GBI continues updating us, we will continue to update the story.

Sheriff’s Office takes Dillon Andrew Godfrey into custody

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Godfrey

ELLIJAY, Ga. – An official statement from the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that Dillon Andrew Godfrey has been taken into custody over the weekend.

Godfrey, 28, fled from authorities in the area of Gunstock Creek Road according to the Sheriff’s Office. Now captured, he faces charges including Aggravated Child Molestation, 2 counts of Child Molestation, Cruelty to Children, Probation Violation, 3 counts of Obstruction.

The office thanked citizens for tips and help in spreading information, but did not comment on exactly how he was taken into custody. They have been seeking Godfrey’s whereabouts since Monday, June 7, 2021, and asking for information and help in locating him. Several comments on their Social Media post mentioned possible location, but the Sheriff’s Office also encouraged people to call in at the Sheriff’s Criminal Investigation Division.

FYN will follow the arrest as more details become available.

 

 

Gilmer Sheriff seeking alleged Child Molester near Gunstock Creek

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Godfrey

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office is actively seeking a suspect fleeing from authorities in the area of Gunstock Creek Road.

Dillon Andrew Godfrey, 28, is currently wanted by the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office on charges involving eight different criminal counts. The official statement from the Sheriff’s Office is that Godfrey is likely hiding in the area of his residence, which is “off Gunstock Creek Road in the area of Rebel’s Food Mart on Hwy. 282.”

The charges include Aggravated Child Molestation, 2 counts of Child Molestation, Cruelty to Children, Probation Violation, 3 counts of Obstruction.

The Sheriff’s Office has asked for citizens help in finding Godfrey. Anyone with information should contact the authorities by calling 911 or GCSO Criminal Investigations Division at 706-635-4646.

However, showing the seriousness of this case and of the Sheriff’s Office in its pursuit of Godfrey, they also noted that anyone who knowingly assists Godfrey in evading arrest “will also be charged with a felony.”

At this time, these charges are still allegations, law enforcement is seeking to bring Godfrey into custody. Despite many citizens commenting about taking action themselves, citizens have been asked to call 911 and inform the authorities of any information as to Godfrey’s whereabouts.

Three arrested in Delgado murder investigation

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Rossana Delgado

CHERRY LOG, Ga. – Three arrests have been made, according to the Georgia Bureau of Ingvestigations (GBI), in relation to the April 20, 2021, murder of Rossana Delgado in Cherry Log, Georgia.

After weeks of searching for the suspects and asking the public for help in identifying persons involved, the GBI released a statement today confirming the capture of three suspects, providing progress to the investigation and refocusing some public support.

The GBI stated, “On Saturday, May 15 2021, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, working in partnership with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Atlanta, HSI Harlingen, Texas and Attaché Matamoros, Mexico coordinated the arrests of Megan Colone, 30, and Oscar Manuel Garcia, 26.  The fifth suspect (previously identified in news releases by photographs) in this murder was located with Oscar Manuel Garcia and was identified as Juan Antonio Vega, 25.  A warrant was taken for Vega for the murder of Rossana Delgado.”

According to GBI information, Vega is a Cobb County resident.

Megan Colone AKA Grace Beda

Oscar Garcia

The fifth suspect allegedly involved in the Delgado murder has now been identified as Juan Antonio Vega.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since the murder, Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office, whose deputies discover Delgado as they conducted a welfare check at a residence in Cherry Log, Georgia, have passed the investigation to the GBI who have pursued the case up to these arrests.

All three suspects were apprehended in Mexico. GBI did not state specifically where in Mexico they were located, but did confirm that the suspects have been returned to the United States saying, “HSI Harlingen and Customs and Border Patrol oversaw the transport of the suspects to Texas detention facilities.  All three are pending extradition proceedings to Georgia to face murder charges.”

GBI credited all agencies involved in the case as they noted that HSI has worked diligently to assist the GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office in this case and in these arrests.  They stated, “The GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office are very grateful for the support and efforts of HSI and all agencies involved in affecting these arrests.”

However, with three suspects in custody, the case is still ongoing continuing the search for the additional suspects, Juan Ayala-Rodriguez, 35, of Gainesville, GA, and Mario Alberto Barbosa-Juarez, 29, of Oklahoma City, OK. The GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office continue to actively investigate this case and the individuals involved in the murder of Rossana Delgado.

Other aspects of this case are still pressing in that investigation as the GBI is still searching for the identity of one of the last people to interact with the victim, Rossana Delgado. Releasing a video of April 16, 2021. As one of the final people to see Delgado, GBI are seeking more information on the woman in the video with Delgado as a person of interest. Any information could be vital to aiding in capturing these suspects or in finding more details of Delgado’s final hours.

The GBI reiterated the push for the additional suspects saying, “A coordinated effort to locate and arrest the other two murder suspects, Juan Ayala-Rodriguez and Mario Alberto Barbosa-Juarez, is active and ongoing. Anyone with information as to the identity of the woman pictured in previous news releases are asked to contact the GBI. Tips can be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS(8477), online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.”

During their original release, the GBI stated that Colone may have been traveling under the alias, Grace Beda and was believed to be traveling with her minor children. They have since confirmed that Colone’s children were safely returned to the United States during these arrests operations.

GBI searches for new person of interest in Delgado murder

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person of interest

CHERRY LOG, Ga. – Today the GBI released a video pointing out a specific person of interest that they are searching for.

The GBI is requesting the public’s assistance in identifying and locating the woman in this video.

According to the GBI’s Press Release, the woman is one of the last people to interact with the victim, Rossana Delgado. This video was noted in other reports and was taken on April 16, 2021. As one of the final people to see Delgado, GBI are seeking more information. The GBI has identified four suspects and has already released information seeking the identity of an unknown fifth suspect.

Now, this person of interest could have vital information on the case, the GBI is asking that anyone with information call the GBI Tipline at 1-800-597-TIPS(8477), report the information online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the mobile app, See Something Send Something.

Missing Mother of two discovered in Cherry Log murder

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GILMER, Ga – Last seen in Doraville, Georgia, on April 17, Rossana Delgado was discovered as the victim of a murder in Cherry Log on April 20, 2021.

Delgado

Juan Ayala-Rodriguez

The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Department continued investigations and offered a report on the activity clarifying, “We DO NOT feel that there is a current threat to our citizens in the area.” The Sheriff’s Office was working alongside the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) in the death investigation.

Since then, FYN has confirmed with authorities that the victim was Rossana Delgado. A mother of two has been missing from the Barrow County area since last Friday. The GBI now has four suspects with a possible fifth. Pictured are those suspects.

According to other reports, Delgado’s last known location was in Doraville, Ga. on April 17. They also indicate that she spoke to her husband at about 7 p.m. last Friday night. This was before picking up a person for her job. Reports say she drove a red 2017 Ford Focus as part of a job with a taxi service. However, it is unclear whether it was with Lyft, Uber, or another similar service.

Mario Barbosa-Juarez

While her husband did track her through her phone for a while, he and authorities did not find Delgado as her phone was discovered in public storage on Covington Highway. Unfortunately, that search ends today as Gilmer County Sheriff’s Deputies identified the victim of a murder in Cherry Log.

Since Thursday, April 22, 2021, social media has been covered in theories, reports, and rumors that citizens have spread about the crime while authorities have tracked evidence and worked with the GBI in the investigation. Now, they are releasing more information on their discoveries. As with most police investigations, details are limited due to the ongoing investigation and other duties like notifying family members first.

The GBI has officially issued murder warrants for suspects in the Gilmer County murder of Delgado.

Megan Colone AKA Grace Beda

The GBI stated, “The suspects that are wanted in connection with this murder are Megan Alyssa Colone, 30, of Stone Mountain, GA, Juan Ayala-Rodriguez, 35, of Gainesville, GA, Oscar Manuel Garcia, 26, of Austell, GA, and Mario Alberto Barbosa-Juarez, 29, of Oklahoma City, OK.  It is believed that the four suspects plus a fifth suspect, that has yet to be identified, may no longer be in Georgia.”

It is also noted that Colone may be traveling under the alias, Grace Beda. Colone is believed to be traveling with her minor children. Authorities nationwide have been alerted about these individuals.

According to the GBI’s press release, “On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at approximately 7 a.m., the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office conducted a welfare check at a residence in Cherry Log, Georgia.”

Concerted efforts to identify the fifth suspect are ongoing.

Oscar Garcia

The GBI asks anyone with information about the whereabouts of Colone, Ayala-Rodriguez, Garcia, or Barbosa-Juarez are asked to call the GBI Tipline at 1-800-597-TIPS(8477), report the information online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online or by downloading the mobile app, See Something Send Something.  If you see any of these individuals do not approach them, call 911 immediately.

The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office has asked for patience and understanding with this case. The GBI echoed the sentiment saying that this investigation is still very active.  The GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office continue to coordinate with the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office, the DeKalb County Police Department, and the Chamblee Police Department, as well as multiple state, local, and Federal agencies to locate and hold the responsible parties accountable.

As the investigation continues and authorities continue to release information, FYN will continue to update this story and new articles as it becomes available. The GBI stated that the autopsy results are pending, but upon completion of this investigation, the file will be provided to the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney for prosecution.

Full press release from GBI below:

Ellijay, Georgia (April 24, 2020) – Murder warrants have been issued for suspects in the Gilmer County murder of Rossana Delgado, 37, of Bethlehem, GA, that occurred on April 20, 2021.  The suspects that are wanted in connection with this murder are Megan Alyssa Colone, 30, of Stone Mountain, GA, Juan Ayala-Rodriguez, 35, of Gainesville, GA, Oscar Manuel Garcia, 26, of Austell, GA, and Mario Alberto Barbosa-Juarez, 29, of Oklahoma City, OK.  It is believed that the four suspects plus a fifth suspect, that has yet to be identified, may no longer be in Georgia.  Colone may be traveling under the alias, Grace Beda.  Colone is believed to be traveling with her minor children.  Authorities nationwide have been alerted about these individuals.

On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at approximately 7 a.m., the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office conducted a welfare check at a residence in Cherry Log, Georgia.  Gilmer County deputies responded and then requested the assistance of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s (GBI) Regional Investigative Office in Cleveland, GA.  The victim found at the scene was later identified as Delgado.  Delgado was reported as a missing person in Barrow County, Georgia on April 16, 2021.  She was last seen in DeKalb County on April 16, 2021.

Concerted efforts to identify the fifth suspect in this case are ongoing.  Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Colone, Ayala-Rodriguez, Garcia or Barbosa-Juarez are asked to call the GBI Tipline at 1-800-597-TIPS(8477), report the information online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online or by downloading the mobile app, See Something Send Something.  If you see any of these individuals do not approach them, call 911 immediately.

This investigation is still very active.  The GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office continue to coordinate with the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office, the DeKalb County Police Department, and the Chamblee Police Department, as well as multiple state, local and Federal agencies to locate and hold the responsible parties accountable.

The autopsy results are pending.

Upon completion of this investigation, the file will be provided to the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney for prosecution.

See more press releases and updates as the GBI and Gilmer Sheriff’s Office continue the investigation with updates about the fifth suspect and asking for citizens help in identifying another person of interest.

Shooting in a Doctor’s Office leaves one victim and suspect on the loose

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Hiawassee sewer, Shooting

UPDATE: The suspect was taken into custody without incident. Matheson Cove Road is open to traffic. Use caution in the area.

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Authorities are confirming reports of a shooting in a medical facility in the city of Hiawassee. Public statements from the Hiawassee Police Department confirmed the shooting and also confirmed one victim.

Hiawassee Police said, “We are currently working a domestic related shooting at the Chatuge Regional Hospital Rehabilitation and Wellness Clinic on River St.”

According to police, the suspect originally left the scene in a black 2003 Ford Ranger (NC tag FKN8148) Now, police have updated their information saying that the suspect’s vehicle has been located in Hayesville. However, the suspect is not in custody. That suspect is reported to be Jason Matheson.

Police have stated that the suspect is “ARMED and DANGEROUS.” According to Towns County Sheriff Kenneth Henderson, he supported the police in their initial response and worked alongside them in the city. Henderson said, “We arrived on the scene and informed the Chief up there that we were there to assist in any way that we could to help him with the situation.”

Henderson noted that they were only present to assist in the situation as the Hiawassee Police and Chief Paul Smith. FYN also reached out to Chief Smith for details and is awaiting his response.

FYN has learned that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations has become involved as well. According to the police statement, the sole victim of the shooting has been transported to another hospital for treatment.

Clay County Sheriff’s deputies blocked off Matheson Cove Road and asked residents of Matheson Cove Community to remain indoors once they located the suspect.

Ingram may have threatened more than courthouse

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Earlier this week, a threat was reported and dealt with regarding the Gilmer County Courthouse on the night of January 5, 2021.

The reported threat allegedly came from Travis Webb Ingram, 44. Ingram was arrested by the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office the same day. Facing a felony charge of Terroristic Threats and Actions according to the Sheriff’s Booking Report, Ingram allegedly made threats on social media about going to the courthouse with a bomb. The report indicates as much, stating the offense location as cyberspace.

Travis Webb Ingram

Travis Webb Ingram

However, according to the Sheriff’s report, the courthouse may not have been the only threat issued or the only charge possibly brought against Ingram.

The report indicates possible drug involvement in the incident. Reports indicate a suspicion of use or involvement of methamphetamines. While the investigation continues, new charges could be brought up, but for now, the only noted charge remains Terroristic threats.

In addition to the threat of a bomb against the courthouse, there was alleged reports noted in the incident report that Ingram was “extremely angry” and posed threats “against law enforcement and his ex-girlfriend’s life.”

The Sheriff’s Office dispatched several units to locations in response to the threat including the courthouse and to Ingram’s address. After arrest, Ingram was taken to the Gilmer County Detention Center for processing.

All of these new details including the allegations of drug use with methamphetamines, threats against the additional female, and threats against police are coming from the Sheriff’s Office on incident report. Yet, no additional charges were noted on the arrest record. FYN will continue to add new updates to this story as Sheriff Stacy Nicholson releases additional details.

Sheriff says active shooter rumors untrue

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shooter

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Despite spreading rumors on social media, Gilmer County’s Sheriff’s Office has released a statement “from the desk of the Sheriff” saying that there was not and is not an active shooter in a Gilmer School.

The lockdown has been lifted on both the Larry Walker Education Center and Gilmer High School at this time. The official statement said, “On December 10, 2020, Sheriff’s Office personnel responded to a lockdown event at the Larry Walker Center at approximately 9:30 a.m.”

The Sheriff stated, “Deputies responded to assist School Resource Officers who were already on scene. Following a thorough investigation into the noise, which included a search of the school properties nearby and including the Larry Walker Center, the source of the noise was determined not to have been a gunshot. A school administrator reviewed video footage from the location where the noise was reported, and in doing so, he saw that a piece of furniture had been moved by maintenance personnel causing it to strike a wall adjacent to the office where the noise was heard. The staff in that office mistook it for a gunshot. The noise was re-enacted for the staff who confirmed the noise was what they had previously heard.”

The Sheriff’s Office asserted that, despite the speculations made on social media, nobody has been arrested and nobody was injured during this event as there was no gunshot and no shooter.

According to Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, there has been no threats on the schools recently that she is aware of.

Gilmer has dealt with threats in the past, but no officials are reporting any indications of such an occurrence today.

Despite this, rumors and allegations are continuing across social media along with speculations of the noise’s source. FYN’s current understanding is that the only threat the school system has dealt with recently is a self-harm threat isolated to a specific student in a situation completely unrelated to today’s events.

As authorities continue to update with new details, FYN will continue to post new articles with such information.

Black Lives Matter rally comes to Jasper

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JASPER, Ga. – Protesting continues across many North Georgia counties as demonstrators rally in the wake of media reports on the death of George Floyd and other protests.

Tonight saw another of these rallies in the city of Jasper, Georgia, as police blocked off parking spaces and sections of side streets around the Pickens County Courthouse downtown. While some showed early and stood on the sidewalk with signs, it appeared like it would be a small turnout even after 4:00 p.m. passed.

However, less than twenty minutes later, a large group marched onto the lawn of the courthouse from the east, on Court Street. The march rallied into those already present swelling the numbers over a hundred strong.

Chants rang out of “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “No Justice No Peace” repeatedly as demonstrators held signs and cheered on as supporters would drive by honking.

Calling attention to a central point, protesters took a knee as they said it was to respect those present and to fight the “injustice” they were opposing. One of the first to speak, Jeff Samuel said, “What matters today is those of us standing here for equal rights and justice for all.”

Samuel said he was proud of Jasper and of those present at the protest standing for their beliefs.

Samuel led the push for more people to speak saying that all voices need to be heard. One by one, protesters stepped forward, taking the megaphone to speak to those gathered. Some spoke to counterprotesters as well.

Black Lives Matter protesters rally in Jasper, Georgia, on June 7, 2020.

Most of those speaking spoke specifically about the Black Lives Matter movement, George Floyd, and racism in America. Others spoke about race in general and the importance of equality in the nation. Some spoke thanks to officers present that were protecting them and their right to gather and speak. Nearly an hour and a half continued with speakers stepping forward.

Eventually, the protest heard from the three organizers of the event, Mack Thomas, Kat Phillips, and Maxie Woodall.

Offerings thanks for those attending, Thomas said it was everyone’s support that helped make the day what it was. He pointed out Kat Phillips saying that she was the one who went to Sherrif Craig to make sure the protest was safe.

Woodall spoke saying that she expected a handful of people to show up and to have a small group of mostly teenagers present for the protest, but never could have expected the number and variety of people saying it was “awesome.” She spoke about the names of victims, the names of black people who have died from police brutality.

Phillips offered one statement saying, “We are going to make a change.”

rally

Black Lives Matter protesters rally in Jasper, Georgia, on June 7, 2020.

Some protesters split into a separate group playing music and dancing on Depot Street and offering more chants for the rally, moving to another end of the courthouse lawn.

Counter-protesters also came to the event, chanting and waving American Flags, Trump Flags, and one man playing the bugle in opposition to those speaking. However, the few that remained after the rally declined to speak directly on camera to address the counter-protests and their message.

Speaking after the rally, organizers Mack Thomas, Kat Phillips, and Maxie Woodall offered a few extra words to FYN about organizing the event and their interactions with police leading up to it.

Phillips said her experience with organizing with the police was a positive one saying, “They were so nice about it and the way he organized everything as our right was really nice. Craig actually did a wonderful job helping me with this.”

A sentiment echoed by Sheriff Donnie Craig who said he was pleased with the crowd and the way things unfolded at the event. Addressing online comments about needing permission, Craig said that the county and the city do not have a permit process, but that the opportunity to touch base with protesters about the event and their desires allowed him to better coordinate and work with demonstrators and their rally.

From left to right, Mack Thomas, Kat Phillips, and Maxie Woodall speak about organizing the protest and the turnout in Jasper, Georgia.

When asked about protesters thanking local law enforcement during the rally, Craig said, “That was a strong message to our local law enforcement.”

Handing out fliers and continuing along, the final moments of the protest were spent dancing with music played from one protester’s truck before dispersing peacefully for the night.

However, organizers said this would not be the end. Thomas said that the next step is continued talks with Craig and with officers, “We can’t do anything about racism unless something happens with the law.”

Thomas said that speaking to those with hiring abilities in these departments will express the people’s desires in their police force.

All three agreed that more protests could come until they are heard and a change comes.

Drug Task Force Officer Arrested

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Jasper, Ga. – The Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has arrested and released reports for warrants and booking for one Charles Daniel Hamrick.

According to the Arrest Warrant, Hamrick is accused of using his position as a peace officer to convince a person to send nude and semi-nude photos to him. The offense violates his oath as a public officer.

The warrant alleges that Hamrick convinced a lady that she was a confidential informant for him and that she could have potential criminal charges brought against her. He then allegedly told her that he had destroyed her confidential informant file in return for the photos.

Having been arrested and booked on the charges, Hamrick has since paid a $1,000 bond and been released. As the official charge states Violation of Oath by Public Officer, it is charged as “a violation of the Oath taken by Hamrick as a Deputy with the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office and the Deputy Commander of the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway Drug Task Force…”

Drug Task Force Officer Arrested

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Jasper, Ga. – The Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has arrested and released reports for warrants and booking for one Charles Daniel Hamrick.

According to the Arrest Warrant, Hamrick is accused of using his position as a peace officer to convince a person to send nude and semi-nude photos to him. The offense violates his oath as a public officer.

The warrant alleges that Hamrick convinced a lady that she was a confidential informant for him and that she could have potential criminal charges brought against her. He then allegedly told her that he had destroyed her confidential informant file in return for the photos.

Having been arrested and booked on the charges, Hamrick has since paid a $1,000 bond and been released. As the official charge states Violation of Oath by Public Officer, it is charged as “a violation of the Oath taken by Hamrick as a Deputy with the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office and the Deputy Commander of the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway Drug Task Force…”

 

Fetching Features: a look at Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson

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Out of 159 sheriffs in the Sheriff’s Association, nine serve as regional vice-presidents. Then, there is the executive board with a first vice president, second vice-president,  secretary/treasurer, and the president of the Sheriff’s Association.

This year, the position of president is filled by Gilmer County’s own Sheriff Stacy Nicholson.

After serving for six years as a regional vice president, Nicholson ran for the position of secretary/treasurer in 2015. Having been elected to that position, the process continued as the elected person will serve in all positions until he reaches and concludes with the presidency. A process that Nicholson says helps to prepare that person for the presidency as he gains experience and service throughout each other position.

But this is more than just a presidency as it sets his future in the Association on the Board of Directors. While he has served on the board in previous years as a regional vice president, his election in 2015 placed him permanently on the board as long as he serves as sheriff. This is because the Board of Directors is made up of the four Executive Board members, the current regional vice presidents, and the past presidents of the association.

Our sheriff’s progress along this path was not always so clear, though. He began at 19-years-old when he took a job at the jail. Nicholson says he wasn’t running around as a kid playing “sheriff” or anything that would have preceded his life in law enforcement. He had never considered the career until his mother made a call one day and got him a position in the jail in March of 1991. In a process that only took one weekend, the young man went from needing a part-time job and searching for something to fill that need to an on-the-clock deputy working and training at the Detention Center on March 3.

There was no training seminars to attend, no special certifications to obtain. He simply spoke with Sheriff Bernhardt on the phone as the interview, showed up to collect his uniform, and began work the next day.

Even then, it was never a thought in Nicholson’s mind about the position of sheriff. Instead, he began immediately looking at the next level of law enforcement, a deputy. More specifically, he began striving to become a deputy-on-patrol. Serving daily at the jail led to a quick “training” as he dealt with situations and convicts, but it was also short-lived.

Six months after entering the detention center, he achieved his goal and secured his promotion.

To this day, Stacy Nicholson holds true to his thoughts, “Anybody who wants to be in local law enforcement, where they’re out patrolling the streets of a community, they ought to start out in the jail because you’re locked up in a building for 8-12 hours every day with inmates.”

The situation quickly teaches you, according to Nicholson, how to handle situations, criminal activity, and convicts. It is how he likes to hire deputies as he says it “makes or breaks them.” It allows the department to see if that person can handle the life the way they want it handled. More than just handling difficult situations, though, it is a position of power over others that will show if you abuse the power while in a more contained and observed environment.

Though his time in the detention center was “eye-opening” and an extreme change from his life to that point, Nicholson actually says the part of his career that hit the hardest was his time as a deputy.

The life became more physically demanding as he began dealing with arrests, chases, and the dangers of responding to emergencies and criminal activity. However, it also became more mentally taxing as Nicholson realized the best tool for most situations was his own calm demeanor. That calm sense could permeate most people to de-escalate situations.

Nicholson relates his promotion out of the jail as similar to the inmates he watched over. He says, “It was almost a feeling like an inmate just released from six months confinement. He feels free, I felt free. I’m in a car, I’m a deputy sheriff… I can go anywhere I want to in this county.”

Nicholson’s high point of the promotion was shattered quickly, though, with one of the first calls to which he responded. He notes that at that time in the county, at best, he had one other deputy patrolling somewhere in the county during a shift. A lot of times, he would be the only deputy patrolling on his shift. Still, even with another deputy on patrol, he could be twenty minutes away at any given time.

It became an isolating job, alone against the criminal element. Though we still live in a “good area,” and even in the early ’90s, a lower crime area relative to some in the country. Still, Nicholson says, there were those who would easily decide to harm you, or worse, to avoid going to jail.

Telling the story of one of his first calls on patrol, Nicholson recalled a mentally deranged man. The only deputy on duty that night, he responded to a call about this man who had “ripped his parent’s home apart.” Arriving on the scene and beginning to assess the situation, he discovered that this deranged man believed he was Satan. Not exaggerating, he repeated this part of the story adding weight to each word, “He thought that He. Was. Satan. He actually believed he was the devil.”

Scared to death, he continued talking to the man and convinced him to get into his vehicle without force.

It became quite real about the types of things he would see in this career. It sunk in deep as to exactly what the police academy and training could never prepare him to handle. Yet, Nicholson says it taught him more than anything else. It taught him he had to always be quick-thinking and maintain the calm air. It became a solemn lesson to “try to use my mouth more than muscle.”

The flip-side of the job, however, makes it worse. Though sharing the extreme stories like this one showcases the rarer moments of the position, he says it is actually a slow, boring job on patrol. It is because of this usual pace that sets such a disparity to the moments when he got a call to more serious situations. His job was never like the movies with gunfights every day and then you just walk away and grab a drink. The high-intensity points were harder to handle because you are calm and relaxed before the call. It causes an adrenaline spike and your body kicks over into a different gear so suddenly. An “adrenaline dump” like that made it hard for Nicholson to keep from shaking on some days.

Even in his years as a detective, it seemed it would always happen as he laid down to sleep when a call came in. The rebound from preparing to sleep and shut down for the day all the way back to being on high function and stress of working a crime scene could be extreme. With so much adrenaline, Nicholson can only refer to these moments as “containment, ” conquering the feeling and holding it down in order to function properly in the situation.

“It’s all in your brain and, I guess, in your gut,” Nicholson says that while he has known people who thrive on the adrenaline and actively seek it, they really become a minority in the big picture, only 1-2%. He notes, “If a cop tells you he has never been in a situation where he was scared, he’s probably lying.”

This is the point of courage, though. He references an old John Wayne quote, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” It is the point of the job that sets them apart from most people. You cannot do the job without courage, you cannot last in it.

Courage in the moment doesn’t mean you don’t feel the effects. Dealing with everything that an officer sees, feels, and hears through the line of duty is another trial all its own.

Handling it, he said, is to just put it away for a while. Still, he says he had to deal with it eventually. Nicholson says throughout his time in this career through deputy, detective, and sheriff, he deals with those emotions and dark points through camaraderie with friends and fellow officers, taking a night to talk with close friends and talking through the hard points.

Nicholson also says he finds relief in his faith in God after becoming a Christian in 1982. Turning to him in order to find comfort in letting go of the issues, “talking to God” is something that Nicholson says he falls on later. As you find yourself in certain situations and you put off the emotions to deal with, you have to turn back and face it with God’s help at some point. Stress is an enormously negative factor in his position and dealing with it productively in the key. Fighting against destructive processes that lead to heavy drinking and suicide is the reality of any serious law enforcement career.

One of the hardest points in his career is one well known in Gilmer County. It is hard to speak about the Sheriff’s Office in Gilmer without speaking of one of its biggest losses in Officer Brett Dickey. Even over 20 years later, Nicholson says it shapes and affects him to this day.

Directly involved in the shooting, Nicholson was one of the officers on location that night. He and Mark Sanford were on location attempting to get a man out of the house with other officers forming a perimeter around the residence.

Even speaking of it today, watching and listening to Sheriff Nicholson retell the story, you can see the change it puts into his face, into his voice. You watch his eyes fall to the floor as he mentions the details. You see him straighten in his chair slightly as if preparing to brace against an impact. You hear his voice soften, losing a little of the authoritative tone. In this moment, you hear the wound.

“That’s the only shot I’ve ever fired in the line of duty.” Firing the shot at the suspect as he was shooting, Nicholson says he fired into a very small area to try to shoot him to stop the gunfire. With 10 shots fired randomly, Nicholson says, “The entire situation, it seemed like it took thirty minutes to unfold, but it actually happened all in about three to four seconds… Two deputies were hit, it was definitely a dark night in the career.”

He swears it is an incident that he will never forget. It was a turning point that set the direction for his life in the coming years. After that, Nicholson began taking training personally to become something more. It became more than just a job that night.

It was a night that forced Nicholson deeper into the life that is law enforcement.

Even now, as Sheriff, he couldn’t quite answer the question if the lifestyle is something he can turn off after he leaves. It even defines his goals in the position as he says, “My number one goal is to never have to bury an officer. That’s my number one goal, and my second goal is that we don’t have to kill someone else.”

Accomplishing both of these goals is something Nicholson says he understands isn’t as likely as it used to be, but it is something he continually strives for in his career.

With his career and training advancing, Nicholson began thinking about running for office in 1998. Though he was thinking of it at that time. He didn’t run for the position until 2004. Now on his fourth term, Nicholson continues his efforts into the position of law enforcement. While he looks at it from more of the big picture standpoint than he did as a deputy, he says he has to remember he is first a law enforcement officer and must act accordingly. However, the position of sheriff is a political figure and has public responsibilities because of that.

He offers an example of his wife and kid being sick at one time. Heading to the store to get Gatorade to help them feel better, he says he may get caught for an hour in the Gatorade aisle talking to someone about a neighbor dispute going on. “The sheriff is the representative of the law enforcement community to the citizens. The citizens would much prefer to talk specifically to the sheriff than a deputy that’s actually going to take care of the problem.”

It becomes a balancing act of the law enforcement lifestyle and being a politician. Being in a smaller community only increases the access as everyone knows and commonly sees the sheriff.

On the enforcement side, taking the role in the big picture sense, he says he has had to pay more attention to national news and its effects on the local office and citizens. Going further, rather than worrying about what to do on patrol, he’s looked more at locations. Patrol zones and the need for visibility of officers in certain areas over others.

The position also separates you from others, “It’s tough to have to discipline someone who is one of your better friends… You learn to keep at least a small amount of distance between yourself and those you are managing.” As much as you want to be close friends with those you serve alongside, the position demands authority. Nicholson compares the Sheriff’s Office to more of a family, saying someone has to be the father. Someone has to be in that leadership role.

The depth of the role is one thing Nicholson says he has been surprised with after becoming sheriff.  He explains that he didn’t expect just how much people, both citizens and employees, look to him to solve certain problems. He chuckles as he admits, “I can’t tell you the number of times that I pull into the parking lot and I might handle four situations in the parking lot before I get to the front doors of the courthouse.”

People often look to the sheriff for advice on situations or to be a mediator.

Despite the public attention, Nicholson says the hardest thing he deals with in his position is balancing the needs against the county’s resources. Speaking specifically to certain needs over others is a basic understood principle of leadership, it is one Nicholson says he knows too well when balancing budgets and funds versus the office’s and deputy’s needs. Whether it is equipment, training, salary, or maintenance, he says that trying to prioritize these needs and provide for them is the toughest task.

Despite the surprises and the difficulties, Nicholson states, “It’s me, it’s my command staff, all the way down to the boots on the ground troops. I think we have put together one of the best law enforcement agencies that Georgia has to offer.”

Gaining state certification in his first term was one proud moment for Nicholson as the office grew in discipline and achieved policy changes. Though it wasn’t easy, he says he had to ‘hold his own feet to the fire’ during the process as the office went down the long checklist to accomplish the feat. Setting the direction for the office at the time, the changes to policies and disciplines were only the start of keeping the office on track to the task.

It signaled a growth and change from the days of one or two deputies on patrol in the county into a more professional standardized agency, a growth that Nicholson holds close as one of his accomplishments that his deputies and command staff have helped him to achieve.

It is a point echoed by his one on his command staff, Major Mike Gobble, who said, “When he took office, one of his first goals was to bring the Sheriff’s Office up-to-date and modernize the sheriff’s office from salaries to equipment. Making sure we had the pull to do our job, that was one of his major priorities.”

Gobble says going from one to two deputies on shift to four or five deputies on shift improved their response time alongside managing patrol zones. Gobble went on to say its the struggle that he sees the sheriff fight for his deputies for salaries, benefits, and retirement that shows his leadership. It is that leadership that draws Gobble further into his position in the command staff.

Now, having Gilmer’s sheriff moving into the position as President of the Sheriff’s Association, it’s prideful to see that position held here in Gilmer County. As sheriff, Gobble says he handles the position with respect and class. He knows how to deal with the citizens of the county, but also with those outside the county and at the state level. “He’s a very approachable kind of person. Not just as a sheriff, but an approachable kind of person.”

It is a quality Gobble says serves the people well to be able to talk to people respectfully while having an “open ear” to help them with their problems. Its the point that not every employee sees, he’s working towards improving their positions and pay for what they give to service.

Improving these positions is something Nicholson himself says is very difficult, especially around budget times in the year. Noted repeatedly over the years for the struggles at budget times in the county, Nicholson says it is about the perspective of the county. “I’m not over those departments, I’ve got my own stuff to look after… but we are all a part of the same county government.”

It is always a difficult process for those involved. He continues his thoughts on the topic saying, “I always have a true respect for the need for the other county departments to have adequate funding… But when it comes down to it, I’ve got to put being a citizen aside and be the sheriff. My responsibility is to look after the sheriff’s office.”

While the financial portions of the sheriff’s position stand as Nicholson’s least-liked part of the job, he balances the other half seeing the community support for officers in our county. He says he gets disappointed at seeing the news from across the nation in communities that protest and fight law enforcement. Living in this community affords him his favorite part of the job in being around people so much.

From the employees he works alongside to the citizens that speak to him to the courthouse’s own community feel. Its the interaction with people that highlights the days for Nicholson as he says, “It ought to be illegal to be paid to have this much fun.”

Even the littlest things like one situation that he recalls, he was speaking with an officer at the security station of the courthouse, one man came in and began speaking with Nicholson as another man walks in. The two gentlemen eventually began conversing with each other, but it became apparent that neither could hear well. As the conversation progresses with one trying to sell a car and the other speaking on a completely different topic of a situation years earlier. Nicholson says it was the funniest conversation he has ever heard and a prime example of simply getting more interaction with the public as sheriff.

It is an honor that he says competes with and conflicts with his appointment to the Sheriff’s Association, conflict simply in the idea that it is just as big of an honor to be a part of the leadership of Gilmer’s community as it is to be a part of the leadership of the state organization.

The presidency will see Nicholson in the legislature’s sessions and a part of committee meetings in the process. Traveling to the capitol during legislative session and a winter, summer, and fall conference for the association make-up the major commitments of the positions.

Starting to look at the Executive Committee 2009 as something he wanted to achieve, he gained this desire from a now past president that still serves on the Board of Directors as an inspiration to the position. As one of a few people that Nicholson calls a mentor, this unnamed guide led Nicholson to the executive board through his own example in the position. Now achieving it himself, Nicholson says he hopes that he can, in turn, be that example for other younger sheriffs and build the same relationships with them that have inspired him.

Calling the presidency a great achievement, Nicholson didn’t agree that it is a capstone on his career saying, “I’m not done with being sheriff in Gilmer County.”

While focusing on his position on the Executive Board and his position as Gilmer Sheriff, Nicholson says he doesn’t have a set goal to accomplish past the coming presidency. Promoting the profession of law enforcement as president of the Sheriff’s Association and growing the Sheriff’s Office in Gilmer County, these are the focus that Nicholson uses to define the next stages of his career.

To continue his growth in the county office, he says he is reaching an age where he can’t plan several terms ahead anymore. He wants to look at the question of running for Sheriff again to each election period. That said, he did confirm that he definitely will run again in 2020.

 

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