HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Fourth Amendment was the topic of discussion at Mountain Movers and Shakers on the morning of Friday, June 29, 2018. Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton and Colonel Gene Moss – a retired law enforcement officer from Forsyth County, Georgia – advised citizens of their constitutional rights pertaining to search and seizure.
The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads: The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Colonel Moss, who spent over four decades serving in law enforcement, opened the forum by asserting that citizens have the right to an expectation of privacy._
“We’re going to talk a little bit about searches, vehicle searches,” Moss said, adding that vehicle searches tend to be controversial, “First of all, if you’re in law enforcement, you’ve got to have a reason to stop somebody, ok? You’ve got to have a reason…Law enforcement, how far they push this thing to get into your car, to look in your vehicle,” Moss reiterated, “You’ve got to have a valid reason to stop somebody.”
Moss went on to explain that stopping a vehicle for infractions, such as driving with a broken or dim taillight or failure to maintain lane, in itself does not constitute a legitimate reason for a law enforcement officer to conduct a search.
Sheriff Clinton mirrored the colonel’s thoughts. “Anybody that’s been around me very long knows that I’m a liberty guy, a lover of the constitution,” Clinton said, going on to state that only one percent of the population commits crimes, and his office sees no reason to “harass” the other 99 percent.
The sheriff explained that reasonable and articulated suspicion, probable cause, a warrant issued by a judge, or citizen consent is necessary for a lawful search to be conducted. “For my purposes, I require by policy, our deputies have to be able to articulate what it was that lead them to ask for consent to search,” Clinton said, “This garbage about ‘Well, I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, and we’ve got a lot of drugs out here in the world. Mind if I go rifle through your stuff?’ Well if you don’t know me, and I don’t know you, why are you calling me a bad person? Shouldn’t I be observant enough and good enough at my job to know when criminal behavior is afoot?”
Reasonable suspicion is a standard of proof in United States law that is less than probable cause, the legal standard for arrests and warrants, but more than a hunch; it must be based on specific and articulable facts, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, and the suspicion must be associated with the specific individual.
Probable cause is the standard by which police authorities have reason to obtain a warrant for the arrest of a suspected criminal or the issuing of a search warrant. The principle behind the standard is to limit the power of authorities to perform random or abusive searches, and promote the lawful gathering of evidence during criminal arrest and prosecution.
Mountain Movers and Shakers meet Fridays at 8:00 a.m. at Sundance Grill in Hiawassee, with different community speakers each week. Meetings are open to the public, and membership is not required.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Animal control was the topic of spirited discussion at Mountain Movers & Shakers Friday, May 18, 2018.
Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, and representatives from the Mountain Shelter Human Society spoke on the subject.
Many residents were unaware of how to handle stray or problematic animals in the area, and those in the know set out to clear the confusion.
A dangerous dog ordinance was in place when Commissioner Bradshaw was elected to office in 2016, with the issue recently being turned over to the Towns County Sheriff’s Office. Prior to 2018, the sheriff’s office was not actively involved and could only take reports. Commissioner Bradshaw said there have been two calls pertaining to the mandate this year.
“There’s a lot that needs to be talked about, and there’s always room for improvement. I realize this, as the county grows,” Commissioner Bradshaw began. “Where I live, it’s no problem. We’ve got elbow-room, my neighbors have elbow-room, and in most places in the county, that is the case, right? It is a fact. But there are neighborhoods, and pockets of neighborhoods that maybe you need some more animal control than what the county’s got. That’s entirely up to your homeowners association, and if you want to have stronger rules or regulations, or leash laws, then I would say go for it. But I’m going to tell you that where I live, I’m not going to tie up my dogs. I’m just not going to do it, but I’m a responsible dog owner, and that’s where the problem comes in.”
“As far as a leash law goes, I understand animal control,” Bradshaw continued. “I’ve talked to (Union County Commissioner) Lamar Paris about it. People say, ‘Union County has leash laws,’ and they do. I’ve read it. But a lot of times there’s just no teeth in it. I’m just going to be honest with you. What about barking? A dog barking all night, keeping the neighbors up? We’re still a small area, and I’ve had this happen twice. I called the neighbor with a barking dog, and I talked to them, and I asked them to help me. I said I need your help, and they did. We got it taken care of. I’m not saying everything we’re doing is perfect, but I’m saying much more than we are doing now, I don’t see it. In time, as the population grows, I can definitely see more ordinances, and leash laws, but I just don’t think the county is there yet. Your neighborhood may be, but the county as a whole is not.”
Sheriff Chris Clinton spoke on Title 4, a state law requiring the sheriff’s office to respond to animal complaints. Sheriff Clinton noted that it is a crime to abandon pets. Roaming livestock falls under the responsibility of the sheriff’s office as well.
“There is a leash law in the city,” Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith said. “It applies to city property. If you have a domestic animal on the sidewalk, the square, or Mayors’ Park – city property or city streets – then it’s supposed to be restrained. It doesn’t apply to personal property or your neighbor’s property, but it does apply to city streets. There’s also an ordinance that discusses loud noises, the barking and howling from animals. I’ll echo the commissioner’s sentiment from earlier. The best method is to call your neighbor and say your dog is annoying me. We can address it from an ordinance perspective if it’s something that goes on and on. As far as strays in general that don’t have an owner that we can contact, I think that’s something that the council and mayor will need to address.”
Mountain Humane Society Board President Bob Levy said that the shelter has improved considerably in recent years. “We have a facility, and our facility continuously grows, based on the donations that we get,” Levy said. “We adopt out a tremendous amount of animals every year. We try to take in every animal that we possibly can. It’s difficult for us to take in sick animals because it can affect the entire operation, but we do have a quarantine area.”
Mountain Shelter Humane Society is a no-kill shelter, and the organizations accepts as many well-disposition, healthy animals that are suitable for adoption as their facility can accommodate. “We are limited on our funds, but we are trying our best to take in animals with minor illness and injuries,” Lisa Collins, the executive director of the shelter explained.
According to Board President Bob Levy, an average of $200 to $500 is spent on each animal housed at Mountain Shelter.
Pit bulls, due to workman’s compensation and liability insurance, and feral cats, because of their wild nature and sparse adoption rate, are not accepted at the shelter.
While Mountain Shelter Humane Society cannot pick up animals, strays can be taken to their facility, provided space is available, at 129 Bowling Dr. in Blairsville.
Mountain Shelter Humane Society can be reached at 706-781-3843.
Bill and Lynn Hall, founders of Katz n Dawgs Helping Hands, a local 501(C)(3) non-profit animal rescue organization, provided contact information. Katz n Dawgs Helping Hands can be reached at 706-896-7931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FetchYourNews will include information on additional area resources should they become available.
In summary, the course of action is to contact Towns County Sheriff’s Office for issues related to animal aggression or general animal control. Towns County Sheriff’s Office can be contacted by dialing 911 or 706-896-4444.
In addition, Commissioner Bradshaw can be reached at 706-896-2267.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – On the evening of April 17, 2018, Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw officially announced a decision to cease the allowance of spray-painting rocks on Bell Mountain, a county park and historical site.
“No more painting on Bell Mountain,” Commissioner Bradshaw asserted. “People are painting nasty stuff on the roads, on the platforms, on the trees, and of course, the rocks, so I don’t have a problem with stopping it. I’ve been working with Sheriff (Chris) Clinton on this. We’ve got cameras up there now. We’ve got new signs up saying you cannot paint.”
Bradshaw continued, “I want the public to know this is not my choice. It’s for the insurance company because of the danger factor, but at the same time, I support it because it’s a beautiful place, and it’s starting to look really bad. We want to stop it, get a handle on it, and we are going to.”
The ordinance prohibits graffiti on not only the structures, signs, parking lot, and trees, which was forbidden in the past, but the rocks themselves have been added to the list.
Numerous park signs alerting of the regulation have been installed, and the park is continuously monitored by camera surveillance. Criminal charges will be brought against those who violate the county’s mandate.
FetchYourNews (FYN) reviewed a letter from Local Government Risk Management Services (LGRMS), dated March 1, 2018, and the field report recommendation to the county reads as follows:
“To reduce the potential of someone being injured or even killed, it is recommended allowing the park attendees to paint the rocks be stopped. By allowing the painting of the rocks, attendees have placed their selves in precarious situations which could cause injury or death. By stopping the painting, it should reduce the likelihood of placing their selves in theses areas thereby reducing the potential of an attendee being severely injured or killed.”
Bell Mountain was deeded to Towns County in 2015 by the Hal Herrin estate, and offers a magnificent panoramic view of the Appalachian Mountains and Lake Chatuge.
Bell Mountain Park is open to the public from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. during the winter months, and from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. during daylight savings time to allow opportunities for nocturnal photography.
Bell Mountain Park is located 1.3 miles east of Hiawassee Town Square, off Highway 76. Turn left onto Shake Rag Road, travel 1.5 miles to Bell Mountain Road, turn right, and proceed an additional mile to reach the Bell Mountain Park summit.
Admission and parking are free.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Police Department announced a “new low” in felony drug arrests, and the suspected reason for the decline is surprising.
According to Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, word of his department’s vigilance has spread, and individuals possessing illicit substances may be traveling an alternate route to evade city law enforcement.
During Hiawassee City Council’s regular session on Tuesday, April 3, Chief Smith recalled an incident involving a drug-related arrest. Smith stated that the suspect readily admitted that he should have avoided Hiawassee, specifically mentioning Highway 288 as the passage the driver divulged should have been chosen instead.
Highway 288, also known as Sunnyside Road, winds south of Hiawassee’s perimeter, beyond the city police department’s jurisdiction.
In comparison to the first three months of the previous year, 2018 has witnessed a noticeable decrease in the number of drug arrests conducted by Hiawassee Police Department.
From January until March of 2017, nine misdemeanor drug arrests and 17 felony drug arrests took place. The current year-to-date statistics show only two misdemeanor drug arrests, along with eight felony drug charges.
“There was another person that let us look through their phone after we arrested them, giving us consent to search their device,” Chief Smith disclosed in an interview with FetchYourNews (FYN). “Someone had messaged them, saying something along the lines of, ‘Why did you go through Hiawassee?'”
A patrol officer with the Hiawassee Police Department relayed that, he too, has heard rumors of Highway 288 being the preferred course of travel for perpetrators hoping to avoid city law enforcement.
The majority of drug arrests occurring within the city limits of Hiawassee are the result of traffic stops initiated for citation-related offenses, such as speeding or improper vehicle requirements.
FYN contacted Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton for his thoughts on the theory that drug offenders are skirting Hiawassee in favor of Highway 288, a route which falls under his department’s jurisdiction.
“I am unaware of any official statement by the City of Hiawassee making such a claim. My office has received no criminal intelligence, much less evidence, of any such criminal methodology,” Sheriff Clinton stated via email.
In contrast to 2017 data, Hiawassee Police Department’s self-initiated reports have decreased by 25 percent this year. The agency has seen a 40 percent increase in dispatched calls, however, in the first quarter of 2018.
Hiawassee Police Department has generated a total of 868 case numbers in the past three months. The amount is a combination of traffic stops, citations, and calls for service.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – On the morning of Wednesday, March 14, 2018, a lock-down training exercise took place at Towns County School at 10 a.m. While there was a call for a nationwide walk-out in remembrance of the 17 lives lost Feb. 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many schools across the nation chose a proactive approach.
FetchYourNews (FYN) learned of the drill and hoped to highlight the positive measures taken.
In the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, FYN has reported on the subject of school safety in Towns, Gilmer, Fannin, Union, Lumpkin, and Dawson County, Georgia, as well as Cherokee County, North Carolina.
While the safety of students is not being called into question, with FYN maintaining conviction that security is of the utmost concern for Towns County School administrators and Towns County first responders, unexpected questions arose during our research.
In a letter forwarded to FYN, dated March 13, 2018, and signed by Towns County Elementary Principal Dr. Sandra Page, parents of elementary school children were advised a day in advance that the drill would occur. The letter reads, in part, that “during an active shooter drill, it is necessary to reenact the scenario of a shooter on campus in order to find strengths and possible weaknesses in our emergency plans.”
The letter goes on to state that “local agencies such as the police, EMS (emergency medical services), and the fire department will be involved in this drill and will be arriving on campus.”
Following an unsuccessful, in-person attempt to acquire sufficient information on the active shooter drill from the Towns County Sheriff’s courthouse office, FYN contacted the emergency agencies listed as participants in the training exercise.
FYN was surprised to learn that the Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Towns County Fire and Rescue, as well as the Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) were not notified that a drill was scheduled, and therefore did not participate.
At a Movers and Shakers meeting held Feb. 23, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, along with Towns County School Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong, spoke with concerned citizens regarding school safety. The sheriff divulged that a few years had passed since an active shooter drill was conducted.
Sheriff Clinton opened his speech by recalling a recent conversation with Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith.
“The chief and I were just discussing this, what, a week ago maybe, that it’s about time that we do another one, and that we do it together,” Sheriff Clinton assured.
Sheriff Clinton continued, “How do we make our children safer? Now. Not some place down the road at some philosophical perfect normal for you, but right now. How do we do that? Frankly, at the end of the day, we have to make it a harder target.”
After referencing the 1999 Columbine tragedy, Sheriff Clinton asked, “What’s been done by the government to make our children safer? Not a single thing. Because a lot of people think they can get up and talk about it, and they can harp on whatever their pet issue is. I’m pro-gun, I’m anti-gun, whatever, but as long as they’re talking about it and people are listening, they are getting political mileage out of it, and they really don’t care. I’m sorry, but I care.
“I’m coming to silence the gun. I’m not coming to survive it. I’m coming to silence the gun,” Sheriff Clinton emphasized. “Frankly, that’s what I expect from every deputy sheriff and every law enforcement officer in this nation. God help me if I have to walk past my own children while they bleed. I’m coming to silence the gun.”
At the conclusion of the forum, Sheriff Clinton acknowledged a need to ensure all first responders are familiar with the school’s campus and lock-down procedure. The sheriff told those in attendance that it is up to the community to decide what level of security they want in place. “I work for you,” Sheriff Clinton reminded.
FYN contacted Sheriff Chris Clinton on the evening of the lock-down in anticipation of learning why his plans to include other emergency agencies had changed.
Sheriff Clinton failed to provide an explanation, focusing rather on garnering the individual identities of FYN’s sources. Shortly after asked if proper protocol was followed, a concern brought to the attention of FYN by an emergency official, Sheriff Clinton ended communication.
The following day, Thursday, March 15, FYN Chief Executive Officer Brian Pritchard sat down with Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, and Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland, reconfirming the lack of communication and coordination.
FYN met with Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong on Friday, March 16, in search of further clarification.
Berrong revealed that the active shooter drill was implemented between himself and Sheriff Clinton, following the Movers and Shakers forum.
When the question was posed concerning the absence of agencies, Berrong replied, “Well, (the school) wasn’t sure of everyone who was involved. I think there were some of those individuals there.” Upon learning that was not the case, Berrong stated there may have been a miscommunication in verbiage, saying, “Personally, for me, it wasn’t about the fire department. It was about the police officers.”
Berrong was then asked to recap the drill.
“At 10:00, Mr. Perren came over the announcement through all three schools and informed them we were going into a lock-down, that there would be police officers walking through the hallways, make sure to keep your doors locked, and to keep the kids in a safe area,” Superintendent Berrong explained. “While that was going on, police officers were making their rounds through the building, just to make sure they were still familiar with what the campus actually looks like, what’s going on during a lock-down, where can you go and where can’t you go in case there is a shooter in the school, and what areas can we access. They made their rounds through the school while we were in lock-down. We were in lock-down probably ten minutes. Our school isn’t a very big building, you can make a round through there fairly quickly. So ten to fifteen minutes, and pretty much that was the end of the drill.”
FYN inquired if there are plans to hold a subsequent active shooter exercise. “We may have further drills. We don’t have any planned currently,” Dr. Berrong said. “Sheriff Clinton and I are in discussion about this summer, getting together with all personnel, fire department and everyone, just to sit down and make sure everyone has plans of the school building, and make sure everyone has access to the ‘Crisis Go’ app, which alerts people when there is an emergency on campus, and just have another round-table discussion about what we are going to do when something like that happens, how do we shut the campus down. We had one of those several years ago, but it’s about time we had another one.”
FYN contacted Towns County School Facility Director Roy Perren. Director Perren relayed that the exercise was exclusively planned for the Towns County Sheriff’s Office and that there was never an intention to include other emergency agencies. The facility director added that a Towns County School meeting will be held in conjunction with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) April 13 concerning the involvement of all first responders, should an emergency situation arise.
Elementary School Principle Dr. Sandra Page returned FYN’s request for comment on the afternoon of Monday, March 19.
Page stated that to her knowledge, the active shooter exercise was changed to simply a lock-down drill on the morning of March 14, shortly before the training occurred, excluding the need for the involvement of agencies other than the Towns County Sheriff’s Office. “I just wanted to get the information out so that students, parents, and teachers were aware that a drill was going to take place,” Dr. Page said. “That was my main concern.”
This left FYN with more questions than answers, considering that none of the emergency agencies listed in the letter had been notified that an active shooter drill had been scheduled.
Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County EMS, Towns County Fire and Rescue, and Towns County EMA state that their departments expect to take part in future training exercises.
From the Desk of Sheriff Chris Clinton
Towns County, Georgia
The Towns County Sheriff’s Office has received several reports recently in reference to telephone scams. In some of these scams the callers have identified themselves as being representatives of the Sheriff’s Office. These callers have told victims that they had outstanding warrants against them. The scammers go on to tell victims that the warrants can be taken care of if the victims pay certain amounts of money. Neither I, nor any employees of the Towns County Sheriff’s Office, will ever contact you to solicit money.
Other recent scams involve scammers claiming to be representatives of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These callers claim the victim owes back taxes and that law enforcement officers are in the area awaiting word to arrest the victim if they do not provide a certain amount of money. The IRS does not solicit payment over the phone.
Many of these recent scams have involved payment via iTunes cards or other forms of direct payment. The scammers attempt to get the victim’s money immediately before they realize this is a scam. At least one caller actually had an individual call and represent himself as Sheriff Chris Clinton. That is when the victim realized it was a scam and advised the caller that they knew Chris Clinton and that the caller was not the Sheriff.
No legitimate law enforcement agency should be calling you to solicit money, nor would a legitimate law enforcement officer attempt to keep you on the phone until you had paid money.
Anyone who receives a call asking for funds to take care of outstanding warrants or back taxes are urged to report these scammers to your Sheriff’s Office at 706-896-4444.
YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – Lake Chatuge – Hiawassee Rotary has announced an initiative to provide 50,000 meals for those in need in Towns County. Meals of Hope is an outreach program created to bring communities together to end hunger. Volunteers are requested on Saturday, April 28, from 9 a.m. until noon at the Towns County Recreation and Conference Center in Young Harris to help package the meals.
“We know about the students at school who receive free or reduced-priced lunches, but we might not pause to think that they may have siblings or other family members at home who are hungry as well,” Sheriff Chris Clinton relayed Friday, March 9, at the Mountain Movers and Shakers meeting, “The local rotary is hoping for 120 volunteers who would like to help package 50,000 meals for those in our community.”
According to their website, Meals of Hope began as a food packing organization, and they are the only food packing organization with a priority on keeping the food packed within the United States.
Meals of Hope developed five meals specifically designed for the American palate with added vitamins, minerals and proteins to supplement an unbalanced diet. Most of their packed meals are donated to the Feeding America Food Bank Network.
Over 15,000 volunteers and six full-time staff members assist Meals of Hope in achieving its mission.
Financial sponsorship is also available.
A $25 bronze sponsorship provides 100 meals, a $100 silver sponsorship offers 400 meals, a $250 gold sponsorship supplies 1,000 meals, and a $500 diamond sponsorship shares 2,000 meals.
The Towns County Recreation and Conference Center is located at 150 Foster Park Road in Young Harris.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County officials gathered nine days after the Parkland, Florida, massacre to discuss school safety concerns with the community. Sundance Grill was filled to near-capacity during Friday’s Movers and Shakers morning meeting as residents congregated to hear School Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong and Sheriff Clinton share their thoughts in the aftermath of the tragedy. Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, and Hiawassee Council Amy Barrett and Kris Berrong attended the weekly forum.