HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton made an appearance at the Thursday, Sept. 19, Towns County Republican Party meeting to publicly announce his intent to seek re-election in 2020.
“I am absolutely seeking your vote, your support, for my campaign in 2020,” Clinton said. “I plan to run for sheriff of Towns County again, and I’m going to be running based on my track record because I think our track record at the sheriff’s office is really second to none, certainly in the history of this county. I think the truth speaks for itself.”
Clinton was elected in 2007 following a special election. No challengers have officially announced candidacy for Office of the Sheriff at this time.
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HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton took to the WJUL radio airways Friday, Sept. 13 to share his favorable views on California’s legislation to ban private prisons. Sheriff Clinton included information on discipline requirements for inmates detained at the Towns County Detention Center.
“When you walk back into one of our pods, the inmates snap to attention,” Clinton said. “They announce attention on deck. It’s like a Marine Corps parade deck. Head and eyes straight forward, thumbs on the side, on the seam of their trousers. They’re not allowed to follow you with their eyes, first and last things out of their mouth better be sir or ma’am. And we do that for a reason. It’s a security thing. Inmates fight when they’re scared. As our jail commander likes to tell folks when we bring them through a tour of our jail, they don’t fight in our jail because in our jail, an inmate would have to ask permission to fight first, and we’re not going to give it to them so they don’t just even bother.”
Towns County’s sheriff additionally voiced support for California’s recent bill to abolish private prison facilities, which if signed as expected by California Governor Gavin Newsom, will prohibit the state government from entering into or renewing contracts with private, for-profit prisons to incarcerate state inmates.
“The way the Constitution works, when you’re housing an inmate – like the sheriff, if I house that inmate somewhere else – I’m still responsible for that inmate, and so I’m not a fan of turning the responsibility of the inmate over to some private sector that has no duty. The sheriff has a duty to keep these inmates safe. I just don’t think it’s good,” Clinton said.
According to research, The Georgia Department of Corrections holds current contracts with two private prison companies: Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Corporation. The facilities are contracted to house a total of 7,974 offenders in four private facilities.
Feature Image: Towns County Detention Center
YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – The 2019 Georgia Association of School Resource Officers (GASRO) conference was held at Brasstown Valley Resort in Young Harris, July 8-10, purposed to provide updated school security training and networking opportunities for school resource officers (SROs) to connect statewide.
Law enforcement officers from cities as far south as Tifton made the voyage to Towns County to attend the school safety seminar, hosted this year by Habersham County Sheriff’s Office who was chosen by GASRO as the result of “the incredible strides (they) have made in connecting with the school community, and in enhancing school safety through technology.”
Following the closure of the school security conference, FetchYourNews (FYN) was contacted by multiple law enforcement agencies who disclosed that Towns County Sheriff’s Office had declined additional training “in their own backyard.” Research revealed that Towns County Sheriff’s Office was, in fact, signed up to attend the state seminar, although no officers attended. Furthermore, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton was personally invited by GASRO to address participants, and in the words of a ranking officer, “refused the chance to network with other departments while representing his own jurisdiction.”
FYN reached out to Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, along with personnel within the agency, offering an opportunity to comment on the matter. FYN did not receive a response from the elected official. Towns County Chief Deputy Terry Conner met with FYN, however, stating that Towns County’s dual school resource officers had attended a training session in White County earlier this year, and due to staffing issues, an executive decision was made to forego the GASRO course.
Chief Deputy Conner politely declined to respond to FYN’s questions concerning Sheriff Clinton’s absence from the school security conference.
FYN received a formal statement from the chief deputy the following day.
“During the last six months, (both SROs) have completed a total of 40 training classes between the two. The State Of Georgia Peace Officer Standards Training requires officers to complete 20 hours of annual training yearly,” Chief Deputy Conner said. “Both Towns County school resource officers completed double the state required training hours during the first six months of this year. The State of Georgia Peace Officer Standards Training requires the 20 hours to include four classes; firearms requalification, use of force, de-escalation, and community policing.”
The statement read that one of the school resources officers has completed four-out-of-four of the required courses, with the second officer to complete the final two requirements in coming months. The chief deputy added that Towns County Sheriff’s Office allows officers to attend training as budget and manpower needs allow, adding that both deputies will receive the required training by year’s end.
“School Resource Officer Programs across the state are experiencing many new challenges when it comes to keeping schools safe,” Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell, host of the GASRO conference, explained to Now Habersham in May. “Whether it be dealing with issues that have been in the schools for years or new trends that are becoming more commonplace, it is imperative that we stay up to date on the latest technologies and training.”
The three-day course involved advancement in vital areas, including criminal investigations in campus settings, evaluation of threat assestments, students and social media, and drug interdiction.
Feature Photo: GASRO training at Brasstown Valley Resort Credit: GASRO
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Independence Day is quickly approaching, and Towns County will feature several events to celebrate America’s freedom. The Lake Chatuge Boat Parade is scheduled to launch the festivities, Thursday, July 4. “Boaters line up in the Sunset Bay Cove behind Aqua Tiki, the Grand Marshal, for the parade beginning at 10:30 am,” Towns County Chamber of Commerce said. “No wake, and boats must fly a U.S. flag. Additional patriotic decorations are encouraged. Boats must have a number issued to be considered for judging. A $50 prize will be awarded for most creatively decorated boat, and also for the most red, white and blue. Boats will parade past the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, under Anderson Bridge, and past the Hiawassee Beach area before disbanding. Judges will be positioned at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds.” Winners will be announced July 4 at 2 pm on the “Towns County and Lake Chatuge Chamber of Commerce” Facebook page.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Chamber of Commerce hosted an annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast, Wednesday, May 29, at Daniel’s Steakhouse in Hiawassee. A crowd of approximately 50 signed up to dine, buffet style, while listening to public leaders address community matters. Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, and Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith were invited to meet with the citizens.
Commissioner Bradshaw opened the event by sharing that the county budget is in good health, with a $3.1 million reserve fixed in place. Due to past, excessive rainfall, construction efforts were needed in an area that caused a storage building to buckle at Foster Park in Young Hsrris, the commissioner reported, although taxpayers’ funds were minimal due to a generous contractor who offered assistance to lower costs. An insurance check in the amount of $23,000 was issued in response to the damage of the building. Bradshaw shared that sales taxes have increased by $28,000 from this time last year, a testimony to the booming business of local tourism. The commission said that he believes the city governments are in line with the county’s goals. “We don’t want to lose small town values, and small town feel,” Bradshaw stressed.
Next to speak was Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales who, in part, addressed the city’s strategic plan, calling it a “driving force.” Ordiales said that the next project on the list is to make Lloyd’s Landing, where the boat ramp was located prior to Mayors’ Park, a “kid-friendly, fun, family area.” The mayor filled the diners in on the Friday movies and Saturday evening music summer series on Hiawassee Town Square, announcing that 250 music lovers attended opening night, Memorial Day weekend. “We all came here because we wanted a small town…” Mayor Ordiales reminded. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have every, single storefront filled? That’s my target.”
Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby promoted the city’s North Georgia Highlands Seafood Festival, scheduled for this weekend. Gibby addressed the anticipated road construction which will soon begin in western Towns County. “The construction process will be awful, but in the end I think it’s going to be very good for us,” the mayor assured. Gibby said that the citizens of Young Harris are in agreement as to how the development of the city unfolds, saying the residents strive for a “community and sense of belonging,” adding that “eveyone seems to want a village.”
Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton spoke on the security at the courthouse, detention center procedures, and the recently completed mass “Operation Trial Run” drug round-ups, which landed 53 arrests and over $300,000 in monetary and property seizures. The sheriff noted the local C.H.A.M.P.S. program, the importance of accountabilty in reference to drug court, and praised the volunteer efforts of the Citizen Law Enforcement Academy (CLEA) graduates. Clinton divulged that the inmates currently housed at the Towns County Detention Center are all repeat offenders. “I think we need less laws, and put the teeth back in the laws.” Sheriff Clinton said, referring to himself as “compassionate” and “a results, goal-orientated, type person.”
“We haven’t had the best history of sheriff’s in the past,” Clinton said, calling the statement an “historical fact.” The county’s chief officer informed that he does not see his detractors in attendance at community events, such as the sheriff’s office fundraisers, while adding, “I don’t think any of us are claiming to be perfect. I’m certainly not.” Sheriff Clinton concluded with praise for the department’s deputies and their retention record. “We haven’t had a single patrol officer in over two years go anywhere.”
Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith wrapped up the forum, relaying that he is one of five officers on the city department. “I still work the roads. I still answer calls,”Smith said, noting that having a recently-added fifth officer allows time to tend to administrative duties. Smith stressed the importance of justice and service to the community, and expressed gratitude for two patrol vehicles which were donated by the local Lions Club and a Florida poice division. The chief touched on the annual “Shop with a Hero” program which provides holiday gifts for financially challenged children in Towns County.
In attendance was Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland who warned of wildfire dangers, and asked the community to kindly pull to the shoulder of the roadway when emergency vehicles approach, with lights flashing and sirens sounding. Copeland additionally serves as the county coroner, and mentioned the importance of carrying identification with information on next of kin, along with predetermining a preference of funeral homes.
Overall, the theme of the event was overwhelming positive from the public officials involved, and in terms of attendance, the Towns County Chamber of Commerce deemed the breakfast discussion a success.
Feature Image: Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, speaking to the citizens of Towns County
YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – Three months have passed since a fatal crash took the life of Hiawassee resident Terry Silvers, leaving two victims injured, a 911 caller traumatized, and the citizens of Towns County questioning the responsibilty of the authorities involved in the controversial tragedy.
On the evening of Saturday, Feb.23, a “be-on-the-lookout” (BOLO) for a reckless driver was issued by Towns County 911 to the Towns County Sheriff’s Office, a call that went unanswered by Corporal Gregory Joseph – the sole deputy assigned to that particular zone – shortly before the deadly collision occurred.
Towns County 911 Director Marty Roberts recently spoke with FetchYourNews (FYN), clarifying the process employed by the emergency agency. “A BOLO is a BOLO,” Roberts explained. “There isn’t different levels of urgency. The dispatcher handled the Feb. 23 call correctly. The key was when the driver was identified as Silvers. We typically do not dispatch a subject’s name.”
Corporal Joseph had responded to an accident involving Silvers the previous night, allowing the father of six to leave the scene without facing charges, despite testimony from witnesses who claimed the now-deceased was obviously impaired. Silvers, who had a criminal record, was known by local law enforcement to suffer from drug addiction. Furthermore, an additional Silvers’ accident took place a few months prior, with the same deputy in question responding to a vehicle rollover.
Family members of Silvers, as well as the 911 caller, have publicly speculated that because Silvers was identified by dispatchers, Towns County Sheriff’s Office may have opted to disregard the turned-fatal BOLO.
Towns County’s 911 director emphasized that the deputy who bypassed the BOLO was not dispatched by 911 to the possible prowler call in the eastern zone, a call which was adequately covered by a second deputy and a Hiawassee police officer. Early into FYN’s investigation, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton denied departmental responsibility in a statement issued to the county’s legal organ, shifting focus toward Towns County 911. The sheriff has yet to answer questions posed by investigative reporters.
Although Towns County 911 is its own separate entity, Roberts said that the responsibility to alter the system lies within the Towns County Sheriff’s Office. “We dispatch according to the protocol the department sets,” Roberts stated. “We are always willing to improve.”
11Alive News in Atlanta is scheduled to broadcast their investigation into Towns County Sheriff’s Office involvement in the well-known tragedy this evening, May 26, at 6 p.m.
Additional articles on the subject, including the audio from the viral 911 call, are available by clicking this highlighted link.
HIAWASSEE, Ga – “Where is Sheriff Clinton?” has been a resounding question in the community for many months, if not years, and it is an inquiry no one seems capable, or willing, to answer. FetchYourNews (FYN) began looking into the schedule of Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton in late February after rumors began to swirl on the lead lawman’s whereabouts, leading to an editorial article which unfortunately offered little insight. Three months later, the query into how the elected official spends his time mostly remains a mystery.
“In reference to your open records request, the Office of Sheriff does not maintain a calendar for the sheriff. The sheriff’s wife maintains a family calendar that the sheriff appears on. The sheriff is the only person who can provide the information requested. It is estimated that the request will require 91.25 hours of the sheriff’s time at the sheriff’s hourly rate of $7.38/hour to perform the task requested. The estimate is based on retrieval and printing for redaction, redacting, and scanning into an electronic form.
“There are an estimated 365 pages of material to be printed at $0.10 / page,” Clinton continued. “Estimated cost to fulfill the request: Sheriff’s time to access, retrieve, print, redact, and scan to electronic form per your request — approximately 91.25 hours @ $7.38/hour = $ 673.43 (You will not be charged for the first 15 minutes.) 365 pages @ $0.10 / page = $36.50. Total estimated cost = $709.93.”
In lieu of paying what FYN considered an excessive fee for public information, FYN sent an additional request to the Towns County Sheriff to visually review the original copy of the elected official’s appointments, a request which went ignored. On FYN’s third attempt, which was carbon copied to 11Alive News in Atlanta, Towns County Sheriff’s Administrator Vicki Ellis referred FYN to Towns County Sheriff’s Executive Secretary Shirley Clinton, the sheriff’s mother, who scheduled an appointment to review the calendar housed in the sheriff’s courthouse office.
An inspection of the calendar on May 22 proved futile as page after page revealed no entries. Occassional meetings appeared, along with multiple, weekly radio station appearances, and mandatory training engagements. Citizen Law Enforcement Academy (CLEA) appointments were listed throughout, a group which consists primarily of retired residents that the sheriff has referred to in the past as personal “lobbyists.”
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – FetchYourNews (FYN) opened an investigation into the death of Terry Samuel Silvers, a father of six known to suffer from substance abuse, shortly after an accident claimed the Hiawassee resident’s life Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. The fatal collision left two victims injured, an eyewitness traumatized, and the community questioning whether Towns County Sheriff’s Office should have done more to prevent the tragedy.
Towns County Deputy Corporal Gregory Joseph responded to two prior accidents involving Silvers, releasing the now-deceased on both occassions without charges, despite widespread knowledge of Silvers’ drug use, and testimonies from several witnesses who claimed Silvers was obviously under the influence of intoxicants at the time of both incidents.
New information recently updated by Georgia’s Peace Officer’s Standards and Training (POST) reveals that the deputy in question attended six hours of drug-impared detection training through the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia (PAC) a week prior to a late-November, 2018, roll-over accident involving Silvers. As in the case of a subsequent incident in which Deputy Joseph responded, occurring on the evening before Silvers’ death, Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) was conducted, a test which does not properly indicate drug impairment.
A two-day Advanced Roadside Impairment Detection Enforcement (ARIDE) course for law enforcement is scheduled in Hiawassee next week. According to a document obtained by FYN on May 16 from the Georgia Public Safety Training Center (GPSTC), there is no record of Towns County Sheriff’s Office deputies listed as upcoming participants. Of note, four Hiawassee police officers plan to attend the training, two of whom trained in the past.
During the course of our investigation, FYN conducted numerous interviews with former deputies of the Towns County Sheriff’s Office who unanimously cited lack of training and leadership as reasons for their resignations.
As seen in Corporal Joseph’s body camera footage from Nov. 27, witness Belinda Munger is heard telling the deputy that Silvers had a habit of driving under the influence of intoxicants, posing a danger to innocent citizens. Also in question is a telephone call answered by the responding deputy during the incident.
“I was woken up to the sound of shattering glass,” Munger told FYN, shortly after Silvers’ death. “I jumped out of bed, ran to my kitchen to see what was going on. I looked out my window and saw Terry’s truck hanging off my bank, almost going through my mother’s house. I called 911 while putting my shoes on to head out the door. Terry had gotten off in the ditch, taken out the neighbor’s mailbox, continuing down the ditch, hitting tree stumps which caused his truck to flip. He was so heavily medicated, he did not realize that he had even flipped his truck.
“He asked if someone could pull his truck out so he could go home. Officer Joseph arrives on scene. I explained what had happened and let them know that it was obvious; he was under the influence of pills. The officer asked Terry for his ID. Terry stumbles to get to his vehicle, where he searched for a long while for his ID and insurance. I asked the officer if he saw Terry stumbling as he walked to his vehicle, but the officer did not even acknowledge what I said. Another officer arrived on scene and I advised him of what was going on, also that they needed to test him. I was very open with letting them know how ridiculous it was that they did not think anything was wrong with Terry. It was very obvious, he couldn’t even hardly keep his eyes open and was slurring his speech.
“The ambulance arrived, and Terry refused to let him transport or check him,” Munger continued. “They as well could tell he was medicated and nothing would be done. The other officer advised Officer Joseph that I was upset, and that I wanted him tested. Officer Joseph came back to tell me he had checked out fine, but I knew different. Then, I asked both officers, ‘Will it take him killing someone for you all to do something with him?’ I told them how ridiculous it was that, once again, they were letting him go free knowing how he was under the influence of pills… Later that day, I reached out to Sheriff Clinton one last time, and left a message with his secretary. But like usual, there was no attempt of a return phone call from the sheriff.” Munger can be heard in the video, telling the deputy that Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton should be contacted before Silvers’ “kills someone.”
Approximately three months later, the evening prior to the fatal crash, Silvers was involved in an additional accident on Bugscuffle Road in which Deputy Joseph responded. Again, Silvers was released by Towns County Sheriff’s Office. The property damaged in the Feb. 22, belongs to neighboring Union County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Daren “Bear” Osborn. “Based on my training and experience, 32 years, I recognized (Terry) was in no shape to drive due to his condition,” the off-duty deputy explained in March. “What strikes me as odd is that an alco sensor and HGN was done which does not indicate drug use.” Osborn described Silvers as exhibiting confused behavior while showing evident signs of impaired judgment.
An “alco sensor” is commonly known as breathalizer. Family members and friends of Silvers stated that Terry was not a drinker, but recognized in the community and to law enforcement as an opioid user. North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office did not perform a post-mortem screen on Silvers for narcotics, however, opting to only conduct ethanol testing for alcohol.
John Bagley, a witness who spoke with FYN shortly after the tragedy agreed with Lt. Osborn, stating that Silvers was clearly unfit to drive on the night prior to his death. “(Terry) wrecked right across from my house,” Bagley said. “He was in no shape to be driving. I think there should have been additional tests done. It could have saved his life.”
WXIA – 11 (11Alive News) will broadcast a televised investigation into Terry Silvers’ death, beginning Tuesday, May 21, at 11 pm. An in-depth segment will follow Sunday, May 26.
Below is the disturbing 911 audio previously released by FYN from the night of the fatal crash…