TOWNS COUNTY, Ga – COVID-19 has flared up in Towns County Detention Center with one inmate testing positive on April 21 and four officers quarantining themselves.
Towns County Sheriff’s Office listed a timeline of events on their Facebook page on April 24 detailing procedures since the initial government shutdown.
On April 19, an inmate was transported to Union General Hospital for treatment, and on April 21, the sheriff’s office received confirmation that the inmate had tested positive for COVID-19.
“All Sheriff’s Office personnel who were tasked with providing security on him at the hospital were provided with PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) to use during their assigned shifts and reminded to practice the recommended 6-foot buffer zone,” stated Towns Sheriff’s Office.
Law enforcement also consulted with the health department to follow COVID-19 protocols, which as of April 11 state that any essential worker potentially exposed to the virus can continue to work if not exhibiting symptoms, wear a facemask, and maintain six feet of distance from all coworkers.
Officers exposed to the confirmed inmate case are considered low risk by the health department if they followed CDC and Georgia Public Health Department guidelines. However, officers displaying COVID-19 symptoms move into the high-risk category.
On April 23, the detention center was sanitized by a company approved by the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, while sheriff’s administrative office received cleaning on April 24 from County Emergency Management.
According to the sheriff’s office, the jail inmate area is cleaned three times daily since March 16. Also, all incoming inmates and detention center staff are screened for COVID-19.
Also, two detention center officers received COVID-19 testing on April 23 after experiencing mild symptoms. They are awaiting results while quarantining at home.
On April 24, two more officers were presenting symptoms and are in quarantine. One individual has taken the test, and the other is awaiting approval to take it.
According to the sheriff’s office, health department personnel explained that only law enforcement individuals with COVID-19 symptoms will receive a test.
The statement ended with, “The Sheriff’s Office has and will continue to take all recommended precautions and guidelines from the health department, GEMA, and CDC to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to the community, inmates, and staff.”
Fetch Your News will update this story as more information becomes available.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – As qualification for the Towns County sheriff’s election approaches, FYN received information on the law enforcement career of Jim Couch, a contender for Office of Sheriff, from separate opponents.
A received document contained a press release from Georgia State Patrol (GSP) Commander Capt. Keith Canup concerning an alleged mishandling of the 2015 Southern Worthersee (SoWo) car rally by former Helen Police Chief Couch. Canup stated that there was “no traffic plan in place, there was no plan to deal with the large crowds, nor was there a contingency plan to deal with civil disorder” despite the city previously hosting the popular event.
According to media coverage, over 2,800 people were “out of control,” breaking vehicle windows and attempting to overturn a rollback tow truck, while hurling rocks and bottles at officers, and committing acts of vandalism. Approximately 28,000 participants were reported as present at the rally.
“Chief Couch was told upfront that the role of GSP would be to make sure the mayhem did not spill out into the surrounding county and the Troopers would not actively patrol the town, or police his streets,” Capt. Canup said, in part, in the press release. “Our goal was to prevent the mountainous roads outside Helen from becoming race tracks, to prevent reckless conduct in general, and to apprehend drunk drivers. I felt that a lawless environment was created and allowed to exist for the sake of tourism. Had the SOWO crowd descended upon Helen uninvited GSP would have gladly taken the lead on maintaining order, but that was simply not the case…
“Had the Georgia State Patrol entered the town we could not have stood idly by and condoned the illegal and reckless activities that were being encouraged without taking enforcement action. We certainly would not have signed off on closing a state highway without the existence of an emergency circumstance warranting such action. I understand the state route was closed by Chief Couch for the purpose of allowing the SOWO cars to do burnouts. State Troopers aren’t wired to allow the law to be broken a little bit. You can’t have the presence of Troopers absence the presence of enforcement. They are one in the same.”
FYN provided Couch, who hired a Gainesville public relations firm to manage his 2020 sheriff’s campaign, an opportunity to respond to the state law enforcement agency’s assessment of the situation.
“As a law enforcement professional for more than 40 years, my first and foremost priority has always been the safety of the residents of the communities I serve as well as the officers who work with me, whom I have dedicated my life to protecting,” Couch’s statement reads in full. “As anyone in this profession may understand, there are moments when one must calmly and rationally assess a situation and do what is best for the safety of all involved parties in order to keep the peace.
“During my time as the Chief of Police in Helen, there was an occurrence that required me to put my experience in law enforcement to use. Following the 2015 Southern Worthersee event, which is a large annual gathering of car enthusiasts, some number of those gathered became unruly as the night progressed, eventually forcing one road to be closed due to their presence. I assessed the surroundings and the individuals involved and took what I believed to be the best and safest avenue for all involved by making my request for them to disperse and allowing those gathered a short time to comply with this request. As a peace officer, I believed then and still believe that it was my duty to obtain order and minimize any possibility of damage or violence toward businesses, residences or individuals in Helen.
“I believe it takes a calm and level head to maintain peace during a situation of rising tension, and I do not doubt that I did what was right in that situation at the time. I regret any miscommunication that resulted in unwarranted criticism of GSP’s role or the actions of its Troopers. I appreciate all the law enforcement officers and agencies that worked together that night to ensure this situation was handled in a way that best protected our community, its residents and those gathered. It has been and continues to be my privilege to be in a career of service, and I look forward to serving Towns County today and in the days and years to come.”
Participants described the SoWo event – which was prohibited from returning to Helen by city leaders – as chaotic and riotous. “It was a madhouse when we were there during the day,” an attendee wrote on social media shortly after the event. “I am glad we weren’t there at night.”
Couch, who currently serves as a captain with the Towns County Sheriff’s Office, resigned from his position as Helen’s police chief two months after the rally took place.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Daren “Bear” Osborn, a challenger in the Towns County sheriff’s race, took to social media Oct. 16, sharing his logic for seeking office in the 2020 election. Osborn listed multiple goals and objectives, including advanced training within the law enforcement agency, the importance of cooperation between the sheriff’s office and local emergency departments, school safety improvements, and developing a community-oriented anti-drug coalition for people suffering from substance abuse.
“Towns County deserves a working sheriff, one who will actively serve the community in uniform, and I hope to fulfill that position,” Osborn told FYN. The Republican candidate added that he intends to be a “visible” sheriff, and plans to continue his involvement in the community if elected.
While Osborn did not mention incumbent Sheriff Chris Clinton, the sheriff’s candidate expressed platform-related concerns in the past. Osborn gained publicity earlier this year in connection to a highly-controversial fatal accident that many, including Osborn, believe could have been prevented by the Towns County Sheriff’s Office through proper training.
FYN later reported that Towns County Sheriff’s Office deputies declined participation in two training seminars held within the county: ARIDE training – an acronym for Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement – which was offered in Hiawassee, and school security training held in Young Harris. Sheriff Clinton was extended an invitation to speak at the security event, hosted by Habersham County Sheriff’s Office, yet he did not make an appearance at the state course. Osborn previously labeled the “missed opportunities” as such.
Furthermore, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton drew negative publicity in 2018, following what many in the community considered a botched Towns County Schools active shooter drill. Dozens of first responders from Hiawassee Police Department, Towns County Fire and Rescue, Towns County Emergency Medical Services, and Towns County Emergency Management Agency expressed disapproval – based on exclusion from participation in the campus drill – describing Clinton’s approach as a habitual, “lone ranger” tactic. “This is not the way training should be done,” Osborn remarked last year on social media. “You have to work together as a team or the mission will not be accomplished.” Towns County first responders, including department heads, continue to note a general lack of communication and poor cooperation from Sheriff Clinton with local emergency agencies, an issue that Osborn promised to remedy if elected.
Osborn listed the following goals and objectives as his campaign platform:
– Be a full-time “Working Sheriff” in a Class A uniform.
– Drive a marked patrol vehicle to be highly visible to the public.
– Develop a community oriented anti-drug coalition for people suffering from substance abuse. Good people can get addicted. We want to save these people.
– Establish a strong relationship with our Homeowner Associations, encouraging neighborhood watch programs. Provide security check lists for homeowners and security checks.
– Re-establish strong working relationships with all surrounding law enforcement agencies, as well as the fire department, EMS, and 911 center.
– Establish regularly scheduled training with outside law enforcement agencies and public safety, such as SWAT training, active shooter, and felony warrant service.
– Provide additional training for all deputies for job specific assignments, patrol investigations, courthouse, and school resource officers.
– Implement a minimum annual training level which exceeds the current Georgia mandated training of 20 hours per year.
– Deputies will receive training from POST (Peace Officer Standards & Training) certified instructors, NOT online webinars!
– Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for all deputies – to help those suffering from mental health issues which law enforcement commonly encounters.
– Host regional law enforcement training for all agencies.
– Work with school officials to ensure the safety of our children and staff, as well as visitors to our schools.
– Work with commissioner to establish and fund an animal control deputy.
A second challenger, Kenneth “Ode” Henderson, entered the Towns County sheriff’s race Oct. 15.
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