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Sheriff, other officials favor drug court for judicial circuit

Gary Sisk

David Dunn

A group of Catoosa County officials is pushing to institute a drug court, which would focus more on habilitating non-violent offenders than sending them to prison.

Drug courts, or "accountability courts," are designed to keep tabs on offenders, counsel them, help them with their addictions, and hopefully help them kick the bad habits and become better contributors to society.

Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk says he's long been in favor of a drug court for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit (LMJC), which serves Catoosa, Walker, Dade, and Chattooga counties, but that the proposal didn't gain traction for a number of years due to resistance from the circuit's long-time chief judge, Jon "Bo" Wood, who is now retired.

One of the big steps in establishing a drug court is having the chief judge of the circuit sign off on it, which is something Sisk hopes to have happen now with Kristina Cook Graham at the helm.

"It's something we've continuously been stating that there's a need for," Sisk said. Accountability courts are proven to be successful. You can only do the same thing over and over again... You have to re-evaluate what we're doing and what we're trying to accomplish."

The LMJC is one of that last remaining circuits in the state to not offer such a court.

"It says a lot when LMJC is one of only two circuits in the state that doesn't have accountability courts," Sisk said. "We need some different types of court procedures that we can utilize. We've sought federal grant money in the past, but we needed particular players at the table. ... Part of it was that our chief Superior Court judge needed to sign off on it, so we were beating our heads against the wall there."

Sisk says other players in the court system seem to be on board with the idea such as District Attorney Herbert E. "Buzz" Franklin, lead Public Defender David Dunn, and even heads of other law enforcement agencies.

"It is long overdue," Dunn said. "Most thoughtful people have long ago recognized that substance abuse is a medical problem rather than a crime problem. Trying to solve that problem by locking people in prison is not only doomed for failure, but causes tremendous harm to society as a whole. Drug court is an attempt to bring some sanity into our efforts to deal with this recognition."

Sisk says the majority of people in his Catoosa County jail at any given time are there due to a probation issue or a non-violent drug crime.

"Over 50-percent of

my jail is sitting here on probation violation, which there's no bond for 60 to 90 days. ... In that time people lose jobs, homes, stuff like that, and then they fall right back into the cycle. The system we have now is continuously setting people up to fail. I'm all for being tough on crime. I have children, but I don't go right out and punish them and lock them away without showing and teaching them the right way to do things. I want to make them a better person and member of society. Save the prison for violent offenders and those who don't have any interest in changing."

Ringgold Police Chief Dan Bilbrey says he backs the proposal whole-heartedly.

"I personally am in favor of a drug court here in our judicial circuit of Catoosa County," Bilbrey said. "The reality is that we see an overwhelming number of people here in the U.S. who are incarcerated. There are a number of people incarcerated on non violent drug issues that a drug court could manage and offer an alternative to per se incarceration and probation. The drug court could offer more to address the issues of rehabilitation, supervision, and in my opinion, recidivism rates."

Success story

Although he had to go to Whitfield County to experience it in the Conasauga Drug Court, Tunnel Hill resident Zeke Brown says the two-year program he's currently taking part in has saved his life.

"All I have are good things to say about it," Brown said. "I got caught up with drugs and it was either go to prison for 10 years, or go through this program. I've been in prison before and it didn't really help me. This program changed my addictive mind. It makes you a productive member of society and they help you get your life back if you really want it."

Brown says his program has five different phases, and that he's scheduled to complete phase five of his journey and graduate in the spring. Throughout the program, Brown has had to go to therapy and classes about addiction, drug test regularly, gain and keep employment, all of which has been overseen by the drug court. In cases where offenders slip up, they can be punished or sent to jail if they aren't complying with the requirements of the program.

"It helps you when you're stuck in a ditch. ... It's hard to get out when you need help," Brown said. "The court helped me get off drugs. It helps with your thinking, and they counsel you."

Brown says he's a different person than the man who first entered the program.

"I got my driver's license back, got to where I can see my kids again. I've been at my job for a year and a half now, and am even a lead man on our second shift," Brown said. "It's been not only good for me, but my whole family has benefitted from me getting better. They're pretty proud of me. It'll be two years in May. ... They give you the guidance and the tools to get your life back."

For now, Sisk says, he's doing as much as he can to get the ball rolling again on bringing the court here.

"Hopefully in a year or two we can get something in place here," Sisk said. "A lot of it depends on how we want to develop it. We have instituted a number of programs at the jail since I took office. ... If it saves one life, turns one person around, then that's one that wasn't getting saved or turned around before. This could really make an impact in our community."

"The reality is that we see an overwhelming number of people here in the U.S. who are incarcerated. There are a number of people incarcerated on non-violent drug issues that a drug court could manage and offer an alternative to per se incarceration and probation. The drug court could offer more to address the issues of rehabilitation, supervision, and in my opinion, recidivism rates." --- Ringgold Police Chief Dan Bilbrey


Catoosa County held winter weather training meeting, planned for snowy days

Catoosa County officials and department heads gathered with the Emergency Management Agency Thursday, Jan. 5, to go over the county's winter weather plan in preparation for the snow that hit Northwest Georgia over the weekend.

The winter weather training exercise had been planned for a while, and just so happened to come at the perfect time with the first snow of the season, which began late Friday afternoon and continued overnight.

"We've had this meeting planned for over a month," said Catoosa County Manager Jim Walker. "We've had it the past couple of years in December, but we pushed it back to after the first of the year so that our new fire chief, Randy Camp, would be involved with it. We wanted to make sure to have his knowledge and expertise as part of the meeting."

The meeting involved Catoosa County EMA, the Sheriff's Department, Public Works, Catoosa County Fire & Rescue, Angel EMS, and Catoosa County 4-H.

"We may be facing a wintery mix this weekend, so we wanted to make sure and have our department heads here to make sure we're all on the same page," Walker said at Thursday's meeting. "We want to work seamlessly together to provide the necessary services to the citizens of our county,"

Public Works Director D.E. "Buster" Brown updated everyone on the brining plans, which began at 7 a.m. Thursday, and explained the breakdown of the road pre-treatment and snow removal protocol throughout the county.

"We have the county divided into three areas on our map, and we prioritize the roads in each area beginning with the bridges and overpasses," Brown said. "We've upgraded to a 10-minute cycle time on making brine."

The discussion also included the manning of trucks and equipment, crews to cut down trees and limbs when/if needed, and the closing of the

courthouse and other government buildings if the need arises.

"We prepare for the worst and hope for the best," said Steve Quinn, division chief of administrative services and safety for Catoosa County Fire & Rescue.

Catoosa County EMA Director Doug Flury talked about this weekend's scenario, and included everyone in attendance on a conference call briefing from Peachtree City, Ga., regarding the forecast, which put the Metro Atlanta area and Northwest Georgia in a winter storm watch starting at 7 p.m. Friday through 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

The briefing called for possibly 3-5 inches of snow in the metro Atlanta area during that time, with snow possibly beginning to trickle into the Catoosa, Walker, and Dade counties area late Thursday to Friday morning. Round two of the scenario would then start back up between Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.

The winter storm watch" was upgraded to a warning on Friday.

During the meeting, Flury also discussed Ringgold High School being the county's go-to site for a shelter if needed, and all departments were encouraged to go ahead and get all trucks and vehicle filled with fuel in case the weather hits hard.

Walker said the Trains-Aid Department would still be ready to take certain folks in need to their dialysis treatments, and stressed the importance of having all planning details covered before the weather hits.

"We want to make sure we have our phone trees updated and exercised within each department so we can get a hold of everybody. We want to reach out to the utility companies, and reach out to our contacts at the state level to make sure the interstate in our county is going to get the attention it needs," Walker said. "Mother Nature can bring you to your knees, so we want to have our plan in place."

The road pretreatment and snow removal plan can be found online at the county website, catoosa.com.


Man crashes vehicle into Rossville house, causes fire

A man was rushed to the hospital Tuesday morning, Jan. 3, after he lost control of his vehicle in Rossville and crashed into a home causing it to catch of fire, police say.

According to the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department, the incident occurred shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Officials say the man suffered some sort of medical emergency, which caused him to lose control of the vehicle and crash the garage area of the home located at 29 Flagstone Drive, just off Lakeview Drive.

The crashed caused a subsequent fire in the home, police say.

The man was taken to the hospital for his medical issue.