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Jury: Allen competent to stand trial
• Judge Sparks removes the accused murderer from the trial after outbursts.

Denver Allen

A man who is accused of killing a fellow inmate in the Floyd County Jail in August 2015 has been found competent to stand trial.

The jury deliberated the status of Denver Fenton Allen for slightly over an hour Tuesday afternoon before reaching their decision. The case drew national attention in June 2016 after Allen and Superior Court Judge Bryant Durham got into name calling in a verbal exchange in open court.

After the jury was dismissed and was leaving the courtroom, Allen started calling them "trash" and claimed that one of them was a pedophile.

Allen was removed from his Floyd Superior Court competency trial Tuesday after disrupting the testimony of a state clinical psychologist shouting, "That bitch is committing perjury."

Judge Billy Sparks had admonished Allen to remain quiet before the proceedings had even begun Tuesday.

Sparks told the jury the first thing they would hear were four reports from competency evaluations of Allen over the last year and a half which prompted Allen to shout, "They're all false documents."

Judge Sparks sent the jury out and told Allen, "If you speak out loudly and disrupt the proceedings, I cannot let you stay," Allen remained quiet through the two hours of his attorney, Dan Morgan, reading the competency reports but couldn't restrain himself when Dr. Mary DeCruise took the stand.

DeCruise testified that she and Dr. Audrey Courtney interviewed Allen in September. After a series of three interviews in September, DeCruise determined that Allen had the cognitive ability to work with his attorney. "I never had the impression that Mr. Allen lacked the capacity to assist," DeCruise said.

Two earlier reports Morgan read found that Allen was not competent to stand trial. DeCruise played a role in both evaluations that resulted in the competency determinations.

A December 2015 evaluation, done by Dr. Kiana Wright and Dr. Sam Perri, found that Allen was incompetent to stand trial. Defense attorney Morgan asked DeCruise if she had any reason to question their findings. "If that's how he presented at the time, those were the findings," DeCruise responded.

A second evaluation done in February of this year by Dr. Wright and Dr. Karen Bailey also found Allen incompetent. That evaluation noted that Allen, "presented with numerous delusions" and "he has no insight into his mental illness."

Judge Sparks had ruled in April that Allen, accused of killing fellow Floyd County Jail inmate Stephen Rudolph Nally on Aug. 26, 2015, needed another evaluation of his competency.

DeCruise's evaluation in September found that Allen had the ability to understand and assist in his defense and that his anti-social behavior and unwillingness to help Morgan were completely separate issues from his competency.

After the lunch recess, Allen was allowed to return to the courtroom but was removed by Judge Sparks less than 15 minutes into the testimony of forensic psychologist Dr. Norris Currence. "He's lying. That (expletive) hasn't talked to me in four months," Allen blurted out loud after Currence testified that he spoke with Allen "quite frequently" at Central State Hospital.

Currence testified Allen had displayed in a "rational and clear" manner that he wanted to stay at the state hospital rather than go to trial and prison. The psychologist said Allen had told him at least a dozen times that he wanted to be hospitalized.

Morgan again pressed Currence on the different evaluations of Allen, suggesting the state mental health evaluators simply wanted to get Allen out of the hospital. Currence denied there was any pressure to move individuals out of the hospital. "The only pressure is to get them evaluated in 90 days," Currence said, referring to the court-ordered time frame for the evaluation.

Morgan asked if the system functioned with the intent to return individuals to the court system for trial. "No," Currence said.

After the jury returned their verdict, Judge Sparks said he wanted to schedule the trial for as soon as possible.

Man rescued from trench
• The 25-year-old Floyd County Water Department worker spends 3 hours trapped from the waist down.

A Floyd County Water Department worker was taken to the hospital Tuesday night after he had to be rescued from a trench he became trapped in while working off Shorter Avenue earlier in the day.

The man was identified by his wife, Madison Marie, as 25-year-old Shawn Michael Marie, who has worked with the water department for about two years. He was treated and released from Floyd Medical Center Tuesday night, according to hospital spokesman Dan Bevels.

A massive rescue effort had traffic on Shorter Avenue, just to the west of its intersection with Huffaker Road, down to one lane each in both directions for over three hours from when the 911 call came in at 1:23 p.m. Rome-Floyd County firefighters, Floyd County police and sheriff's office deputies and public works employees for both the city and county were represented in the over 30-person rescue crew.

According to Rome-Floyd County Fire Department Battalion Chief Gene Proctor:

The man was with a crew doing utility work on the roadside near 2518 Shorter Ave. Tuesday afternoon. There was about a 12-foot deep trench dug with a backhoe and the man was down in it when a bank of dirt slid down onto him. He was trapped from his waist down.

The problem with this area's dirt — or red Georgia clay — is the large amount of sand content in it, making it unstable when it's deeply dug into. Since the trench was near the road, Proctor said the vibration from traffic or a big semitruck could have caused the bank to slide down.

Getting Shawn Michael Marie out wasn't as simple as just reaching down and pulling him out — it's a slow and methodical process, as they were particularly concerned with not wanting to harm the trapped individual, explained Proctor.

The weight of the dirt could easily have broken his legs, Proctor said, as it sheered into him. The compression from the dirt could have brought injuries like those suffered by scuba divers, he added.

Firefighters, who were aided by two Georgia Search and Rescue teams, had to shore up the walls of the trench to protect the man as well as personnel down in it with him. Large, flat wooden planks were used to stabilize the walls. Rescue personnel were able to get down to him and keep him hydrated, while providing him oxygen and pain medication — IVs were being run down to him.

A city public works pump truck was used to suck out dirt from the trench, as rescue workers tried to pull away the dirt from the man's legs.

By around 4:25 p.m. Shawn Michael Marie was pulled from the trench and taken to a waiting FMC ambulance.

Rome BOE OKs work-based learning partnership
• It would allow students to get construction experience.

The Rome Board of Education gave the go-ahead for the school system to develop an MOU — memorandum of understanding — with the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority to finalize a work-based learning partnership.

Tim Williams, the chief operations officer for Rome City Schools, ran over the details of the partnership with the board during its meeting Tuesday evening.

A housing authority building at 704 Avenue B that is mainly used for storage will now have access to it opened up for students in construction pathways.

Superintendent Lou Byars said students can go to the site for real-world work experience and use the facility for furthering their third-year education in their pathway. The third year in pathways is mainly concerned with developing students' actual work experience, he added.

Williams also updated the board on the system's light project with Georgia Power.

The project is being tested out at West End and West Central elementary schools with one classroom in each school having LED lights installed starting next week.

The system doesn't have to commit any up-front capital for the project, which is estimated to result in 50 percent to 80 percent in energy savings. Also, Georgia Power will have a written guarantee that annual savings for both schools after they have been completely outfitted with LED lights will be at least $36,268, Williams said.

LED lights have a longer lifespan before replacements are needed than the current lights and require less maintenance, according to information presented during the meeting.

The total cost of the project is $301,379, but a $39,878 rebate would knock that down to $261,501. Williams said the system has two options, ELOST 4 funds could be used to pay for the lights and the savings could be put into the operating budget, or the savings could be used for the project over a 10-year period.

Coosa River makes the Dirty Dozen list – twice
• The Georgia Water Coalition's annual list highlights policies it says are threatening the state's rivers.

The Coosa River flowing through Rome and Floyd County is listed twice on the Dirty Dozen 2017 report released Tuesday by the Georgia Water Coalition.

The annual list is aimed at highlighting legislative policies and inaction the organization says are compromising the health and safety of the state's waterways.

"This report shows how changing policy in Washington, D.C., is having real pollution impacts in Georgia communities," said Joe Cook, advocacy coordinator for the Coosa River Basin Initiative.

"Couple those changes with continued lackluster funding for state clean water programs, and you have a one-two punch that, if not a knock out, has some of our rivers and lakes on the ropes."

In Floyd County, the effect of Plant Hammond's discharge into the Coosa River spotlights the Trump Administration's decision to review a 2015 rule requiring upgrades to pollution controls at power plants.

An April public hearing on the plant's new permit limits drew about 75 people — including Cherokee County Commission Chair Kirk Day from Alabama. Day voiced concerns about the impact on fish in downstream Weiss Lake, an economic engine for his county.

Georgia Power spokesman Aaron Mitchell said at the time the utility would meet the "much more restrictive" federal limits.

"Now, that cleanup plan to provide relief to the Coosa and Weiss Lake is indefinitely delayed," the coalition's report states.

The Coosa also is listed for chronic low oxygen levels downstream of International Paper, which is still operating on a 1997 discharge permit despite the Clean Water Act's requirement of a review every five years.

A 2004 plan to maintain safe levels for fish in the river and Weiss Lake has been on hold while the Georgia Environmental Protection Division gathered more data and updated a computer model. The coalition blames short-staffing and state budget cuts.

"Adjusted for inflation, Georgia's 2017 revenue was $3.3 billion more than in 2005," the report states. "Yet, this year lawmakers provided EPD with almost 25 percent less than they did in 2005."

International Paper announced last month that it would spend $300,000 to conduct the studies for the EPD to "fact-check" and model. The agreement with the state includes a seven-year window to complete the work and update the plant's pollution controls.

Examples of other issues in the 28-page Dirty Dozen report come from Savannah, Brunswick, Albany, Waynesboro, Milledgeville, Jesup and Albany.

"All Georgians deserve better," said Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper. "We and other Georgia Water Coalition members should not have to file lawsuits to get our state to enforce clean water laws."

The Georgia Water Coalition is a consortium of more than 240 groups.


Today's artwork is by Lourdes Lopez-Romero, a student at Rome Middle School.