Ride-alongs with his older brother Tommy Shiflett were all that it took to convince Bill Shiflett to make policing his life's work.
"I'm blessed to have had a brother who took me under his wings and taught me everything I know," retiring Floyd County Police Chief Bill Shiflett said. The chief was honored with a retirement reception at the Joint Law Enforcement Center on Saturday.
Shiflett is retiring in mid-December after more than 43 years on the force, most of the last 14 years as chief.
The chief started on June 14, 1974.
"I found a home and never wanted to leave," he said. He worked in the uniform division for about two years and then transferred to a newly formed drug unit.
Then it was back and forth between investigations and crimes against children, but nearly half of his career was spent in investigations related to narcotics.
Maj. Tom Ewing said Shiflett always tried to do what was best for his staff. "He's always tried to keep this department as a family," Ewing said.
One of Shiflett's most vivid memories is a drug case that involved wire taps that were dialed in on a suspect in Rome who was dealing with Colombian cocaine cartel smugglers.
"They were setting up shipments out of Colombia by boat that came into Mexico and then across the border," Shiflett said. "We made eight or 10 arrests on that one and seized $375,000, and close to a million dollars worth of property."
The drug money that was seized in that case provided the funds to start the original 911 program in Rome and Floyd County.
Several other cases stood out to Shiflett over the years, including the Isaac Dawkins murder case. Dawkins, 20, was shot and killed while driving on U.S. 27 on Jan. 11, 2000, near Georgia Highlands College. The chief said he became very close with the victim's family over the course of that investigation, which ultimately resulted in an arrest and life sentence for the convicted killer.
Another case that sticks out in his mind all these years later involves the murder of two children. A child was molested by his stepfather after the biological father had already been sent to jail for molesting the children.
"I really got close to that family, too close for my own good," Shiflett said. After the children's father got out of prison, their mother called to say he had threatened to kill the children.
"By the time we got the lookout out we found the kids up in Chattooga County where he had drowned the kids, then dressed them and put them back in bed. That's something I'll never forget," Shiflett said.
As his career evolved, Shiflett's emotions ultimately hardened.
"There is so much hurt and pain you have to harden up a little bit," Shiflett said. His compassion was not lost on his fellow officers. Maj. Jeff Jones told a large crowd at a retirement reception Saturday that every case is different, but they all had one thing in common as it relates to Shiflett.
"That was his desire and caring attitude for the victims," Jones said.
In a sense, that has played a lot into his decision to retire. "This whole world has changed so much. The meanness that we face now, the meanness that people do to other people, it's just time for me to go. I'm glad I'm getting out right now."
The chief said he always tried to involve himself in major cases.
"It's so challenging, it's so much fun," Shiflett said. It was perhaps appropriate that the current RICO case involving thefts from Floyd County Schools would put the wraps on his career.
"It's one of the most indepth investigations I've seen in 43 years," said Shiflett. "Maj. Jeff Jones had the knack to see the bigger picture and followed it through. It's amazing all the work he did, and then to recover about $4.3 million from the investigation, he just did outstanding work."
"It's been a lot of fun. I've never minded going to work one day in my life," the chief said.
A lot of golf and time with his four grandchildren are the most immediate objectives for Shiflett's future. His whole family was present for the reception at the joint law enforcement center Saturday.
Floyd County Manager Jamie McCord said he has already started the process of selecting a successor and has already conducted a number of interviews. McCord said he hopes to be in a position to make a recommendation to the County Commission before the end of the year.
There were no highflying Snoopy or Charlie Brown balloons, and the sidewalks weren't teeming with people. But the Lindale Christmas Parade had exactly what it was supposed to, family and tradition.
Tim Reynolds, president of Restoration Lindale Inc., said these two things are exactly what his town is all about. And any parade to happen here should be no different.
"Just the Southern charm," is what makes this parade special, Reynolds said.
Classic cars, tractors pulling wagons, off-road vehicles and, of course, the historic Lindale fire truck with Santa along for the ride, made up the parade, which celebrated its fourth year Saturday. There were about 50 floats, cars or groups in the parade this year, said Reynolds, who drove the old fire truck down Park Avenue.
And to clarify some parade-goers' questions as to why Karl Peacock only wore a white robe and a black aviator hat, along with tall dark socks and dress shoes, the parade had its own re-creation of Cousin Eddie from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." The outfit was expertly completed with a thick cigar hanging out of his mouth.
Bill Whittington had called out to his family that Peacock was playing Lindale's mayor — Peacock stopped to clear the air about his portrayal.
For Whittington, who moved to Rome a few years ago, the community feel was his biggest takeaway from this first-time experience. It was the warm reception he felt from those passing by in cars or on floats, within feet from him, quickly saying "Merry Christmas," that he called refreshing.
Following the parade, attendees headed over for the rest of the Christmas in Lindale 2017 events, happening outside the Gilbreath Recreation Center.
Food and crafts vendors had booths set up, and church groups were giving away free hot chocolate.
The Garrett family found a table under a pavilion to wait for the lighting of the Lindale star between the stacks of the old mill later on. Joshua Garrett, a young parade watcher, said it was the candy and coffee he enjoys best about the holiday events, loving to get wired on sugar and caffeine before making it home.
Everyone knows everyone, Reynolds said. And regardless of if they've never left or are back for the once-a-year trip home, he said there is still that shared connection between all.
Though the Lindale parade may not have all the wow-factors of its big-city counterparts in New York or Chicago, it did have 70-degree weather.
Harley Gambrell's son Hayden is 13, stocky and very strong. He's also autistic, and the Floyd County businessman doesn't always know when a "bad moment" will come.
"We have situations when we go into a store and I have to restrain him," Gambrell said. "He may think it's funny to knock over a rack or, if he's having a bad day, he might bite or scratch me."
Hayden is "functioning," his father says, although his doctor has classified his case as severe. His son is a good boy, Gambrell said, but his bad moments are bad.
"He bangs his head on the wall, bites his fingertips, hits concrete walls. ... I've been with him, fortunately, but some parents are desperate," Gambrell said.
Autism is among the six conditions the Georgia General Assembly cleared this year for treatment with medical marijuana. As of September, 109 autistics had been issued cards that allow them to have up to 20 fluid ounces of low-THC cannabis oil, according to Donna Moore, director of the Georgia Public Health Vital Records Department that oversees the program.
Hayden's doctor has registered him and Gambrell has the card. But the treatment remains untested because it's still illegal to buy or sell low THC oil in Georgia.
"Also, you're not allowed to bring it over the state line," Gambrell said. "The whole thing is pointless. We don't have any options unless we break the law."
That's one of the "challenges" noted by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who chairs the Medical Cannabis Working Group. Members, including Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, met last week to review the situation before the legislature convenes in January.
"Once people get the card, I hear, 'What do I do now, where do I get this oil?' ... That continues to be a challenge, that we don't provide access," Peake said.
It's also an issue at schools, for students who need to take the oil several times a day but find zero-tolerance policies ban it from campus, he said. And Moore — in her testimony to the committee Tuesday — said some people have removed themselves from the registry because their employers have warned them they'll be fired if they fail a drug test.
"We were silent about that on the law when we wrote it, on purpose," Peake said. "But we will have to address it."
The General Assembly approved use of the oil in 2015 to treat eight conditions. With this year's additions, the list covers 14 conditions plus patients in hospice care. The oil, which does not get people high, must be in a prescription container listing the percentage of THC on the label.
Moore said that, as of September, there were 453 physicians registered to request cards for their patients. They are certified through the Georgia Composite Medical Board and must submit semi-annual reports tracking their patients' progress.
"Any doctor can enter into the database ... so the patients' existing doctor, who they already have a relationship with, can enter them into the registry," she said.
Caregivers also can get cards — a little over 2,700 have them — and there were 2,682 patients enrolled.
Moore said 55 percent of the patients are treating seizures or end-stage cancer with the oil. Another 25 percent have severe or end-stage multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathy or Crohn's disease.
Other conditions approved for the treatment are severe or end-stage amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson's disease, sickle cell disease, Tourette's syndrome, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, Alzheimer's disease and AIDS.
Forty percent of the patients on the registry are ages 50 and older, with another 31 percent in the range of 25 to 49 years old.
"So most of these are adults, which is a little surprising," Moore said. "We had expected more children."
Gambrell may have an answer for that. He said he's been contacted with offers of illegal oil and he's sure others have too. Some may be buying it, he said, but many parents turn it down.
"No way would we do it," Gambrell said. "It's not regulated. Would it kill my son? But there are people who are desperate."
What's frustrating is that, in many cases, the drug works.
Moore shared some stories from grateful patients and physicians whom, she said, don't have too many people to talk about the treatment with other than her registry team members.
"The patients who are carrying these cards are just so touched. ... It brings back appetite. It brings back quality of life. It brings back the lack of nausea," she said.
But there's more than anecdotal evidence, according to Dr. David Bradford, the chair in public policy at the University of Georgia. Bradford told the working group about some of the latest research findings.
"The results are really quite remarkable," he said.
Just this January, Bradford said, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report saying there is conclusive evidence that medical cannabis is effective in treating nausea and spasticity.
"Conclusive evidence is a technical term; it means it's very compelling," he said. "And there's moderate evidence it's effective for sleep disorders and various sorts of pain."
The report follows an examination of more than 10,000 research papers.
Bradford said 29 states and Washington, D.C., now have laws recognizing the benefits of "whole-plant," botanical cannabis and Georgia is among several others allowing variations such as low-THC oil.
"It's no longer just a coastal, northeastern phenomenon. It is widely accepted around the country," he said.
Still, the underlying problem is that the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, a category reserved for substances that have no medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Gambrell says he doesn't care about the politics of the issue, he just wants a change in Georgia.
"We're talking about the oil, not about people smoking pot," he said. "As a controlled substance available from a licensed pharmacist, there could be substantial tax revenue, too.
"Maybe there's a down side," he added, "but I'm just not seeing it. But I'm living with Hayden every day."
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