Friday November 27th, 2015 4:01PM

Sheriff: Radio system urgently needed at new courthouse

By Rob Moore Reporter
CLARKESVILLE - Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell says an essential safety element at the new Habersham County Courthouse was somehow omitted during construction.

In a memo to the county commission on Nov.12, Terrell raised concerns that necessary communications-boosting equipment that was included in the planning of the building was not purchased and installed.

Monday night, Terrell addressed those concerns to the commission publicly.

"Somewhere through the process, it got lost," Terrell said. "Where that is I don't know."

Terrell said the equipment is required in order for his officers to make the facility safe for all who use it.

"The world we're living in is not getting any better," Terrell said. "The people we deal with are not getting any better. We have a deputy who the Lord had His hand on her and she's with us today."

Terrell was speaking about Lt. Tonya Elrod, who recently was grabbed and had a gun put to her head by an individual during a traffic stop. Miraculously, the gun didn't fire when the trigger was pulled multiple times and Sgt. Greg Chastain was able to fire shots into the vehicle, with a couple of those striking the individual, who Terrell did not directly name Monday night.

"That individual will be coming to court here next month," Terrell said. "He still makes the statement to Hall County, where he's housed at, that he will kill an officer so we will have to take his life. We also have several other high-profile cases - murder cases, death-penalty cases that are going to be tried in this building."

The multi-floor courthouse currently has courtrooms on three floors, necessitating the movement of inmates from the secure sallyport into holding cells, then to various courtrooms.

Terrell's memo also refers to the detained individual who has attempted to shoot one deputy and has made a statement he will try again.

"With individuals such as this and the threats made to human life, it is imperative we are able to communicate within the courthouse for the safety of all parties involved," the memo states. "Communication between the control room, officers moving inmates, officers in the courtrooms, and the officers at the front desk is imperative for the safety of the public and those working in the courthouse."

While communications are a challenge in court, that's not the most critical point where communications currently don't exist.

"The biggest concern is not really in our courtrooms," Terrell said. "It's the movement of inmates in our secured areas."

Terrell said the secured area is constructed of steel and concrete blocks.

"Those blocks are filled with concrete, so they're solid from floor to ceiling, so there's no signal can get out," Terrell said.

Terrell said he has witnessed communications issues in the facility already.

"Last Wednesday, there were 28 inmates brought to this courthouse for court," Terrell said. "It's challenging at best to move inmates, especially when you have inmates in the basement in a holding cell that have to go to the second floor to the courtroom."

Terrell said everyday functions are a challenge for now, but the problem will be magnified if not fixed soon.

"The biggest thing is those high-profile cases coming," Terrell said.

Commission Chairman Chad Henderson said Finance Director Mike Barden and County Manager Phil Sutton have been working to determine how much money might be left in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 5 that could be used for the almost $70,000 equipment purchase.

"We do have the safety of our people in mind," Henderson said. "Before we make a decision, I'd like to at least have Mike and Phil finish what I asked them to do as they are auditing SPLOST 5 and where the funds are and how the funds have been spent."

Commissioner Ed Nichols voiced hesitancy at waiting too long for the purchase.

"I just wonder how long it will be before we'll know if we've got some money, because this needs to be done - a week or a month or?" Nichols said.

Barden said their audit of SPLOST 5 funds should be completed in one to two weeks.

Commissioner Sonny James echoed Henderson's view.

"I agree with your proposal that we find out how much money we have left and if necessary we can have a called meeting, because this prisoner that we have down in Hall County - I would like to have something done before he comes up here since he's already made that threat, and since we also have a couple of murder cases coming up in the very near future."

James said while he wants to know how much money is available and where it would come from, he wants to see action on the issue within the next two weeks.

Henderson made a motion to table the matter indefinitely, with the anticipation of having a called meeting as soon as possible. That motion passed unanimously.
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