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New Gwinnett Sheriff's Office Trafficking and Child Exploitation Unit makes first arrests

A new unit formed within the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office to tackle human trafficking and child exploitation has made its first two arrests.

The Trafficking and Child Exploitation, or TRACE, Unit — which Sheriff Keybo Taylor established when he took office in January — arrested Lawrenceville resident Junior Demas, 31, and Grayson resident Marcus Gamble, 30, last week.

Gamble was arrested Wednesday while Demas was arrested Thursday.

“TRACE was formed Jan. 1, by Sheriff Keybo Taylor to protect citizens, especially children, from violent criminal offenders and criminal organizations,” Sheriffs Office spokeswoman, Deputy Ashley Castiblanco said. “TRACE has assisted many other agencies in the last four months since its initiation, including assisting in the 2021 Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., with a Human Trafficking operations. These arrests are our first two within our own community.”

WANTED IN GWINNETT: Week of March 29

The TRACE unit was one of two new initiatives — the other being an anti-gang effort — Taylor announced when he took office to replace the Sheriff’s Office Rapid Response Team and its involvement in the controversial 287(g) immigration hold program.

The Sheriff’s Office did not release details of the crimes committed by Demas and Gamble, but it did release the charges both men face.

Demas has been charged with criminal attempt to commit child molestation; seduce, solicit, lure, or entice child to commit illegal act; and obscene internet contact with a child.

Meanwhile, Gamble has been charged with obscene internet contact with a child and two counts of possessing or control any material depicting a minor in sexually explicit.

Demas and Gamble are being held in the Gwinnett County Jail without bond.

Gwinnett Health Department has administered nearly 93,000 COVID-19 vaccines so far

Buford resident Zach Brantley received a choice from his wife last month: he either got the COVID-19 vaccine or he couldn’t play rugby this year.

Brantley, 28, plays for the Gwinnett Lions rugby team. He picked up the sport — which has year-round activities but whose competitive season is in the spring — in October 2019.

He wanted to play the sport again, so when the vaccine or no rugby choice had to be made, Brantley chose rugby — and the vaccine.

“I’ve been out of rugby since last year when COVID kicked and I’ve got a 1-year-old and 6-year-old at home so my wife said ‘You’ve got to put that on hold until you get this shot done,’ “ said Brantley, who received his second vaccine dose at a Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments mass vaccination site at Gwinnett Place Mall on Monday.

Brantley was one of the tens of thousands of people who have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments. The three-county health district is approaching 100,000 doses distributed in Gwinnett County alone.

“I think (the distribution have) been going really, really well,” health department spokesman Chad Wasdin said. “To date, in Gwinnett — or I should say our Gwinnett locations, which largely includes most vaccines having been given at Gwinnett Place (Mall) — we’ve given over 92,000, almost 93,000 vaccines.

“For our district, in total, we’ve given over 120,000 at this point, so we really are encouraged by how the community is embracing the vaccine and seeking it out, so we think everything is going really well at this point.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean all of the people vaccinated by the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments in Gwinnett County are Gwinnettians, however. Georgians are allowed to sign up to get the vaccine anywhere in the state, so some of the people vaccinated in Gwinnett likely live elsewhere in Georgia.

At the same time, the numbers reported by Wasdin only reflect the doses distributed by health department and do not include those administered in the county by other sources, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics or primary care doctors.

The mass vaccination site at the former Sears location at Gwinnett Place Mall was intended to eventually distribute as many as 3,000 vaccine doses a day once there was enough supply to do so. Wasdin said the health department is not far from that total now.

“We haven’t reached all the way up to 3,000, but we are scheduling, I believe, about 2,500 appointments every day,” the health department spokesman said.

Although the former Sears location at Gwinnett Place Mall is the main location where the county’s health department is administering vaccines, Wasdin said it is also partnering with community groups — mainly churches — to provide mobile vaccination efforts.

Any Georgian who is 16 and older is now eligible to get vaccinated, although Wasdin said the Pfizer vaccines is the only one meant to be administered to people under 18.

Statewide, the Georgia Department of Public Health is reporting that 4.19 million vaccine doses had been administered as of Monday afternoon. State health officials have suspended reporting county numbers on its vaccine dashboard, however, because of “ongoing system and data transfer issues that have caused delays in updating the COVID vaccine dashboard every day,” according to DPH’s website.

Gov. Brian Kemp offered optimism in a statement on vaccine distribution on Monday.

“We continue to make steady progress in our vaccine administration here in Georgia,” Kemp said. “The life-saving COVID-19 vaccine is our key back to normal, and with all Georgians ages 16 and over now eligible to receive the shot we are well on our way as we head into spring and summer.

“I continue to ask all Georgians to follow best practices, public health guidance, and most importantly, schedule their vaccine appointment with a local provider or at one of our state-operated sites using MyVaccineGeorgia.com.”

Duluth resident Wiley Graddy, 57, got his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments mass vaccination site at Gwinnett Place Mall on Monday.

He said getting the vaccine was important because of he has younger and older family members who he wanted to protect, and he was glad to have both shots behind him.

“It feels good just to protect my family,” Graddy said. “I’ve got old ones and young ones, so it was not so much for myself, but to protect others.”

Graddy said he is looking forward to getting back to something resembling a pre-COVID life, even if face masks and social distancing may still be required, now that he has received both of his doses of the vaccine.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but the sooner everybody gets it, hopefully we’ll get back to some normalcy,” he said.

And, not surprisingly, Brantley has one activity he is most looking forward to doing now that he has received both doses of the vaccine: rugby.

“Seven more days and I’m back at it so it feels good to be able to re-integrate again,” he said.

Road rage incident leads to shooting in parking lot near Mall of Georgia

Gwinnett County police said a road rage incident led to one man shooting another Monday afternoon in a parking lot in unincorporated Buford near Academy Sports in the Mall of Georgia area.

Police said they received a call just after 1:30 p.m. from a man who told dispatchers he had shot another person in a parking lot near 3730 Buford Drive.

“When officers arrived, they discovered that a male was shot at least one time by the original 911 caller,” Cpl. Collin Flynn said. “That male was transported to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The shooter was also on scene and met with officers.”

Flynn said detectives and crime scene investigators were at the scene and processed evidence and spoke with witnesses. Flynn said there have been no charges filed at this time.

If anyone has any information to share in this case, Gwinnett police are asking them to contact GCPD detectives at 770-513-5300. To remain anonymous, tipsters should contact Crime Stoppers at 404-577-TIPS (8477) or visit www.stopcrimeATL.com.

Crime Stoppers tipsters can receive a cash reward for information leading to an arrest and indictment in this case.

Case Number: 21-026207

Gwinnett school board formally kicks off search to replace Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks

The search to find the next superintendent for Georgia’s largest school system is officially underway.

The Gwinnett County school board formally started its search to replace current Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks on Monday, with a online community input survey going live and the official superintendent search announcement being posted.

Gwinnett County students, parents, teachers, school- and district-level staff members, county residents and local business owners are being asked to participate in the survey between now and May 16, when the search application window ends, to offer feedback for the search.

“Information from the survey will be provided to board members for their use in the selection process,” the district said in an announcement. “The search timeline calls for interviews to be conducted this summer and finalists for the position to be named in July.”

The move comes days after board members approved a job description for the search late last week. That description, which includes an overview of the community as well as a list of qualifications board members are seeking, is included in the search announcement.

The Georgia School Boards Association is conducting the search for GCPS.

The community survey is posted on www.gsba.com and www.gcpsk12.org, according to district officials. A link to the survey will also be sent to parents through the SchoolMessenger system after spring break, which is this week, ends.

Schools are also expected to provide their local communities with information on how people can participate in the survey.

The school board voted last month to terminate Wilbanks’ contract on July 31, 11 months before it was set to expire and board members are, therefore, working under that timeframe to have a new superintendent in place.

A job description for the position states board members prefer to pick someone who has experience and a record of success in a district with similar demographics to GCPS.

Under state law, the school board must announce a finalist, or finalists, at least 14 days prior to a vote being taken to hire someone to fill the position. District officials said as many as three finalists could be announced and an announcement will include information on who they are.

After the two-week waiting period elapses following the announcement of a finalist, or finalists, the board can vote at any time to hire someone for the position.