Officials said the event was about celebrating the start of Keybo Taylor's history-making tenure as sheriff. Taylor is one of eight African-American sheriffs currently serving in metro Atlanta counties.
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After a COVID-19-related delay, Gwinnett's first Black sheriff gets to hold swearing in ceremony
Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor had a simple message for young people as he was sworn in at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center on Saturday: the past, with whatever setbacks lie there, is not a barrier to the future.
Taylor, who has made history as the first African-American to be elected sheriff of Gwinnett County, talked about growing up in one of Lawrenceville’s poorer neighborhoods. He grew up to serve in the county’s police department and became its first Black major and the first African-American leader of the department’s narcotics unit.
The sheriff, who admitted he is not without his flaws, also talked about the criticisms of him that he faced on the campaign trail last year, whether it be over his finances, how much name recognition he had or other items.
But, Taylor said that anyone who wants to make history has to let go of whatever limitations they believe they have because of issues or struggles in their past.
“Failure builds character, but we must also understand that failure is not final and that it should never control or foretell the vigor or your enthusiasm for success,” Taylor said. “Your failure will leave scars and those are your badge of courage. You can hide it or you can proudly display it, but your scars are not the sum of who you are.
“Our life stories are not without suffering, troubles and antagonists. Some of us want a fairy tale, ‘Once upon a time,’ ‘the end.’ I charge you to show me a story with an epic challenge and I guarantee you a story with an epic ending.”
Taylor’s swearing in ceremony was original supposed to take place in December, but it was postponed until this weekend after he tested positive for COVID-19 right before Christmas.
The event on Saturday was about celebrating the start of Taylor’s history-making tenure as sheriff. Taylor is one of eight African-American sheriffs currently serving in metro Atlanta counties.
While Taylor told attendees he was honored to make history as Gwinnett’s first Black sheriff, and the county’s 45th sheriff overall, he also pledged to be inclusive of the county’s entire community.
In addition to Taylor being the first Black sheriff in Gwinnett’s history, the sheriff’s office also now has its first LGTBQ section commander, as well as its first Hispanic assistant chief and first Black assistant chiefs and its first Black chief deputy.
“When we see diversity within the law enforcement community at the top of the chain, it gives us hope for tomorrow,” Taylor said. “Don’t you know that when we lock up a son or a daughter, we lock up the mother, the father, the family. Now, my words and my comments here now is by no means a pass to let criminals run free.
“But the words are, however, a torch which shines a light on what we have accomplished towards serving all of the members of our community. Everybody in Gwinnett County, whether you’re Black, whether you’re brown, whether you’re white, I’m here to be the sheriff of everybody here in Gwinnett County.”
After the swearing in ceremony, Taylor said there are several areas he would like to tackle in the future to deal with various issues, where it be educational programs or addressing mental health issues.
“We have a large platform of areas that we’re talking about, but I want to see here real soon where we’re starting to roll out more, talking about more educational projects that are coming out, more projects that are working with our mentally ill, more things as far as how we partner with the school system (to help) our kids,” Taylor said.
He kicked off his tenure as the county’s top law enforcement official on Jan. 1 by disbanding the county jail’s embattled Rapid Response Team and terminating the office’s participation in the controversial 287(g) detention program on his first day in office.
Under the 287(g) program, the office detained non-U.S. citizens who had been arrested on other crimes until they could be turned over to federal immigration officials for possible deportation. It had long been the source of controversy, with supporters, including former Sheriff Butch Conway, claiming it made Gwinnett safer while opponents claimed the people being detained were more often than arrested on non-violent offenses, such as traffic issues.
Taylor replaced the 287(g) program and the Rapid Response Team with new initiatives aimed at tackling gang activity and human trafficking, two issues that he said in earlier January were priorities he heard people on the campaign trail say they wanted to see addressed.
“As sheriff of Gwinnett County, Georgia, my concrete vision is to protect, preserve and defend our highest ideals of our community and safety,” Taylor said. “When a mentally ill inmate is released ... I’ll use the resources of this office to make sure that this person gets what they need.
“When a drug-addicted daughter who has been in and out of trouble for 10 years loses her only sister while she’s incarcerated in our jail and her father reaches out for help, I’ll use the influence of the office to grant that father a visit so that he can come in and break that news to his daughter in person.”
And, in the end, Taylor kept coming back to his point there are no limits to what a person can do if they do not let their past define their future.
“You just know that if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, get your education, get your training, you don’t let them put those limitations on you,” the sheriff said after the ceremony. “Those are limitations that someone else put on you, but you don’t put limitations on yourself, and once you get past that, then the sky’s the limit.”
Gwinnett Solicitor General Brian Whiteside pledges to sue state if omnibus House election reform bill become law
Throwing down the gauntlet. Drawing a line in a sand. Putting the Georgia General Assembly on notice.
Regardless of how one describes it, the underlying message that came out of Solicitor General Brian Whiteside’s office on Friday afternoon is that he will fight the state of Georgia in court if a controversial omnibus elections reform bill, House Bill 531, pending in the Georgia House of Representatives becomes law.
- By Beau Evans Capitol Beat News Service
The latest version bill posted on the General Assembly’s website would, among other things, require voters to provide a copy of their identification when applying for an absentee ballot, limits absentee ballot drop boxes to being inside advance voting locations during the advance voting period and forcing local elections officials to chose between one Sunday or a second Saturday for advance voting.
“If Georgia H.B. 531 passes and is signed into law, the Gwinnett County Solicitor General’s Office is prepared to take legal action against the state of Georgia,” Whiteside said in a statement. “H.B. 531 poses an undue burden upon the citizens of Gwinnett County during a global pandemic by removing absentee ballot drop boxes and removing Sunday early voting.”
If the bill becomes law, it would roll back some of the expansions of voting options that have gradually been implemented in Gwinnett over the course of several recent elections cycles. Counties would have to provide at least one drop box, but they would not be allowed to provide more than one for every 200,000 registered voters.
In November 2020, Gwinnett had 23 absentee ballot drop boxes and 19 days of advance voting at nine sites. Under the changes proposed in HB 531, the county — which is on the cusp of crossing the 600,000 registered voters threshold — would likely be limited to about three drop boxes and no more than 17 days of advance voting.
Those drop boxes would only be available during the hours when the site is open for advance voting, and would no longer be available after the advance voting period ends, which is the Friday before election day.
The bill originally sought to ban Sunday voting all together, but was modified when it passed out of a House special elections committee to limit counties to no more than two weekend days of advance voting. One of those days would be the one Saturday voting day already required by state law.
Local elections registrars would have the option of choosing either the third Saturday before the election, or the third Sunday before the election for the other weekend voting day.
“The ramifications of H.B. 531 may increase the chance of possible civil disturbance and create a burden for local law enforcement and Gwinnett County Board of Registrations and Elections,” Whiteside said. “The Gwinnett County Solicitor-General’s Office has a duty to protect the rights and safety of the citizens from any possible violent protests and unconstitutional actions.”
Gwinnett police arrest 70-year-old suspect accused of killing man in parking lot off Riverside Parkway
Gwinnett County homicide detectives have arrested a 70-year-old Lawrenceville man who is accused of killing another man who was found dead in a parking lot off Riverside Parkway in unincorporated Lawrenceville Thursday.
Police said Stanley Elliot, 70, is accused of killing Anthony Collins, 44. Elliot faces felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during a felony charges. He was arrested at his home on Friday.
“The motive for this murder is still unknown,” Cpl. Collin Flynn said. “Elliot is being held at the Gwinnett County Jail.”
Officers were called to the scene after someone spotted Collins lying in a parking lot in the 1500 block of Riverside Parkway. When they got to the scene, officers found the deceased man lying next to a vehicle.
“While canvassing the area for information, detectives were able to obtain video of a person of interest,” Flynn said.
Flynn added that Elliott is known to walk around the area where Collins was killed and carry “a pole, stick, or other object.”
As investigators handled the scene, the Medical Examiner arrived and discovered the victim had a gunshot wound, police said. The Homicide Unit responded to investigative the incident and Crime Scene Unit is processing the scene.
Anyone recognizes the suspect is encouraged to call either 911 or the Gwinnett County Police Non-Emergency Phone Line to report any information they have.
Anyone who has information about the case is asked to call detectives at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477. They can also visit www.stopcrimeATL.com. There is a cash reward offered by Crime Stoppers for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.
Tipsters should reference case No. 21-014998.
SPLC criticizes GCPS' minority student discipline practices after court overturns expulsion for off-campus incident
The Southern Poverty Law Center is criticizing the way Gwinnett County Public Schools handles minority students after a Gwinnett County Superior Court judge overturned the district’s expulsion of a 14-year-old student over an incident that happened at his home.
The SPLC said it represented the student, who it did not identify, in an appeal of the district’s decision to permanently expel him. The organization said the expulsion had been based on a 2019 misdemeanor charge in juvenile court for an off-campus incident, and that the charge in question was later dismissed. The SPLC filed its appeal of the expulsion in Superior Court last August.
“Spending millions of taxpayer dollars each year to prop up the school-to-prison pipeline, GCPS conducts thousands of disciplinary hearings each year where students rarely have legal representation and are often suspended and expelled in violation of Georgia law,” SPLC Attorney Clarie Sherburne said. “This practice is ineffective, costly, and disproportionately impacts Black students and other students of color. As it did in this case, GCPS has historically taken the position that it possesses unlimited authority to discipline students for behavior at home. We are grateful that the Court rejected the district’s unlawful position which causes serious harm to students.”
SPLC officials said the court reversed the district’s decision regarding the student and ordered GCPS to re-enroll the pupil and expunge the disciplinary action from his student records. They also said the court ruled the district had limited authority to punish students for incidents that do not occur on school property and violated Georgia law by expelling the student over an incident that happened at his home.
The issue of whether GCPS disciplines minority students at a disproportionately higher rate than White students has been a topic of discussion and debate for years, with critics arguing that data proves it is happening. It is one of the topics at the center of ongoing discussions on equity in the school system.
GCPS spokeswoman Sloan Roach denied the allegations made by the SPLC of discrimination by district officials.
“As a school district, we have confidence in our discipline code, in our training, and in how discipline is carried out in our schools,” Roach said. “That said, our district does not condone disproportionate and disparate discipline practices.
“From reviewing the disciplinary code to the work we do to ensure educational equity for all students, GCPS is intent on gathering feedback and seeking to make improvements in the area of discipline to ensure we are providing safe and orderly schools for all students and that all discipline matters are conducted in a fair and equitable manner.”
Roach said the student at the center of the case was an eighth-grader at the time of the incident that prompted the district to expel him. The incident, she said, began as a verbal argument between the eighth-grader and another student as they were getting off their school bus at their bus stop.
“The (eighth-grade) student went into the house and returned outside with a gun,” Roach said. “The other student’s family contacted the police who investigated and charged the eighth-grader with simple assault. Had the student been an adult this behavior could have resulted in a felony charge.”
The SPLC said the court also ruled that any GCPS policy that tried to assert disciplinary authority that exceeded what state law allows is “invalid and unenforceable.”
But, Roach said state education officials have given school districts leeway in the past to handle serious incidents.
“Historically, the State Board of Education has found that local boards of education were within their discretion pursuant to OCGA 20-2-751.5c if the student’s misconduct would have been a felony if committed by an adult which is why the district took the action it did,” she said.
“Gwinnett County Public Schools takes the safety of its students very seriously and is expected to take appropriate disciplinary action when a student brings a gun into a dispute with another student. Furthermore, the school district has a responsibility to ensure that students feel safe not just while they are at school but also as they travel to and from school. In terms of disciplinary action, the student brandished a gun in front of another student and was charged with violating Rules 6C (for having a handgun) and 1DC (Disorderly Conduct) of the Student Behavior Code.”
Officials from the SPLC said this was the fourth time that a GCPS disciplinary decision has been overturned in the last year after the anti-discrimination organization challenged the decision.
The group cited another case from December, where a student — which the group only refers to as “E.G.” to protect her identity — was suspended and accused of terroristic threats because she allegedly did not report that another student had a kitchen knife in their backpack. The SPLC said the student who was suspended was not accused of either having a weapon herself or posing any threat to the school, but was facing a disciplinary hearing where she faced permanent expulsion.
The SPLC said it was retained to represent the student a day before the hearing and the district declined its request to postpone the hearing so it could have time to review records, prepare its defense of the student and prepare to call witnesses that the organization said it was allowed to call under state law. The SPLC accused the district of violating the student due process rights by denying the request to postpone the hearing. The hearing tribunal decided the student had engaged in terroristic acts, but allowed her to return to school the next day.
The district later administratively dismissed the disciplinary charges against the student and remove them from her academic record after the SPLC filed a notice of appeal, the organization said.
The SPLC did not say what the other two cases involved.
“These and other cases brought by the SPLC shine a light on the ugly reality of GCPS’ disciplinary system,” SPLC Attorney Clarie Sherburne said. “The district carelessly kicks Black students and other students of color out of school without regard for a fair process, their education or the long-term impact on their lives. Parents and students have been demanding changes in GCPS for more than a decade. Standing with our community partners, we urge the school district to end these harmful and discriminatory practices, and to reinvest funds spent on these practices on supports that ensure all students in the district can thrive.”
Georgia school teachers to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine starting March 8
Teachers, school staff and certain other vulnerable groups in Georgia will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting on March 8, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday.
Vaccines will be available for pre-K and K-12 school teachers and staff, Kemp said. Georgia adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as the parents of children who have complex medical conditions, will also be eligible on March 8.
Kemp traced his decision to expand vaccines to teachers on encouraging signs of increasing vaccine production from the Biden administration and the new Johnson & Johnson-brand vaccine that won high safety marks from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week.
“Today, we will be taking another step to protect the most vulnerable and get Georgia back to normal,” Kemp said at a news conference Thursday.
Professors and staff at Georgia colleges and universities will not be on the March 8 list of newly eligible vaccine recipients since they are “dealing with an older population” of adult students who have more options to avoid infection than teachers of younger students in grades pre-K through 12, Kemp said.
The governor stressed he wants all Georgia public schools to return for in-person classes before year’s end as teachers are vaccinated, saying online classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic have dampened students’ education progress for too long.
“Virtual schooling is leaving too many children behind and parents at their wits’ end,” Kemp said. “We must have students back in the classroom, five days a week.”
The upcoming vaccine expansion for teachers drew praise from State School Superintendent Richard Woods, who called it a critical step in returning Georgia kids to in-person schooling.
“This is an important step in ensuring all Georgia students have access to in-person instruction and ensuring the safety of students, staff and families,” Woods said. “It has been an incredibly challenging year for educators and families alike, but I believe we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Teachers and other soon-eligible groups will join health-care workers, nursing home residents and staff, first responders and Georgians ages 65 and older who have qualified for the vaccine for several weeks.
Kemp noted Georgia has doled out nearly 1.9 million vaccines so far, including to more than 800,000 people ages 65 and older who have received at least one of the needed two doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Newly eligible teachers and other Georgians clambering for the vaccine could still face headaches in scheduling appointments for their shots given the state’s limited allotment, Kemp said. Currently, state officials are receiving 198,000 doses a week from the federal government.
“We will continue to see more demand than supply,” Kemp said.
If all goes well with the March 8 rollout to teachers, Kemp said he will move to expand vaccine eligibility again in late March to additional groups that tend to be more vulnerable to contracting the virus.
Local school administrators will be largely left to their own to decide how teachers and staff should receive their shots, including whether to host vaccines on-campus at their schools, Kemp said.
State officials are also working with hospitals and health clinics to decide which parents with children who have complex medical conditions will receive the vaccine, said Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey.
“We are doing that in conjunction with providers who care for those children,” Toomey said on Thursday.
Officials stressed Georgians should go ahead and pre-register now for a vaccine appointment on the state’s sign-up website, even if they are not yet eligible. The website, https://myvaccinegeorgia.com/, will automatically alert people once they’re eligible and will schedule an appointment.
Roughly 812,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia as of Thursday afternoon, with nearly 185,000 more reported positive antigen tests indicating likely positive results. The virus has killed 14,989 Georgians.
Gwinnett police looking for man accused of stealing more than $60,000 from car at The Forum in Peachtree Corners
Gwinnett police are on the lookout for a man who is accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from a car parked at The Forum shopping center in Peachtree Corners earlier this month.
Cpl. Collin Flynn said Geovorris Rowland allegedly stole more that $60,000 from the car on Feb. 4. Rowland is accused of following the car’s owner, identified only as a business owner, from a bank in Doraville — where they had taken out a large withdrawal — to The Forum, which is located at 3930 Jones Bridge Road. After the victim pulled into a parking space and parked the vehicle, they put the money under their seat and left the car.
A white Ford F-150 truck was then seen pulling up next to the victim’s car, and a male exited the truck.
“A witness in the area saw the male looking into the victim’s car and decided to film what was happening because it looked suspicious,” Flynn said. “After the witness started filming, the male smashed the glass of the victim’s car window. The male suspect reached in the car and quickly stole the money and fled in the F-150.
“Detectives were able to use the video of the incident to identify the F-150 and Rowland as one of the people involved in this theft.”
Rowland is wanted on an Entering Auto with Intent to Commit a Theft warrant. His whereabouts are unknown at this time and police are trying to identify a second person who was seen in the truck in the surveillance video.
Anyone who has information on Rowland’s whereabouts is asked to call detectives at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477. They can also visit www.stopcrimeATL.com. There is a cash reward offers by Crime Stoppers for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.
Gwinnett police looking for man accused of stealing car, $3,000 drum set from auto repair shop on Buford Highway
Gwinnett County police are looking for a man who allegedly stole a car from an auto repair shop on Buford Highway earlier this month.
Cpl. Collin Flynn said video surveillance shows the unidentified man walking around the parking lot at RPM Auto Care on Feb. 11 before he allegedly got into the car and drove it away. The shop is located at 6704 Buford Highway in the Peachtree Corners and Norcross area.
“The employees of the store were not able to stop the male before he fled the area,” Flynn said. “The male was wearing blue or black jacket with a distinctive gray stripe down the side. Investigators are releasing a photo of the male in hopes that someone can identify who he is.”
The police report lists the stolen vehicle as being a gray Chevrolet Tahoe and it had a black Pearl drum set worth $3,000 inside it. The report also lists the vehicle as having a Lou Sobh Automotive Great Atlanta tag on its front bumper and damage above its passenger side headlight.
Anyone who has information about the theft or the man’s identity is asked to call detectives at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477. They can also visit www.stopcrimeATL.com. Crime Stoppers does offer a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest and indictment. Tipsters should reference case No. 21-011146.
GCPS: 61% of educators who work in schools interested in COVID vaccine opportunity
If Gwinnett County Public Schools offered an opportunity for its roughly 25,000 employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine from public health officials, more than 60% of the educators who are in schools and deal directly with students said they would take advantage of it, according to a district survey.
The school system began making plans to survey its employees about their interest in getting the COVID-19 vaccine shortly after it started to be shipped to Georgia in December. Because of the phased roll out of the vaccine, educators who are under 65 cannot get vaccinated until Georgia reaches phase 1B of the rollout.
The state, which has had trouble having enough vaccine doses available to meet the high demand in metro Atlanta, is still in phase 1A at this time.
“This data has been updated to reflect any employee who has since (the initial survey data was collected) received a vaccination (65-plus in age) or any other employee who has since then indicated they no longer have a need for the vaccination through this opportunity,” GCPS spokeswoman Sloan Roach said.
The results showed 61% of teachers, media specialists, counselors and local school technology coordinators in the district said they would be interested in getting vaccinated through an opportunity coordinated by the school system and the health department.
The percentage of people interested in getting vaccinated drops, however, when it is broadened to include other employees who may have less contact with students.
In all, Roach said 52% of the district’s employees said they would take advantage of an opportunity to get vaccinated by the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments if it was available. This group includes full-time and part-time employees, as well as people in the district’s substitute teacher pool.
As of Monday, GCPS reported a total of 882 active COVID-19 cases in the county’s schools, including 121 positive cases, 104 suspected cases and 657 close contacts. There were a total of 15 active cases at the district’s office, including five positive cases, one suspected case and nine close contacts.
The numbers include 236 new cases reported between Friday and Monday. These numbers include 42 staff members and 194 students.
Federal judge places U.S. Capitol riot participant from Buford on home detention
A Buford man accused of participating in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol has been placed on home detention by a federal judge.
Verden Andrew Nalley, 49, was arrested last week on charges of obstruction of an official proceeding, violent entry or disorderly conduct and entering a restricted building or grounds. He was released on $10,000 bond on Friday.
Nalley was indicted along with Americus-area attorney William McCall Calhoun Jr., who faces the same charges.
“On or about Jan. 6, 2021, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the defendants, William McCall Calhoun Jr. and Verden Andrew Nalley, attempted to, and did, corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, and did conspire to do so; that is, Calhoun and Nalley forcibly entered and remained in the Capitol to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote,” the indictment against Calhoun and Nalley states.
The order federal Magistrate Judge Christopher Blye issued Friday to allow Nalley to leave jail stipulates he can only leave his residence for work; education; church services; medical, substance abuse of mental health treatment; attorney visits; court appearances; any court-ordered obligation; and activities that must be approved in advanced by the court’s pre-trail services office or supervising officer.
The order says his residence is an address that belongs to his girlfriend.
He must also be placed under GPS monitoring, surrender his passport, submit his weekly schedule to his probation officer by no later than the Friday of the preceding week and have no contact with Calhoun.
The court said Nalley is allowed to travel to Washington D.C. for court appearances and related activities. He is not allowed to drink “excessively” or use illegal narcotics or other controlled substances unless they are prescribed by a doctor, and must undergo testing for prohibited substances.
He is also not allowed to have a firearm or other type of weapon in his home, vehicle or place of employment.
Police: Johns Creek man had more than 20,000 images of suspected child pornography
A Johns Creek man faces child pornography charges after authorities said he was in possession of more than 20,000 images on multiple devices.
According to the Johns Creek Police Department, Joe Ayers, 63, was arrested Feb. 24 and charged with possession of child pornography after the JCPD Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force executed a search warrant at Ayers’ home.
Investigators said they located 21,000 images suspected of containing child pornography on devices belonging to Ayers.
Johns Creek police officials said their department was assisted by the GBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Ayers was taken to the Fulton County Jail.
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