Former Dawson County jailer is behind bars

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – One day after Fetch Your News published an article alleging that a former Dawson County Sheriff’s Office detention officer carried on a romantic relationship with a female prisoner, Luciano Pablo Betancourt was arrested and charged with violation of his oath of office.

Betancourt, who resigned in lieu of termination on Aug. 14, has been placed in the same Dawson County Detention Center where he once guarded prisoners. He could face up to five years behind bars.

In an exclusive interview with Fetch Your News, April Finnegan, 31, said last week that during her incarceration in the detention center, Betancourt “kissed her, put his hand inside her shirt and asked her to send him nude photos of herself.”

Finnegan, who was serving a three-month sentence on probation violation and drug possession was released on July 3. She said she did not report the incident because she had become attracted to the guard.

“I’m not trying to get him into trouble, even now,” she told Fetch Your News. “Everybody in my dorm could tell. Everybody knew what was going on. One of the girls in my dorm even asked him jokingly, ‘Hey Betancourt can you two get married while she’s incarcerated.’”

Georgia law doesn’t take into account whether sex acts between a prison guard and an inmate are consensual, because guards have inherent authority over prisoners. Congress in 2003 passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which calls for corrections systems to have a zero-tolerance policy on prison rape.

Sheriff Jeff Johnson told the local newspaper Tuesday that Betancourt’s arrest follows an internal affairs investigation. But Finnegan said she was never questioned by anyone from internal affairs.

According to his personnel file, Betancourt received a written reprimand in July 2017 for another policy violation. The policy states: “Employees shall not fraternize with or engage the personal services of any person in custody; shall not become socially or emotionally involved with prisoners; shall not borrow money or any type of property; or shall not lend money or any property to any person in custody.”

The reprimand states, “Officer Betancourt had spent time with 2 females in (cell) E-4 every shift he had worked between the dates of June 29 and July15. Betancourt would stop and spend two minutes talking with the 2 females, had the females out cleaning the showers in their whites (shirt and underwear) and remained in the pod while they were off camera in the shower. Betancourt remained at the table nearest the shower where he had full visual contact with the inmates. Thus far, there has been no allegation made by the inmates and Betancourt expresses he does understand the potential for accusations from these behaviors.”

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

 

 

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Dawson County Jr. High student charged with making terroristic threats

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Dr. Damon Gibbs

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – An unidentified 15-year-old student at Dawson County Junior High School was taken into custody Friday (Aug. 10) morning, charged with making terroristic threats and one count of transmitting a public alarm.

Dawson County School System Superintendent Dr. Damon Gibbs said via email today the threat was reported Thursday afternoon and the student was immediately removed from the school

Following an investigation by the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office the student was arrested.

Gibbs issued the following statement, “The Dawson County School System takes all threats seriously and, as always, the safety of our students is our top priority. I want to thank Sheriff (Jeff) Johnson and his staff for acting quickly and handling the situation professionally. The school system will deal with the student per the Code of Conduct to ensure the ongoing safety of our student body.”

Fetch Your News will have more information as this story develops.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

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Dawson County to hold departmental budget hearings next two weeks

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – A process that often goes unnoticed by the public, but which plays a key role in how tax dollars get spent will play out over the next two weeks when Dawson County’s department heads appear before the Board of Commissioners to request funding for their departments.

The hearings begin Monday and will be held Monday through Thursday for the next two weeks in the Dawson County Administration Building starting at 9 a.m.

The process can be tedious and, at times contentious, as department heads defend their requests and commissioners attempt to ensure the county provides the services citizens pay for at a price they can afford. Every dollar is questioned and must be justified to survive the process.

The first to come under Board of Commissioners’ scrutiny Monday will be the Superior and Drug Court, followed at half-hour to 45-minute intervals by Tax Commissioner, Development Authority and Finance.

On Tuesday,  commissioners will hear budget requests from the Public Defender, Elections Superintendent, Extension Service, Probate Judge and Public Works/Transfer Station.

Magistrate Court, Family Connection, Good Shepherd Clinic and Sheriff’s Office will bring their spending plans to commissioners on Wednesday.

The Sheriff’s Office budget is expected to get very close scrutiny. Sheriff Jeff Johnson sued the county last year when commissioners approved a $900,000 increase in the previous year’s budget. But Johnson maintained it wasn’t enough so he went to court.

The sheriff lost the lawsuit and the good will of the commissioners in the process. Commissioners believe the sheriff wastes too much money by not utilizing the county’s Purchasing Department more and by not submitting purchases to a competitive bidding process.

Week one closes out with budget requests from the coroner, facilities department, IT, clerk of court/board of equalization, and county manager/county government.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Commissioners approve 52-acre senior-living campus-style development

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — A major mixed-use, senior-living campus-style development at Hwy. 400 and Castleberry Road moved one step closer to reality Thursday when the Dawson County Board of Commissioners agreed to amend the existing zoning of the 52.42-acre site from Commercial Planned Comprehensive Development.

The request was made by Richmond Honan Development and Acquisitions, LLC. The county Planning Commission recommended approval.

Plans for the development include 130,000 square feet of medical/office space, 31,500 square feet of retail, 141,000 square feet of assisted living space and 70,000 square feet for a 128-room hotel. Stipulations approved by commissioners include a maximum of 200 independent living units, 40 loft dwelling units above the retail space and 60 senior-living duplexes.

County commissioners approved a request by the Sheriff’s Office for two additional school resource officers (SRO) and additional funding for off-duty officers to handle traffic control at the schools for July 1 through Dec. 31.

The board also granted Sheriff Jeff Johnson’s request for a permit to hold a 51-mile motorcycle ride for Relay for Live April 14 from 9 a.m. until noon. The event will begin and end at Dawsonville’s Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

Following a public hearing, the board voted 4-0 to approve a draft Capital Improvements Element as part of the county’s consideration of an impact fee program.

Under new business, the board also approved:

⦁ A request to upgrade a part-time clerk position in the Magistrate Court to full time;

⦁ An increase in pay for a clerk in the Magistrate Court who has achieved Georgia Information Crime Center Certification;

⦁ An annual salary increase of $5,000 for the county attorney;

⦁ The purchase of emergency medical supplies for Emergency Services;

⦁ Ratification of FY 2018 Homeland Security Grant Program application in the amount of $14,400 with no county match required;

⦁ Writing off old debt for ambulance service deemed uncollectable;

⦁ The appointment of Jo Ann Overstreet Hause to the Tax Assessor Board; and

⦁ The appointment of George Lyons, Bob Speight and Judy Baer to the Tree Preservation Committee. Commissioners took no action on five requests from residents of Gold Creek to be annexed into the city of Dawsonville.

Chairman Billy Thurmond read a proclamation declaring April National Donate Life Month that was adopted unanimously by the board. LifeLink is Georgia’s non-profit organ and tissue recovery organization. More than 5,000 people in Georgia are awaiting a transplant. One donor can save 75 lives. Each day, 22 people die because an organ does not become available. To sign up for organ or tissue donation, visit www.donatelifegeorgia.org.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

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Commissioners to vote on beefed up school security

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CUMMING, Ga. — The shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that killed 17 students and faculty, followed by threats of violence at schools in Dawson, Hall, Gwinnett, White and other Georgia counties this year, has heightened awareness that more needs to be done to protect schools and school children in Dawson County.

The Dawson County Commissioners will consider a request to beef up the county’s school resource officer (SRO) staff during Thursday’s meeting. In order to better utilize the current SRO staff, Sheriff Jeff Johnson has requested funds to provide off-duty payment to cover the costs associated with traffic direction responsibilities.

Currently, the SROs must vacate their primary duties of securing schools to handle traffic direction and control. Johnson says staffing levels do not allow for this function to be handled by the Patrol Component.

School Superintendent Dr. Damon Gibbs has indicated that the Board of Education will support two additional SRO positions as well as share the cost of traffic control. Johnson believes three positions are needed to allow for each school to have an assigned SRO as well as provide a level of relief for officer’s absences due to illness, family emergencies, court subpoena, etc.

Commissioners also will hear a request by Richmond Honan Development and Acquisitions, LLC to amend an existing Commercial Planned Comprehensive Development (CPCD) on 52.42 acres to allow for a mixed-use senior living campus-style development.

Commissioners also will consider:

⦁ Amendments to the 2017 Capital Improvement Element;

⦁ A Sheriff’s Office application for a parade permit for a motorcycle Ride for Relay for Life;

⦁ A request to upgrade the Magistrate Court clerk’s position from part-time to full-time;

⦁ A request to increase the salary for a Magistrate Court clerk who has received Georgia Information Crime Center certification;

⦁ A request to purchase emergency medical supplies for Emergency Management Services;

⦁ A request to apply for the FY 2018 Homeland Security Grant Program for Emergency Services K-9 Search and Rescue Team;

⦁ A request to write off old debts for ambulance billing;

⦁ Board appointments to the Tax Assessors Board and Tree Preservation Committee; and

⦁ Annexation requests by residents of the Gold Creek subdivision.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

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Sheriff asks county to reallocate $397,318.58 remaining in his 2017 budget to 2018

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson has asked the Board of Commissioners to reallocate $397,318.58 that was left unspent in his 2017 budget to his 2018 budget. County policy dictates that an overage in any departmental budget must be returned to the General Fund.

Johnson sent an email to the Board of Commissioners Tuesday which states: “Lately, there has been much discussion about excessive funds remaining in the S.O. (Sheriff’s Office) 2017 Budget. It has been asserted that these funds may have been applied to a CAD System or other needs. I ask you to simply reallocate those remaining funds to this 2018 budget. Although I cannot say with all certainty that this amount would completely cover the cost of a new CAD System, I believe it would. Remaining funds could be applied to other needs such as SWAT equipment, etc.”

FetchYourNews (FYN) obtained a copy of that email via an open records request. Johnson himself confirms what FYN reported last week: “That he could have purchased the CAD system and had money left over.”

County officials have repeatedly recommended that he allow the county Finance Department and Purchasing Department to assist him. It is a free resource that, to this point, the sheriff has declined to utilize.

Several county officials have questioned whether Johnson knew he had money left in the 2017 budget.

County Manager David Headley said, “We are at a loss to understand why he would not address more of his needs if he did know. It could have been used. He could have used it to fund whatever he wanted. He could have gotten the CAD system and the SWAT equipment.”

Several sources who were present when Johnson addressed a Leadership Dawson class recently said when he was asked how much money remained in his budget his answer was: about $100,000.

On the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, Johnson advises, “Always consider the source” in reference to a recent FetchYourNews article. That is excellent advice.

The source of the following information is Johnson himself. The sheriff has claimed that a significant population increase has led to an increase in law enforcement activity. However, he provided a report to the county recently that contradicts that claim.

His report shows a decline in citations, traffic stops and arrests over a 10-year period, and more importantly, during his first year in office.

Between 2007 and 2017, citations declined from 2,323 to 914. Traffic stops dropped from 9,254 to 4,473 and arrests declined from 2,273 to 1,494.

Looking only at Johnson’s first year in office, citations dropped significantly from 1,727 in 2016, to 914 last year. Arrests fell from 1,665 to 1,494. Only traffic stops showed an increase from 4,170 in 2016 to 4,473 last year.

Johnson’s claim that the county population has increased significantly, likewise, is not accurate. In rejecting the sheriff’s lawsuit against the county, Senior Superior Court Judge Fred A. Bishop said research shows that Dawson County’s population has only increased by an average of 1 percent per year for the last 10 years.

The first quarter of 2018 will end soon. Hopefully, it is the year in which the sheriff and Board of Commissioners can work out his differences for the sake of all county taxpayers.

 

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Commissioners will consider additional school resource officer funding

News

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Increased safety for schools and school children will be on the agenda when the Dawson County Board of Commissioners meets in a Thursday work session starting at 4 p.m.

Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson is expected to request additional funding for three additional school resource officers (SROs). Currently, SROs also must vacate their primary responsibilities to handle traffic direction responsibilities. Johnson says current staffing levels do not allow for this function to be the patrol component.

School Superintendent Dr. Damon Gibbs indicated at a recent school safety meeting, the Board of Education will support two additional SRO positions and share the cost of traffic control.

Johnson will also seek a parade permit to allow for its first Sheriff’s Office Ride for Relay event to benefit Relay for Life. If approved, the 51-motorcycle ride event will be held on Saturday, April 14, from 9 a.m. until noon. It would begin and end at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

Planning and Development Director Jason Streetman will provide the annul amended update to the 2017 Capital Improvements Element as part of the county’s consideration of an impact fee program.

Commissioners will also consider:

⦁ An upgrade of the part-time Magistrate Court clerk position to full-time;

⦁ A salary increase request for the Magistrate Court clerk earning Georgia Information Crime Center Certification;

⦁ A presentation of fiscal year 2018 Homeland Security Grant Program Application for Emergency Services’ K9 Search & Rescue Team;

⦁ A presentation of a resolution for Senior Center 2018 Community Development Block Grant;

⦁ A presentation of a request to write off an old debt for ambulance billing;

⦁ A presentation of a proposed revised alcohol ordinance; and

⦁ Nominations for appointment to the Tax Assessors board and Tree Preservation committee.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

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Sheriff had nearly $400,000 left in his 2017 budget when he sued the Board of Commissioners

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Sheriff Jeff Johnson

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Dawson County officials say they do not understand why Sheriff Jeff Johnson sued the Board of Commissioners for a bigger slice of the 2018 budget when he had nearly $400,000 left in the 2017 budget he failed to spend.

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said, “He actually had about $500,000 left in the budget while we were going through the court hearing. But he reimbursed his staff for accrued leave that was left unpaid at the end of 2016.”

Johnson sued the county in Superior Court, claiming the Board of Commissioners abused their discretion by not providing enough funding for him to adequately perform his responsibilities as sheriff in 2018.

Senior Superior Court Judge Fred A. Bishop ruled in favor of the county, stating, “(Commissioners) exercised their discretion in a reasonable fashion. They have honored their obligation to do so giving all due consideration to the needs of the sheriff and to the entire fiscal picture of Dawson County and its citizens, of which the sheriff’s duties are a key part – but not the only part.”

Commissioner Chris Gaines

An end-of-year financial report obtained from Finance Director Vickie Neikirk Friday showed Johnson had $397,319.58 remaining on Dec. 31. That is more than enough to pay for the new computer aided dispatch (CAD) system the sheriff wanted and to pay his staff for their accrued leave time, which went unpaid for nearly two years. Under the county’s financial protocol, that money must not be returned to the county’s General Fund.

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines is one commissioner who said the lawsuit – which cost taxpayers about $20,000 in legal fees – made no sense.

Gaines said he does not know if Johnson was aware he had close to $400,000 left in his 2017 budget. However, he questioned why the sheriff needed more money when he did not spend the money he had.

“My goal is for each department to know what their budget is and use it to provide the best service to citizens they can,” he said.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

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