Angry family members and friends of Jonathan Sanford call for Sheriff Johnson’s resignation

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Jonathan Sanford

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Some 20-30 family and friends gathered at the roundabout Monday carrying signs and voicing their anger toward Sheriff Jeff Johnson following the death of Jonathan Sanford, 18, who died in the Dawson County Detention Center June 2, less than 24 hours after he was arrested for DUI and possession of marijuana.

Carrying signs that read “Justice for Jonathan?” “Was there a medical check?” “I want answers for my big brother” and “He was only 18. He could have lived.”

Sanford’s older sister, Cheyenne Sanford said, “We’re protesting my brother’s wrongful death. We do not want this to happen to any other family. I hold Sheriff Johnson responsible and every other officer who encountered him that night and did not do anything. This was the first time he had been arrested. It should have been a learning experience for him. Not a death sentence.”

She was particularly angry that Johnson had not personally contacted her family in the nearly two weeks since his arrest.

Sanford’s father Jerry Sanford told Fetch Your News he believes they placed his son in a holding cell and did not check on him even though Dawson County Sheriff’s Office Policy and Procedures requires inmates believed to be under the influence of drugs be “kept under close observation.”

Cheyenne Sanford said her brother’s death has devastated her family. “He leaves behind nephews and neices, little siblings that look up to him. He was their big brother and their hero.”

This is the second time in 14 months that an inmate died in the detention center. On April 10, 2019, 57-year-old Joseph Michael Bishop was found dead in his cell.

The incident is under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The body was sent to the GBI Crime Lab and cause of death has not been confirmed.

Fetch Your News tried to reach Sheriff Johnson for his comment but he did not return our call.

Jonathan Sanford Jonathan Sanford


  1. Keith Holloway June 15, 2020 at 8:05 pm

    Why is this one sided with no words from the sheriff or department?? Dam media is the problem

    • Bill Johnson June 15, 2020 at 9:04 pm

      Thank you for reading Fetch Your News Keith. Nothing one-sided about the article. The sheriff was offered an opportunity to comment and he chose not to.

      • Stephanie Jackson June 15, 2020 at 9:25 pm

        You do realize that an open investigation has limited details that can be shared by the department, right? What comments do you want from the Sheriff? They have posted several statements that could have been incorporated into this story.

        It would also be pertinent to list that the death of Joseph Michael Bishop was a suicide. The way you have worded it purposely makes it seem as if mysterious deaths are a trend in this jail, which is not the case. This death is currently a mystery while the cause of death is being determined.

        Also, you may want to re-edit. “Cheyenne Sanford said her brother’s death has devastated.” Devastated what? Her? Her family? The community?

        • Bill Johnson June 16, 2020 at 6:26 am

          Thank you for your comment, Stephanie. The sheriff was given an opportunity to comment and he chose not do do so. More importantly, he could have contacted the family to offer his condolences. Both Sanford and Bishop died in the sheriff’s jail. Certainly in Mr.Sanford’s case, the death was preventable if a health watch had been conducted. It was not. All reports are that by the time they found his body, rigor mortis had set in. As Cheyenne Sanford said, this was the 18-year-old’s first arrest. “It should have been a learning experience. Not a death sentence.”

          • Stephanie Jackson June 16, 2020 at 10:33 pm

            It would have possibly been preventable. We don’t know what the cause of death was. Since we don’t know what he died from, it is your opinion that it was preventable. Watches may have been done. It is the opinion of some that they were not. I highly doubt those details have been released (especially since another news source has reported those details can not be released during an open investigation) or that the family has seen them so I’m curious where that information is coming from. Even if they were done, timing would play a key factor in those watches. Once a heart stops, the brain can typically only survive for about 6 minutes. Even if checks were completed every 45 minutes as some claim they should, what are the chances that his heart would stop 6 minutes or less from the next check? Sometimes medical issues are simply not able to be recovered from. Did that happen here? We don’t know. Hopefully we will know soon.

            Could the Sheriff have reached out to them? Yes. Should he have? I don’t know. The family was on social media almost immediately attacking the sheriff and all who were on duty that night. Typically people are told not to speak to people who may sue you in the future as so many are screaming for on social media, including family members.

            Your newspaper writes a lot of opinions as fact. It happened in an election article with a “Heisman Moment.” That was your opinion, not a fact. Was his Heisman Moment fact checked or just reported as gospel truth? I have nothing against this individual, I don’t know him. Do I believe an Army Ranger was in a room with foreign diplomats? Absolutely. Do I believe he was the one working on policy with them? Not really. Maybe he was, but I didn’t think that was typically within their duties. However, your article created bias, just as this one does. Unless your articles are titled as opinions, then they should stick strictly to the facts. This is why so many are upset about media fanning flames rather than reporting factual news. Let people create their own opinions. That is responsible journalism.

            No matter what, I am extremely sorry for this family’s loss. Eighteen is way too young and I am deeply sorry for the passing of their loved one. I hope they have answers soon that set their hearts at peace. I also hope that change will come to attempt to stop this from happening again. This is a good chance for change for a 24-hour nurse on duty at the facility. If the county cannot approve the finances for this, maybe all persons going into the facility under the suspicion of drugs or alcohol can be checked out and cleared by EMS before entering a holding cell. I’m sure the DCSO would all appreciate this as well as they are not trained medical professionals. Maybe once we have answers the community can come together and push for this and provide safety for all.

  2. Craig Warren June 15, 2020 at 8:32 pm

    I hope this story is continued to be followed and the crime lab cause of death reported.
    It is a failure and total derelict of duty of the sheriff to have not contacted the family personally with condolences for the death understanding there is an ongoing investigation is not an excuse.

    • Bill Johnson June 15, 2020 at 9:06 pm

      Thank you for reading Fetch Your News, Craig. We will continue to follow the story. I agree with you most sheriff’s would have called the family to express their condolences.

  3. Stephanie Jackson June 15, 2020 at 10:07 pm

    Why was my comment deleted? Everything in it was factual.

    • Bill Johnson June 16, 2020 at 6:12 am

      Stephanie, I am not aware of any comment being deleted. Fetch Your News does not delete readers’ comments intentionally. Please try to repost it.

      • Karen Fedder June 16, 2020 at 10:29 pm

        I can’t believe the sheriff did not contact the family to express his condolences. The fact that it is an open investigation does not preclude him from having compassion over a family’s loss. I attended the funeral because I knew a family member. It was very apparent that Jonathan was a very special young man. 7 of his friends stood together holding each other up and it was both beautiful and devastating at the same time. They all obviously shared a very special bond that had been effected with the loss of their good friend. It’s not too late for the sheriff to do the right thing and reach out to the family.

      • Stephanie Jackson June 16, 2020 at 10:37 pm

        I posted my initial comment above at 9:25pm. It showed up on the page under comments (with refreshing the page multiple times) until around 10:00pm and then it disappeared which is why posted again. The comment directly above yours asking why my comments were deleted were on the page for about 10 minutes and then it disappeared as well. I check back until around 1am and it was not on this page. I didn’t check until just a bit ago and saw they were back up. I’m glad to see you are not censoring comments that question, ask for clarification, and provide a different viewpoint.

    • Peggy June 16, 2020 at 7:47 am

      Stephanie, Bill always deletes posts that call him out for his bias. Even in his posts, he said 20 to 30 people and there is about 8 in the photo. Bill Johnson is a POS.

      • Bill Johnson April 8, 2021 at 2:42 pm

        Peggy, thank you for reading Fetch Your News. Sorry but you’re wrong. I NEVER delete a post.

    • Peggy June 16, 2020 at 7:51 am

      Stephanie, see Bill already deleted my post. But, he is all for freedom of speech. LOL, HE is the joke of North GA!

  4. Nancy Loner June 16, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Thank you Bill Johnson for covering this story. Jonathons family and friends are absolutely devastated. They just want answers as anyone would in this situation. So I ask, why Sheriff Johnson when a young man dies under your watch in your jail, you don’t even have the moral sense of humanity to offer condolences?
    When something this senseless happens in your house, you man up and make the call. It’s what a human being with morals do.
    There is no question that protocols were not followed with this young man when he was arrested and placed in that holding cell and he lost his life because of that.
    The Dawson County Sheriffs Department failed in their duties that night.

    • Bill Johnson June 16, 2020 at 6:09 am

      Thank you, Nancy for reading Fetch Your News. We will continue to follow this story Hopefully the GBI will issue a report that we can publish. My prayers are with Jonathan Sanford’s family and friends.

    • Peggy June 16, 2020 at 7:50 am

      How do you know whether calls were made or not? and besides, the kid OD. They didnt make him get hooked on drugs.

  5. Carol June 16, 2020 at 10:22 pm

    My heart goes out to this family I have been so saddened by this boy death . my son was also arrested the same day this families son was arrested buy Dawson county. That could have been my son. These officers do not care about these people there they arrest all they care about is how many arrests Dawson county should have notified the parents as soon as he was arrested and before they even put him into a cell being that it was only his first ever being arrested. at least to let them know hey we have your son we’re taking him to Dawson county jail. They just put him in a cell and forgot about him Commander standing the boy had taken fentanyl is from what I heard I do not know that to be true but if they even thought that he was on any type of drugs they should have kept a watch on him a 24-hour watch and notify the parents they need to be held responsible for their actions because we would be held responsible for our actions and under arrest. Like I said it was my son was arrested that same night and it was a week later before I was able to get him out of jail it could have been my son or anyone son.

  6. Jubal Early June 18, 2020 at 9:26 am

    Sheriffs are held directly responsible to the citizens of their counties. Negligence is always a possibility when dealing with government entities. Citizen Scrutiny is Essential to keep a free society, and the Press has a vital role to play in that scrutiny.
    Having said that personal responsibility can keep people out of jail, many 18 yr olds never get locked up, and some are lucky enough to not get caught too.
    Life is Not Fair, but human decency requires that we all do our best to seek the Truth and Justice.

    IMO, the Sheriff owed the family a personal visit upon learning of the death of their loved one in His Custody.

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