House members attack sheriff who criticized Deal

[private]It was a sight almost never seen on the House floor before – legislators, including Speaker David Ralston, attacking a Georgia sheriff.

Their target was Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who leveled vicious criticisms of Gov. Nathan Deal Wednesday over the latest and final chapter in Deal’s efforts to revise the state’s sentencing laws and criminal justice procedures.

“This governor has done more for those who perpetrate crime than Lucifer and his demons combined, and every piece of his criminal justice reform that has been passed into law has complicated or burdened our duties and/or endangered the citizenry of our state.” Sills said in a note to members of the Georgia Sheriffs Association.

“Never, never, in this state’s history has the criminal element been coddled and fostered as it has been over the last 7 years,” Sills said.

For good measure, Sills added: “In the year 2018 it appears we stand alone with our duty to protect the lives, persons, property, health, and morals of the people, as we answer to the people and are not beholding to a tyrant who is apparently hell bent to accomplish the antithesis of our duty.”

After Sills’ criticisms were reported in the media, House members made brief speeches Thursday morning turning the political attacks back on Sills.

“Are you kidding me?” Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) asked derisively.

“It’s an insult to me, and you should be insulted,” said Rep. John Meadows (R-Calhoun), chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, who called Sills’ criticisms “a bunch of crap.”

“Ever who this sheriff was, (he) was totally out of line,” Meadows said. “He ought to be censured.”

“When I read those comments this morning, I got sick to my stomach,” Ralston said. “Disgusting and deplorable. They are wrong and they are an embarrassment to an honorable profession. I hope they will rebuke this kind of sick talk.”

Even Democratic legislators like Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) and Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) took time to indicate they supported the Republican governor on this issue.

It was an amazing sight because sheriffs are among the most powerful local officials in the state and are practically a sacred cow in Georgia politics. Legislators would ordinarily be loath to attack them in public.

Deal’s criminal justice efforts, which have tried to reduce the population of the state’s prison system by providing such alternatives as drug accountability courts and lighter sentences for non-violent offenders, have generally received high marks.

“As a result of our efforts, fewer Georgians were committed to prison last year than any time in the past 15 years, thereby saving millions of taxpayer dollars and keeping families and communities intact,” Deal said in releasing his latest proposals.

“From 2008 to 2016, Georgia experienced simultaneous decreases in overall crime, down 24 percent, and imprisonment rates, down 6 percent,” Deal said. “In 2017, Georgia saw the lowest number of overall prison commitments since 2002, and the lowest number of African-Americans entering the prison system since 1987.

The governor’s bill, SB 407, would allow judges to take a defendant’s ability to pay into consideration when setting bail for misdemeanor offenses – a move away from cash bail requirements in some instances, which some local governments are already doing.

The bill would give judges more flexibility to convert monetary fees or fines into community service, another way to keep low-income defendants out of jail simply because they lack the money to pay a fine.

SB 407 would also impose stricter penalties on firearm-related criminal offenses.

None of those proposals call for opening the doors to the state prison system and releasing hordes of hardened felons to prey on innocent Georgians, but that’s the impression you’d get from reading Sills’ diatribe.

It was so over the top it brought on a reaction you almost never see from legislators – a reaction that I suspect most sheriffs would rather not see.

© 2018 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: criminal justice system , Howard Sills , Nathan Deal