Additional charges filed in McKinney murder case

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Blue Ridge, Ga. – Additional charges will be faced in the murder of Justin McKinney and the assault of Anna Franklin.

Three of the 4 juvenile suspects charged in connection with the crimes that took place in the early morning hours of Dec. 4, 2018 appeared in Fannin County Superior Court on Monday, Jan. 7 for another first appearance hearing regarding new charges.

Fifteen year old Hunter Hill, 15 year old Dalton Manuel and 16 year old Lakota Cloer were all present with individual legal representation to hear the charges that they will now be facing.

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Murder, 15 Year Old, Blake Dickey, Hunter Hill, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Judge, Brenda Weaver, Public Defender, Clint Hooker, Attorney, David Farnham, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Justin McKinney, Anna Franklin, GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center, Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center, Fannin Regional Hospital, Drugs, Dalton Manuel, Lakota Cloer, Karen Shelley

Accused LaKota Cloer and Dalton Manuel sit with legal representatives as new charges are read.

Fifteen year old Blake Dickey (AKA Blake Dye) was not present as his lawyer, Defense Attorney David Farnham, was out of state and unable to attend. Farnham waived his client’s right to this first appearance.

Originally Cloer’s attorney had filed a motion for the appearance to be a preliminary hearing as well as bond hearing. After discovery of the new charges, however, Cloer’s attorney opted to keep these motions filed but move the hearings to a later date.

Emotions were high in the courtroom as family members of the victims as well as the accused were present. Not present was alleged victim Anna Franklin.

“She (Franklin) was notified of the proceedings,” District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee said explaining the absence of Franklin to the court. “She is not present today. She did decline to appear.”

Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver told those attendance the reasoning for the day’s hearing, ” One of the purposes of a first appearance, of course, is to allow the defendants to know what they are being charged with.”

Weaver then proceeded to read the charges against the teens. In the first warrants served in Fannin County for the year of 2019 all four suspects will be facing the same charges “individually and as a party to the crime”. These charges include:

1. One count of malice murder
2. One count of felony murder
3. One count of aggravated assault
4. One count of aggravated battery

Felony murder entails a murder that is committed during the process of another felony. Having initially been charged with only malice murder, the added charge of felony murder came after charges concerning the aggravated assault and battery of Franklin were added.

Weaver gave detail into the additional charges stating that aggravated assault is “when said accused assaulted Anna Franklin with a deadly weapon” and that aggravated battery is due to the extent of harm Franklin had received “by rendering a member of her body, her left arm, useless.”

Franklin who was shot during the Dec. 4 altercation deflected the bullet by throwing up her arm in a defensive manner. The bullet entered and exited the arm before entering Franklin’s face and becoming lodged in the neck.

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Murder, 15 Year Old, Blake Dickey, Hunter Hill, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Judge, Brenda Weaver, Public Defender, Clint Hooker, Attorney, David Farnham, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Justin McKinney, Anna Franklin, GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center, Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center, Fannin Regional Hospital, Drugs, Dalton Manuel, Lakota Cloer, Karen Shelley

Accused Hunter Hill listens to new charges in McKinney murder case.

In the state of Georgia malice murder means the intent to take a life without legal justification or mitigation. In this case the State does not need to prove a motive in order to obtain a conviction but instead will attempt to show that the person accused deliberately intended to take another person’s life.

Foreshadowing came to the future direction of the trial as Defense Attorney Karen Shelley, representing accused Hunter Hill, objected to media presence in the courtroom.

“I would ask the court to perhaps consider less media coverage because of the delicate nature,” Shelley presented her reason for objection, stating that the accused in this case are all juveniles and that media coverage could prematurely sway public opinion.

Ultimately, Sheley’s request that her client not be photographed or recorded was denied with Weaver stating that the hearing was “open to the public” and the media would not be providing information that was not readily available for anyone in attendance.

“There’s going to be a venue objection when we go to trial on this matter,” Shelley stated of Weaver’s ruling, “if the media is covering this case, which the community is already began to cover.”

The defendants were dismissed with Weaver stating of their rights that all accused “are presumed to be innocent until such time that they are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

A Grand Jury is expected to convene on Feb.18, 2019. The motion for a preliminary hearing and bond hearing could take place before this date.

 

Additional Articles Related to McKinney Murder Trial:

Details emerge surrounding murder case in Fannin County

Fatal Shooting in Fannin County

Two more arrested in McKinney murder case

McKinney murder, what happened that night? FYN Exclusive interview with survivor Anna Franklin

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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McKinney murder, what happened that night? FYN Exclusive interview with survivor Anna Franklin

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Blue Ridge, Ga. – Shortly after midnight, in the early morning hours of Dec. 4 gunshots rang out at a home on Elrod Lane in Morganton, Ga. The shots resulted in the murder of 33 year old Justin McKinney and a critically wounded second victim, Anna Franklin.

Not many facts have been released regarding the McKinney murder case, but 4 juveniles have been arrested and charged with the crime.

Surprise came to Fannin County as the arrests were announced. Fifteen year old Blake Dickey (AKA Blake Dye), 15 year old Hunter Hill, 15 year old Dalton Manuel and 16 year old Lakota Cloer were detained. Citizens were shocked to learn that such crime would come from a group of teens.

Franklin sat down with FetchYourNews to discuss the events that took place that night and to dispel rumors surrounding the possible motive of the boys.

Franklin and McKinney were about to go to bed when the couple heard loud banging coming from their front door. According to Franklin, McKinney answered the door to find Blake Dickey and Hunter Hill asking to come in.

According to Franklin, Dickey and Hill had told the couple that they “had to jump out of someone’s car and run but they didn’t say who or why”.

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Murder, 15 Year Old, 16 Year Old, Blake Dickey, Hunter Hill, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Judge, Brenda Weaver, Public Defender, Clint Hooker, Attorney, David Farnham, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Justin McKinney, Anna Franklin, GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center, Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center, Fannin Regional Hospital, Drugs, Dalton Manuel, Lakota Cloer

Four teens charged in the murder of Justin McKinney (Left – Right): Hunter Hill, Blake Dickey, Lakota Cloer, and Dalton Manuel

“I would have never expected them two to do anything like that,” Franklin said about the boys. “Hunter and Blake always seemed like calm, good kids to me, and it does not make sense.”

Franklin acknowledged that the couple knew Dickey and Hill, and that McKinney had been friends with the boys’ fathers for years.

“All the Hill brothers used to come over and help Justin with his animals. He had a lot of animals and they would help him feed them and clean their cages and everything,” Franklin said recalling the relationship with the Hill family and added about Dickey, “Blake had always been real quiet.”

Once the boys entered the home, Franklin says that their demeanor became calm, not as it had been just moments prior when the boys where found banging on the door.

For the next fifteen minutes the two boys and McKinney spoke. Franklin says she sat on a nearby loveseat but didn’t hear what the three were talking about because she was distracted by her phone.

“There was no argument or nothing,” Franklin spoke of the interaction, “If somebody had raised their voice I would have looked up and payed attention.”

McKinney got up at some point to tend the fire, and that is when Franklin heard the first gun shot. She thought at first it was a loud crackle in the fire, but as the second shot came she quickly realized it was gunfire.

“After the second shot I looked over towards him (McKinney) and he wasn’t where he was,” Franklin continued, “I didn’t know if they were going to shoot at me or not. I just covered my face because I was scared.”

Two more shots were fired at this point, and one of those shots struck Franklin. The bullet went through Franklin’s arm and entered her face, shattering her jaw and lodging in her neck.

Franklin spoke of the bullet that is unable to be removed from her neck, “What they told me when I was at the hospital, it will cause more damage if they do it.” The wound has caused Franklin to lose feeling in the bottom half of her face.

After being shot Franklin said that she heard Hill yell Dickey’s name and the two boys fled.

“I didn’t see who pulled the trigger. I didn’t have time to look,” Franklin didn’t lower her arm until the boys were gone. “I don’t know if they thought I was ok or not, but they aimed at both of our heads.”

After Franklin uncovered her face she says she jumped up and shut the front door and locked it. She then turned her attention to McKinney.

“Then I ran to Justin. His eyes were open but I knew he didn’t see me. I tried to stop the blood with my clothes but couldn’t. It was pooling around my feet,” Franklin became emotional as she spoke of McKinney. “I had to leave him to go call them (911) on the house phone. My mind was not accepting that he was gone.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Murder, 15 Year Old, 16 Year Old, Blake Dickey, Hunter Hill, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Judge, Brenda Weaver, Public Defender, Clint Hooker, Attorney, David Farnham, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Justin McKinney, Anna Franklin, GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center, Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center, Fannin Regional Hospital, Drugs, Dalton Manuel, Lakota Cloer

Anna Franklin with Justin McKinney. Photo via Facebook.

Franklin said that she never saw the other two boys (Cloer and Manuel) that have been charged in the case nor did she see a vehicle at her home.
Rumors have spread surrounding this case regarding a motive that would lead four teens to conspire to murder. Drugs have been a common theme among these rumors. Franklin wanted to set the record straight.

“It’s not what everybody keeps talking about,” Franklin said of the gossip about McKinney, “He smoked pot. He had nothing to do with meth or coke (cocaine) or anything like that. He was very against it. What they’re saying about those drugs aren’t true. He was very against anything that would hurt somebody like that.”

Hearsay has also come about that McKinney sold Hill’s older brother drugs that had an adverse effect on the young man and that the murder was revenge. Franklin said on this speculation, “That’s ridiculous. His brother might have had something, but it was not from Justin.”

Franklin acknowledged that it is possible that the boys had planned on robbing McKinney of his marijuana that night, but says that she didn’t feel like they were there long enough to have taken anything and said of her own speculation of a possible motive, “That’s something I can’t figure out.”

Franklin, who had been with McKinney for the last six years, wants people to know of the man who was murdered, “He was everything to me. He made sure that I was ok. He had a very good heart.”

“What happened will be forever burned in my mind,” Franklin spoke with tear filled eyes as she recounted the events that unfolded in the early morning hours of Dec. 4.

Related Articles:

Details emerge surrounding murder case in Fannin County

Fatal Shooting in Fannin County

Two more arrested in McKinney murder case

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Two more arrested in McKinney murder case

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Blue Ridge, Ga. – Two more arrests were made in connection with the murder of Justin McKinney.

Fifteen year old Dalton Levi Manuel and 16 year old Lakota Ricky Cloer were detained last night. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI):

On Thursday, December 6, 2018, two additional arrests were made in this case. Dalton Levi Manuel, 15, of Morganton, GA was arrested and charged with murder and Lakota Ricky Cloer, 16, of Morganton, GA was charged with party to the crime of murder. Both will be housed in regional youth detention centers.

Still dressed in civilian clothing to pair made their way into a Fannin County courtroom for an initial appearance today.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver presided over the hearing and opened the court by questioning, “Have the families of the alleged victims been notified of today’s hearing?”

“They have not your honor,” District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee replied giving explanation: “We are waiting on information from the investigative agency, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, to get that final contact information.”

Weaver individually read the warrants against the boys charging each with the crime of murder and informed them of their rights.

Cloer, the older of the pair, told the court that his family would be hiring an attorney to represent his case, while Manuel expressed uncertainty and opted for a Public Defender.

Public Defender Clint Hooker was present in the courtroom again today to advise the defendants on their rights. However, there is an ongoing conflict of interest with Hooker’s team defending the boys due to having represented at least one of the alleged victims in the past.

“I have asked the public defenders office to sit and be with you today to make sure that none of your rights are violated,” Judge Weaver explained the presence of the defense team on hand in the courtroom.

Family members of the defendants were present in the courtroom, and the mother of Cloer spoke up about her son before dismissal.

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Murder, 15 Year Old, Blake Dickey, Hunter Hill, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Judge, Brenda Weaver, Public Defender, Clint Hooker, Attorney, David Farnham, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Justin McKinney, Anna Franklin, GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center, Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center, Fannin Regional Hospital, Drugs, Dalton Manuel, Lakota Cloer

(Left to Right) Lakota Ricky Cloer, age 16 and Dalton Levi Manuel, age15, of Morganton, GA was arrested and charged with the murder of Justin McKinney.

“Lakota has had death threats against him, at the Marietta youth detention center, so if we could request him to be sent to a different location,” Cloer’s mother spoke on her son’s behalf and clarified, “From other inmates. They told him that if he came back they were going to kill him.”

Sosebee offered to inform the proper parties of the threats that have been made and allow the detention center to take any action needed.

“He did let them know at the detention center and I don’t know what actions were taken, if any,” Cloer’s mother replied and added, “I just want my son safe.”

Weaver agreed with informing the detention center of the threats, and told Cloer’s mother that the wardens at the facility would be told directly.

“Do you know with the ongoing investigation will there be others who may need a first appearance Monday or Tuesday of next week? Do you know if anyone else might be arrested in this matter?” Judge Weaver questioned Sosebee before adjournment.

District Attorney Sosebee replied that she would not be able to answer that question with the investigation still ongoing.

More charges are expected to come in the case, including those related to a second victim, Anna Franklin, that was also shot in the early morning hours of Dec. 4.

 

Related Articles:

Details emerge surrounding murder case in Fannin County

Fatal shooting in Fannin County

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

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Details emerge surrounding murder case in Fannin County

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Blue Ridge, Ga. – The two defendants recently arrested for the murder of 33 year old Justin McKinney on Tuesday, Dec. 4 made their first appearance in a Fannin County courtroom today.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver presided over this initial hearing to establish representation for the defendants as well as grant permission for two motions being made by Defense Attorney David Farnham.

Arrest warrant for Blake Dickey

Both of the 15 year old defendants made their way into the courtroom shackled and displaying a calm demeanor. Blake Dickey (AKA Blake Dye) had already obtained legal representation through Farnham, but co-defendant Hunter Hill opted for a Public Defender.

Public Defender Clint Hooker was present to represent defendant Hunter Hill.

“I believe our office does have a conflict as we have represented at least one of the victims,” Hooker stated of the ability of his office to represent Hill. Due to this conflict of interest Hooker was only present to answer questions for Hill, but Hill’s Public Defender for future hearings will be assigned at a later date.

The boys sat quietly as Weaver read the charges, and replied with a “yes” only when asked if they understood the charges against them. Currently both juveniles have been charged with felony murder.

According to a press release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), a 911 call came into Fannin County dispatch at approximately 12:50 a.m. the morning of Dec. 4. The caller, 35 year old Anna Franklin, indicated that she and a male victim, McKinney, had been shot.

When Fannin County deputies arrived to a home off of Elrod Lane, McKinney was deceased. Franklin was taken to a hospital with trauma care for treatment.

Sources have told FetchYourNews that McKinney had received a fatal gunshot wound to the head, and that Franklin was also shot at point blank range. She, however, deflected the shot by throwing up her arm in a defensive stance.

According to these sources, the bullet entered and exited the arm before entering Franklin’s face and becoming lodged in the neck.

While both juvenilles have been charged with felony murder relating to the death of McKinney, neither have been charged with the attempted murder of Franklin.

Weaver addressed a consent order that she had received via Dickey’s attorney Farnham : “One of the things that was emailed to me was a consent order signed by you (Farnham) on behalf of your client and Ms. Sosebee on behalf of the state requesting a motion and order for blood test examination.”

Arrest warrant for Hunter Hill

Debate arose as to whether this testing had already been done with Dickey claiming that blood had already been drawn. Through further discussion it was determined that the blood drawn at the Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center was for the purpose of medical screening.

Parties agreed to have the blood testing done on Dickey. District Attorney Alison B. Sosebee explained, “At this point in time the current arrangements would be after the first appearance here there will be a transport of Mr. Dickey, also known as Mr. Dye, back to the Dalton facility. Prior to him being transported to the Dalton facility he will be taken to Fannin Regional Hospital for that blood draw to occur.”

Questions arose for the need of this test since the incident occured several days ago. This led some to speculate that the testing’s purpose is to check for drug use by the defendant.

Drugs have been a common rumor circulating via social media regarding the motive of the young men to commit murder. While there has been no confirmation of drugs directly relating to the crime, it is confirmed that family members of the defendants as well as the alleged victims themselves have a history of run-ins with local law enforcement over drug related charges.

Family members were not present at the hearing today which led to Weaver question counsel: “Were the parents not invited to the hearing this morning?”

Weaver also questioned if family of the alleged victims had been notified of the hearing. With short notice being given prior to this hearing, it was discovered that not all parties had been contacted.

“In the future we really need to notify the parents if we hear anything about hearings,” Weaver spoke to defense and prosecution.

“I just want to put on the record that I was informed that my client was taken from school, handcuffed, and was brought down for interrogation at the sheriff’s department without counsel and without his mother’s knowledge or any custodial parents,” Dickey’s attorney, Farnham, stated before dismissal at the hearing. “I do not want any further interrogation of my client unless counsel is present.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Murder, 15 Year Old, Blake Dickey, Hunter Hill, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Judge, Brenda Weaver, Public Defender, Clint Hooker, Attorney, David Farnham, District Attorney, Alison B. Sosebee, Justin McKinney, Anna Franklin, GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Fannin County Sheriff's Office, Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center, Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center, Fannin Regional Hospital, Drugs

Dickey (Left) and Hill (Right) listen as prosecution and defense discuss future hearings.

This request brought the realization to many in the courtroom that after allegedly committing murder the two young defendants then went to school the next day, carrying on routine as though nothing had happened just hours previously.

Agreement was made that no further interrogation would conducted without counsel present. Weaver added of this decision, “Certainly that will go for both defendants because the court has now provided an attorney for Mr. Hill.”

Bond was not requested for either of the defendants at this initial hearing. Farnham stated that he would like more time to review all of the circumstances surrounding the case, and that due to threats being made on social media that there is a possibility that for, at least his client (Dickey), bond might not be sought at all.

After the hearing today the boys were transported to separate detention facilities. Hill will be transferred to Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center and Dickey will return to Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center.

While both youths are being charged and tried as adults, Georgia state law mandates that they be held in juvenile detention centers until the age of 17.

If convicted of felony murder both Hill and Dickey face a sentence of life in prison. According to Georgia law since the crime has been committed while the defendants were only 15 years of age they are both ineligible for the death penalty.

More charges are expected as GBI continues their investigation, and there is rumor of a possible third suspect being involved in the case. FetchYourNews will bring you the latest as this story unfolds.

 

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

DA Sosebee begins information campaign in schools

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District Attorney Alison Sosebee speaking to GHS students about Vaping and drug use.

ELLIJAY, Ga – The Appalachian Judicial Circuit’s District Attorney, Alison Sosebee, began her campaign today in Fannin Middle School and Gilmer High School with presentations for students about the rising trend of vaping in all forms.

Speaking to the students she shared some of the responses that authorities have begun included harsher penalties for vape devices in general, not to mention the felonies possible with controlled substances. Using drugs in the vape devices like the popular Juul brand devices is only a part of growing concerns as authorities and administrations fear for students who expect non-nicotine flavored water vapor in devices they may find friends with when in reality these devices could contain anything from Heroin to Synthetic Marijuana.

Sosebee also invited Georgia Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Dustin Hamby to speak about the Bureau’s involvement. Hamby noted that almost 90% of his cases tied to drug usage in some way. He goes on to note that he’s had three murders in his career directly related to drug usage.

Sosebee recalled the story of a case she and Hamby shared about a guy who had taken drugs with a close friend. Under the influence, he grew greatly agitated at his friend and violently murdered him without full realization. He spoke further about how little it takes to blow up into major consequences in situations like vaping unknown substances.

Sosebee also noted that they are finding that many students and users of vape devices believe them safer than regular cigarettes. She noted that not only is there zero research to support his claim, but there is also no research or regulations on vaping devices right now. No one can tell you everything that is in Vape Juice, nor if people at smoke shops are adding extra ingredients. She called the students this generations guinea pigs for testing if vaping as they would be the cases that doctors study thirty years from now to determine the actual effects that Vaping can have in both short-term and long-term effects.

Only the first day, Sosebee is expected to travel to Fannin High, Pickens High, and Pickens Middle schools in the next two weeks along with possibly adding Gilmer Middle as well.

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PHS lockdown and what’s next in the Vaping Campaign

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Jasper, Ga – The Pickens County Board of Education hosted a no-threat lockdown today on the campus of Pickens High School.

Parents and citizens saw the Pickens County Sheriff respond to concerns saying:

We currently have a team of deputies and K-9 units participating in a controlled sweep of the Pickens High School campus. While the school is being checked, students are being placed in a non-emergency lockdown status. Students are safe and no threat exists at the school.

When questioned about the lockdown, Pickens County Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson said the K-9 sweep was scheduled for a few weeks ago, but had to be pushed back due to scheduling conflicts with Cherokee County who supplies the K-9 units. As the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office has retired its last K-9 unit for medical reasons, Wilson stated it is a part of the agreement with Cherokee County to utilize theirs.

With the lockdown and sweep completed, Wilson informed FYN that no drugs were located during the sweep today. Though he noted it was not directly related to the rising use of vape devices, Wilson did respond to questions about the trend saying that it is a concern in the school system.

Sweeps like this is a part of the school’s enforcement of its code of conduct as well as state and federal law. Though Wilson said there is more going on behind the scenes in the system’s response to the rising vape concerns and to school security in general, he declined to release details saying, “There is a number of things that we are doing and things that we are working with the Sheriff’s Office, some of that we just can’t publicize at the moment.”

More information on these steps like the K-9 sweeps and other programs the school already has in place over its years in operation can be found at the upcoming Monday, September 24, day of events involving the Office of the Sheriff, the District Attorney, and Pickens School district as they hold a meeting for parents for information and the ‘Chat with the Superintendent’ at Pickens High School at 6 p.m.

Wilson went on to note that the school system is being forced to change the way it views vaping devices. While he notes that it is against the law for underage kids to possess cigarettes and vaping devices and they have enforced the law, he did state that the school system may have, at times, not utilized the most extreme forms of discipline available in every situation involving the use of nicotine. He went on to say, “Now that this added ability of being able to vape just about anything, that brings it to a whole different level.”

As part of the school’s efforts to inform parents and students about the dangers that vapes present with not knowing what is in them, the board is working with the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office. Wilson said, “We may have looked at vaping in the past as more of a replacement for a cigarette, and not as a delivery device for drugs… Going forward, we probably would.”

He added later, “We’re going to have to really start disciplining to the fullest extent that we can, given to us by our Code of Conduct or either by the Law to keep our children safe.”

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“Vaping” incident part of a larger problem

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Ellijay, Ga. – An incident report from the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed reports of a student “blacking out” and suffering seizures after inhaling a substance from a SMOK Vape device.

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

The male student was hospitalized from the incident and later released. The incident, however, did prompt officials to call in K-9 units to search for other drugs. Authorities found two additional SMOK Vapes with one testing positive for containing marijuana. While the

original vape has been tested, no official response is available identifying the substance in the original device.

However, according to the incident report, it was reported that the student was told by a fellow classmate that “there was a vape in the boy’s restroom and he should go smoke some of it.”

With the investigation in Gilmer CID’s (Criminal Investigations Division) hands, no names of the students nor additional information is available.

However, FYN spoke with Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs who confirmed the incident is part of a larger problem facing the schools today. She told FYN that last year, the school system confiscated eight vape devices over the course of the entire year. This year, they have already collected 25 devices since the beginning of school a few weeks ago.

Each instance results in disciplinary action for the student as it is a violation of the code of conduct, according to Downs, but as the rise in using other substances in the devices continues, the charges against students get far more serious as they deal with controlled substances.

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Downs went on to say that she has spoken with other Superintendents to see if Gilmer is alone in the rise of vape usage. Though she declined to name which counties she had spoken with, she did confirm that Gilmer was not alone.

Confirming the rise in popularity of these devices in several counties, the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee made a press release stating, “Within the last week, several teens in Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties have experienced medical emergencies as a result of “vaping,” by use of electronic cigarettes. These medical emergencies necessitated treatment by both EMS and treatment at hospitals.”

Many of the vape devices found being used are very small handheld devices easily concealed within one’s palm or bag, like a purse or book bag, or even in one’s pocket as several designs become thinner and shorter. Downs confirmed they have found Juul brand vapes and last weeks incident report confirmed the males vape was a SMOK brand. Sosebee notes, “Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items.”

As the use of vapes themselves are intended to be used with nicotine for adult smokers, the rising concern is the ability to swap out the common “juice” for homemade cocktails or drugs. Downs confirmed that reports have been made of students crushing Adderall and other things to make the “juice.”

According to Juul’s website, “These alternatives contain nicotine, which has not been shown to cause cancer but can create dependency. We believe that these alternatives are not appropriate for people who do not already smoke.”

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Photo provided by Office of District Attorney, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Sosebee also commented on other substances that have been found in the devices saying, “The liquid that is inhaled, known commonly as “vape juice,” can contain any number of substances: it can contain flavoring; it can contain nicotine; it can also contain drugs and illegal substances such as THC oil, fentanyl and LSD. Of great concern, the user may or may not know what they are inhaling, what their reaction will be to the substances, what they are exposing others to and may erroneously believe that they are simply inhaling “harmless water vapor.” There is nothing harmless about what is occurring.”

Downs went on to say that some parents may have purchased vapes for their kids not knowing that they are swapping out the contents. The feeling was echoed by Sosebee as she called for parents to “be aware of the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.”

With concerns rising from parents, administration, and law enforcement alike, investigations are continuing as programs and events are attempting to educate the community about the devices and their popularity.

Downs said the Gilmer Administration is stepping up efforts in educating and building awareness in their staff about what to look for and also to educate our parents in the community saying, “I feel like there is a real lack of knowledge and lack of understanding among our community in relation to this… This has blown up overnight to the point that I feel like its almost epidemic.”

 

 

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County officials discuss the safety of our local schools

Community, GMFTO

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, returned to class today, Feb. 28, just two short weeks after one of America’s deadliest mass shootings in modern history took place in their halls.

In the wake of this tragedy, which claimed 17 lives, discussion have opened up about school safety and what can be done to prevent situations like this from occurring in the future.

Brian K. Pritchard (BKP), chief executive officer of FetchYourNews and host of Good Morning From The Office morning show, invited local officials from Gilmer and Fannin counties to address the safety of our local school systems.

Georgia, Blue Ridge, Ellijay, Fannin County, Gilmer County, School Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Dr. Shanna Wilkes, Sheriff, Dane Kirby, Stacy Nicholson, School Resource Officer, SRO, Sergeant Greg Dodson, Lieutenant Darvin Couch, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Parkland, Florida, Shooting, School Safety, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

County officials from both Fannin and Gilmer counties met to discuss the safety of our schools.

In opening the discussion, BKP directly asked both Gilmer and Fannin County School superintendents how safe do they feel the schools in our area are.

Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney answered from a personal perspective: “My child is in a Fannin County school this morning.”

“We are always vigilant in watching what’s going on with our students, watching what’s going on on social media,” Gilmer County School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes said, explaining why she too felt the schools in her county were safe, “and staying in constant contact with our law enforcement.”

“What I feel has come out of Parkland (shooting) is a breakdown in the system,” BKP pointed out to the guest panel and questioned how officials have addressed any recent incidents.

Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson replied that his department has had to respond to incidents almost daily for the past two weeks, but clarified that most complaints are not serious.

“The problem is law enforcement can no longer say that’s not serious. We have to take it serious,” Nicholson explained.

Modern times are different according to Nicholson and he stressed, “Pranks are no longer pranks. When it comes to school safety we will investigate and we will prosecute and arrest or send you to juvenile court.”

Many counties in Georgia do not have school resource officers (SRO) assigned to every school in their district. Fortunately, for both Fannin and Gilmer, this is not the case. All schools within each system has its own SRO, and all panel members feel that this is a major element in keeping our schools safe.

Georgia, Blue Ridge, Ellijay, Fannin County, Gilmer County, School Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Dr. Shanna Wilkes, Sheriff, Dane Kirby, Stacy Nicholson, School Resource Officer, SRO, Sergeant Greg Dodson, Lieutenant Darvin Couch, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Parkland, Florida, Shooting, School Safety, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Gilmer County SRO Sgt. Greg Dodson discussed SRO training and duties.

“Are all the SRO officers armed this morning?” BKP directly asked the panel. Both Nicholson and Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby replied that all officers on all campuses were armed.

Gilmer County School Resource Officer Sergeant Greg Dodson explained the duties of an SRO: “A very large part of the job is visual security. It’s patrolling the interior and exterior of the school, checking doors, making sure that they’re locked, trying to monitor who comes and goes.”

“If you see someone at the schools that you don’t recognize, make sure they have a visitor pass, that they’ve gone through the office properly,” Dodson added.

Other duties include checking parking lots, bathrooms, hallways, and interacting and developing relationships with the students.

In Gilmer County, to become an SRO, a deputy must submit a formal letter requesting that position. A panel of the officer’s peers then formally recommends who they feel should be placed in that position. Sheriff Nicholson makes a final decision based on the panel’s recommendations.

Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby confirmed that the process in Fannin County is very similar to Gilmer County and added, “That’s not a job (SRO) that you have just to draw a paycheck. That has to be something that the deputy wants to do.”

“From the very get go, it has to be what that person really wants to do,” Kirby said, explaining that the SROs in place are not only trained but also have a passion for that particular field.

Training for an SRO goes beyond that of a police academy. This training includes a School Resource Officer course, Crisis Intervention Training, Gun Safety, and in-service training such as active shooter scenarios.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee was present to discuss the legal aspects of threats against a school and what her department does in collaboration with law enforcement to combat any potential crimes.

“I just need one referral to start. I need one concerned student. I need one diligent parent. That’s what allows us to be able to initiate the investigation and to assess what we need to do next,” Sosebee described of the process of how her department can become involved.

Georgia, Blue Ridge, Ellijay, Fannin County, Gilmer County, School Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Dr. Shanna Wilkes, Sheriff, Dane Kirby, Stacy Nicholson, School Resource Officer, SRO, Sergeant Greg Dodson, Lieutenant Darvin Couch, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Parkland, Florida, Shooting, School Safety, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby and Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson address law enforcement’s role in providing safety for our schools.

Sosebee said we are fortunate to live in a smaller community where residents feel comfortable speaking up when there is an incident that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Confirming Sosebee’s thoughts on residents willing to tip off authorities, Gilmer County School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes said, “In my experience, when we’ve had a threat that we needed to investigate, I have not gotten it from one person. I get it from 50 people within about an hour.”

“No matter how good you are technologically, there is no substitution for a good tip,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney expressed in similar views.

Both Fannin and Gilmer County school systems continue to take steps to improve safety measures in their schools. Gwatney is looking into extra safety measures using technology. This would include a large network of monitoring devices.

Wilkes is working to renovate Gilmer High School. She would like to implement scan cards for access to doors and is working to restructure the building to create a single point of entry through the front office.

With large campuses and multiple buildings, BKP asked, “Would you look at letting teachers or putting that program into place at your schools to allow weapons in there and how would it work?”

Texas has legislation, School Marshal, to allow teachers to carry weapons on campus, and Florida recently passed similar legislation. Currently in Georgia, there is no statewide legislation on the issue, but rather Georgia allows local school districts to create their own policies regarding this matter.

Gilmer County has looked at sample legislation from other counties in the past, but never voted to enact a policy. Wilkes said that she would favor a policy that would require the individual to qualify with a firearm and that would obligate the individual to attend an annual firearm training course.

Wilkes also would like there to be anonymity in which teachers are armed within the school.

“It would have to be very regulated. It takes the right person, like it takes the right SRO,” Wilkes shared of her stance.

Gwatney was not opposed to the idea but does not want it to negatively affect an educator’s job: “The purpose of a teacher to care for the kids and teach for the kids. We don’t want to create a situation where we force the teacher to try to take on a law enforcement role.”

The panel also expressed frustrations on a system that sometimes works against them in their efforts to keep our children safe.

On a criminal level, Sheriff Nicholson expressed disappointment in a system that seems increasingly unwilling to keep a juvenile in detainment: “It’s getting harder and harder to get someone detained. That’s frustrating.”

Georgia, Blue Ridge, Ellijay, Fannin County, Gilmer County, School Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Dr. Shanna Wilkes, Sheriff, Dane Kirby, Stacy Nicholson, School Resource Officer, SRO, Sergeant Greg Dodson, Lieutenant Darvin Couch, District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee, Parkland, Florida, Shooting, School Safety, Appalachian Judicial Circuit

BKP’s All Star Panel questions officials on a number of issues that the school systems face in regard to safety.

Sosebee confirmed Nicholson’s frustration and explained, “Part of that, the court system with relation to that, is the restrictions that are put on the court system as to when these juveniles can be detained and when they cannot be detained and that is where a lot of the hands tying is coming from, from the court system.”

Just like law enforcement, the school systems feel that there is legislation and policy in place that ties their hands when they witness “red flags”.

BKP pointed out the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has grown since it was first enacted and states that schools being a government agency must accommodate individuals with diagnosed disabilities.

Wilkes acknowledged that the ADA does play a heavy role in how schools can handle disciplinary situations: “In many cases, you’re dealing with students who have a disability such as an emotional behavioral disorder, which falls under special education.”

In such cases, if a student makes a threat or acts in a way that requires disciplinary action, the school must first have a Manifestation Hearing.

In a Manifestation Hearing, a panel is made up of a licensed school psychologist, the student’s special education case manager, a teacher that works directly with the student, an administrator, and the parents or guardians of the child.

The panel determines if the threat or infraction is directly related to the student’s disability. If it is deemed that it is in relation to the disability, then disciplinary action cannot be taken.

If it is deemed that the issue is not related to the child’s disability, then a tribunal is formed to determine what disciplinary actions should be taken.

“If a student has any disability at all,” Wilkes clarified, “even if it’s a learning disability in reading, and let’s say they try to burn down the school, then we have to have a manifestation hearing to see if that learning disability led to them trying to burn down the school.”

Due to this process and the strict rules surrounding juvenile privacy, Wilkes stated if it is related to a disability “our hands are tied as to what we can do.”

The panel agreed that collaboration between departments along with a proactive stance on safety is the best route to take when it comes to the welfare of our counties’ children but felt that changes could be made in legislation that would make providing our schools with this security a much more efficient process.

You can watch BKP’s Good Morning From The Office #AnythingGoes School Safety Special in the video below.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

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