Originally created 06/29/02

Evidence delays sheriff's removal



Permanently removing suspended Effingham County Sheriff Jay Space from office could take three months, county officials said.

District Attorney Joe Martin has not decided whether he will seek Sheriff Space's removal, because he has received less than half of the evidence collected by a three-member committee whose investigation led to Sheriff Space's suspension by Gov. Roy Barnes.

"The investigation is complete, but the report is not," said Mr. Martin, the district attorney for the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, which includes Effingham. "It would be premature for me to say anything right now because I don't have all the evidence.

"I drove all the way to Canton (Tuesday) - that's a 500-mile round trip - and they didn't have it all ready," Mr. Martin said. "Once I get everything from Canton, that is only about half of the evidence.

"I can tell you that what has been given to me so far is voluminous," he said.

Prompted by requests from the Georgia Sheriffs' Association and Effingham County Commissioners, Mr. Barnes on June 5 appointed Attorney General Thurbert Baker, Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison and Tift County Sheriff Gary Vowell to investigate Sheriff Space.

The 40-year-old Sheriff Space was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year, and county officials say the disease and medication have made the sheriff incapable of performing his duties.

During a trip to the area, the investigators recorded interviews with 17 individuals about Sheriff Space's behavior. Based largely on those interviews, the committee recommended his suspension. The governor responded with an executive order suspending Sheriff Space for 60 days effective June 18.

Sheriff Garrison said he and Sheriff Vowell split up the tapes, which are currently being transcribed.

"We spent 10 hours a day conducting interviews for three days," Sheriff Garrison said Thursday.

He said he hopes to have the transcripts delivered to Mr. Martin in about 10 days.