Former Oglethorpe County sheriff cleared in assault

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LEXINGTON - An Oglethorpe County grand jury declined to indict the county's former longtime sheriff on charges he and his son-in-law beat a man with a baseball bat at his daughter's home in Comer.

Although grand jurors who met Thursday did not indict former Sheriff William "Ray" Sanders on an aggravated assault charge, they did charge his son-in-law with assaulting the Lexington man in the home of Sanders' daughter on May 15.

Steven Bryant "Winkie" Hill, 39, attacked Steven Justin Griffith Sr. with his fist, not a bat as Griffith had claimed to deputies, according to the indictment.

"I'm just glad we had a good grand jury in there, and they saw fit to read through the lines," Sanders said Tuesday.

"I didn't see no cause for me to be arrested in the first place, and if I hadn't been a political sheriff for such a long time, probably nothing would have come of it," he said.

Hill and his wife, Dale Sanders, had been going through a rough patch and lived separately for a week or so before Hill and Ray Sanders found Griffith visiting the woman. His son-in-law was mad because he thought Griffith and Griffith's son might have been there to sell drugs, Ray Sanders said.

"A man's got a right to protect his house, ain't he?" the former sheriff said. "We knew she was getting (drugs) from somewhere, and she didn't have any money."

Griffith told deputies he thought Hill and Dale Sanders were divorced, and that he and his son went to her home after she sent text messages asking him to come over, according to a deputy's report.

Griffith told deputies that when Hill and Ray Sanders showed up, the former sheriff urged his son-in-law to kill him, but his daughter said Sanders actually broke up the fight.

Griffith's son drove him to Athens Regional Medical Center, where doctors treated him for a concussion, a broken nose and other facial injuries, according to the deputy's report. Someone at the hospital reported the assault to authorities the next afternoon.

Ray Sanders, 71, ended his term as Oglethorpe County's sheriff in 2000 after he chose not to run for re-election for the post he held for 16 years.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation looked into the assault allegation because the current sheriff, Mike Smith, had served as a deputy under Sanders.

Authorities never accused Sanders of physically striking Griffith, but under state law, someone who urges or helps another to commit a crime can be charged with that same crime.

Dale Sanders and her husband since have left Comer, Ray Sanders said.

"They moved off and settled down, and we're just waiting for Winkie's time in court," he said.


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