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Riding along with Hall’s handcuff unit

Sheriff’s warrant division a dangerous post

POSTED: September 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Dustin Ray Kendrick is arrested by Hall County Sheriff's Deputy Travis Turner, a warrant officer, on Friday outside of the Hall County jail. Kendrick, who had a warrant out for his arrest, turned himself in at the jail.

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Deputies Travis Turner and Keenan Storey always are out looking for someone.

As warrant officers for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, they spend their workdays riding from place to place, attempting to serve warrants, arresting wanted men and women, and carrying them to jail.

Sometimes they’re easy to find, often they aren’t. Sometimes they hide, sometimes they run. Sometimes, they even fight.

"You have a few that just do not want to go to jail," Storey said.

Turner and Storey are two of the sheriff’s eight warrant officers, who in an average month serve between 400 and 450 arrest warrants. Of the county’s 7,000 outstanding warrants, many are for probation violations, failure to appear in court and other offenses "that could be taken care of quite simply if people would just take the steps to do so," said Sheriff’s Maj. Ramone Gilbert.

Instead, a cat-and-mouse game unfolds, often with street-savvy fugitives staying one step ahead of their pursuers. They’ll switch up addresses, or cars, or go to unusual lengths to hide when the law comes knocking.

"I’ve actually pulled a girl out from under a bathroom sink before," Turner said of one arrest. "You check a lot of places."

He’s found folks lying flat under beds, cowering in closets and buried under a pile of clothes.

"His foot was sticking out," Turner recalled.

He’s even heard of one suspect curled up in a clothes dryer.

"The attic is the worst," he said. "You do not want your head coming up first."

Warrant service is one of the most dangerous and least-heralded jobs in law enforcement. In recent years, several metro Atlanta warrant officers have been killed in the line of duty. The peril, officials say, comes from dealing with people who are about to have their liberty taken away.

"Almost everybody they come into contact with is going to jail," Gilbert said.

Said Sheriff Steve Cronic: "You never know what you’re getting when you knock on that door. It can be a particularly dangerous job."

"It’s always something that’s on your mind at all times," Turner said of the risks. "Safety is the utmost thing, for him and for me. I’m watching him, he’s watching me, to make sure we both get home to our families at night."

"The small things can turn into something really big," Storey said.

On one recent afternoon, Turner and Storey ride up to the far tip of North Hall, to a little road off Chestatee, where they’ve been tipped off that a man wanted for a probation violation is staying.

Storey takes the front door, Turner the back.

At first, they think they may have a runner. But this suspect, who Turner knows on a first-name basis through many encounters, is in bed and doesn’t put up a fight.

He’s led out in handcuffs as his sister and brother-in-law look on disapprovingly.

"Did you call?" he asks them, wondering if they tipped off the law.

"You lucky they got you before I did," his brother-in-law responds.

Back at the Hall County jail, one young man makes it easy for the team by surrendering at the jail. That’s one warrant they can mark off their list and save some gas. As he’s led to the booking area, he asks Turner how long the probation warrant’s been out for him. Meanwhile, Storey stands in the jail’s parking lot, talking with people, working for information.

"A good portion of the job is just talking and communicating," Storey said. "Both Deputy Turner and I worked in the jail before we came to the warrant division. Just from working in the jail, there’s been a few guys I’ve run into on the streets that give me the information I need. You treat people with respect, they’re going to treat you with respect."

Sometimes communication is limited, however. The warrant division has no Spanish-speaking officers, and language problems often arise. Of the county’s 7,000 outstanding warrants (a number whittled down from 10,000 since Cronic took office in 2001), 45 percent are for suspects of Hispanic ethnicity.

One woman who comes to the door with fresh dye in her hair speaks barely any English as her Rottweiler barks at the officers from behind a chain-link fence. Getting the woman to secure the dog costs the officers precious time that could be used for a quick getaway, if their man, wanted on a stalking warrant, is there.

But this stop is, in the major’s words, "a dry hole."

"If you serve six or eight warrants in a day, you’re doing really good," Gilbert said.

In the span of a little more than two hours, the deputies hit four locations and come up with two arrests, counting the surrender at the jail.

A stop off Friendship Road yields no arrest, but results in an encounter with the wanted man’s surprised and distraught wife, who "thought he had taken care of that."

"He can’t go to jail. He can’t go to jail," she said. "Who’s going to feed the babies?"

The reactions Turner sees when he shows up at a doorstep run the gamut.

"Sometimes they’ll say, ‘I was waiting for you to come,’" Turner said. "Others will run out the back door as soon as they see you pull up. It’s just a range of emotions, as you might expect from someone who knows they’re going to jail."

Despite the risks, Turner says he enjoys his job.

"I get to different things," he said. "I enjoy dealing with people, and with this job, I get to deal with the A to Z of the community."



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