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Sheriff addresses civil rights group’s list of criminal justice reform concerns
Gerald Couch 2019
Sheriff Gerald Couch - photo by Scott Rogers

In a letter to the Newtown Florist Club and Hall County at large, Sheriff Gerald Couch said his department is “is not here to be a part of the problem but to be a part of the solution” concerning community relations with law enforcement and potential reform. 

Couch, who could not attend the club’s open-air conversation Thursday, July 2, due to a prior commitment, provided responses to the club’s policy concerns. He recently spoke with The Times on his plans for his third term as sheriff 

“With events such as this forum, our community is able to come together to oppose racism, violence, and vileness which can raise its ugly head when good people stand by and do nothing,” Couch wrote in a letter. “We must remain vigilant and truly be our ‘brother’s keeper’ so that what happened to George Floyd never happens again.” 

Floyd was held down by the knee of a police officer for roughly eight minutes and 46 seconds in a widely circulated video. The 46-year-old man died while being detained by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Four officers were fired, and criminal charges have been filed.     

The Newtown Florist Club presented a list of concerns to law enforcement, including greater transparency, banning no-knock warrants and more body cameras for officers. 

Regarding the release of body cam footage in use-of-force incidents, Couch said the department will follow Georgia law and privacy requirements. Releasing the footage when there is a pending case could “impede the trial court’s ability to find an unbiased jury pool,” Couch said. 

“If the Sheriff’s Office can release the footage without impeding an ongoing investigation or violating the other requirements, it will be released,” he wrote. 


Couch recommended a “state use of force board” with people trained on use-of-force policy to review complaints. 

Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish and Couch have previously said chokeholds are prohibited by department policy unless deadly force is justified. Both departments have also stopped receiving excess Department of Defense equipment through what is known as the 1033 program. 

In response to a “duty to intervene” when police witness colleagues breaking the law/policy, Couch cited part of the sworn officer’s oath that says “I shall never betray the trust of the people for whom I serve, nor willfully abuse my powers or authority, nor tolerate those who do so.” 

Civil forfeiture is a process in which property and/or money associated with suspected criminal activity is seized and later sold, with the proceeds going to law enforcement. 

“Currently seized assets are used to offset unfunded or underfunded areas of law enforcement,” Couch wrote. “This typically includes law enforcement training and equipment which potentially can save taxpayer funds. It would be difficult to fund any ongoing community project with an annual budget based off civil forfeiture funds as there is no guarantee you will have any forfeiture funds.” 

He added that keeping the current civil forfeiture and allowing the funds to “remain available for training and equipment seems to make the most sense.” 

 

 

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Judges, prosecutors and law enforcement are seated at the Newtown Florist Club’s open-air conversation Thursday, July 2. A handful of speakers addressed the audience on issues such as accountability courts, cash bail and warrants. - photo by Nick Watson
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