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Judge upholds decision to reinstate fired deputies
Sheriff Couch appealed after Civil Service Board vote
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A judge has upheld the Hall County Civil Service Board’s decision to reinstate two Hall County Sheriff’s Office deputies who were fired after a 2013 inmate escape.

Senior Judge Robert Adamson pointed to a potentially unsafe transfer area for inmates as he issued the opinion in the case involving Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch and former deputies Jack Dodd and Larry Henslee.

Couch fired Dodd and Henslee in July 2013 after inmate James Edward Cantrell escaped that same month during a transport to the Hall County Courthouse.

The Civil Service Board has voted twice to reinstate the deputies, with the first ruling voided due to an open meetings law violation.

Adamson heard the arguments from both sides on March 18, with the sheriff represented by county attorney Bill Blalock and co-counsel Bill Buechner.

All of the Northeastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court judges recused themselves from the case.

The review by Adamson was to determine if there were any errors of law and if the decision to reverse the terminations were supported by “any evidence.”

Video of the escape on July 16, 2013, was presented to Adamson, showing how Cantrell hid behind an alcove before escaping in a nearby truck.

The path taken on the transport led the inmates through a trash collection room that Adamson wrote “any reasonable observer could conclude constituted an unsecure area.”

“The choice of this route of travel as well as the number of guards necessary for safe and secure transport of (17) inmates through this route was a decision which was or reasonably should have been made at a much higher level of authority than the two discharged employees,” the opinion reads.

Couch cited the negligence by the deputies as his reason for the firings. Dodd’s response has been that officers were not given the support to maintain a 5:1 ratio of inmates to personnel.

“The video can best be described as an example of what will occur when the responsible employees allow their vigilance to lapse as well as serve as an example of how not to execute a secure transport of inmates,” the opinion reads.

Adamson wrote that the Civil Service Board’s opinion was supported by evidence and the reversal of Couch’s firings were upheld.

Dodd, who represented Henslee and himself in the proceedings, declined to comment to The Times on Monday.

Blalock said Couch is currently “taking it under advisement,” adding that there is a 30-day window to file an application for discretionary review.