DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ga. - New court records show the Douglas County coroner is due in court on a criminal citation tied to allegations she’s improperly reported child death cases, including a recent teen’s murder.
The coroner has now enlisted the assistance of a civil rights organization that’s telling prosecutors it believes a history a complaints against the coroner have racial overtones.
Renee Godwin was elected to the Douglas County Coroner’s Office in 2016, defeating a longtime incumbent who admitted to trying to bribe her to drop out of the race.
A mid-April email chain between Chief Judge David Emerson and Assistant District Attorney Samantha Newman outlines Emerson’s request to see whether Godwin was fulfilling her mandatory reporting duties to a child fatality review panel, which filters into a statewide committee and database.
Newman outlined a pattern of issues, citing untimely reporting, investigations as a whole and “typically no background on the children whatsoever, except for name and address.”
On April 29, he issued a court order that essentially told Godwin how to properly do her job.
But the judge found Godwin had failed to report the death of a 17-year old Lithia Springs boy within the mandatory 48-hour time period. The teen’s murder was tied to a dispute over a video game.
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Godwin is due to appear in court before Emerson in early August on a contempt citation that’s considered a quasi-criminal matter. Court records contain a letter dated July 16 from the National Action Network to Douglas County District Attorney Ryan Leonard. It requested a meeting this week to discuss Godwin’s case and what the organization sees as a pattern of complaints with racial overtones.
The letter reveals Godwin enlisted the help of the civil rights group “concerning ongoing harassment since her election to serve as county coroner.”
Leonard’s office declined to comment on the case Monday, citing the open investigation, and a representative with the National Action Network told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr that Godwin may be able to speak on the issue later this week.
The controversy follows years of financial and procedural complaints against Godwin’s office that have been the center of discussions among county leaders and that recently resulted in a protective order granted for Godwin against a man accused of stalking her at the Coroner’s Office.
The Douglasville man, Larry Pierce, has been a consistent, outspoken opponent of Godwin’s work since her election.
Attorney Christina J. Peterson weighed in on the controversy Monday.
Peterson serves as the vice chair of the Douglas County Democratic Party, which conducted its own review of mismanagement allegations against Godwin, determining she’s been a political target.
"From what I know about this instance, I believe it was a bit of an oversight,” Peterson said, referencing the teen’s death report. “This is not a blatant disregard from the coroner to not report a child fatality.”
Peterson said she’s hopeful facts revealed in the August hearing will put the issue to rest.
“We’re all about truth. We seek truth,” she said. “We’re not saying if the coroner messes up we have her back. We’re saying if the allegations, if she’s doing something wrong, let her correct it but please don’t attack her. Please don’t make false allegations when this is not the case.”
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