DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Earlier this week, a Channel 2 Action News investigation raised questions about the death of a DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office recruit, and reporter Erica Byfield went to the state for answers.
George Ward died after two days of training last year and Byfield found video of the activities leading up to his death. She also found that his death was never investigated.
The training was conducted by the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, but that’s not how all departments do it. Each year, hundreds of recruits go through a state training program.
“We are in the training business, not in the business of failing,” Georgia Public Safety Basic Training Director Ray Saxon said.
There are eight Georgia Public Safety Training Center regional academies in the state. Byfield visited the one in Cherokee County where jail and law enforcement cadets can train.
Each jumping jack, each sprint is under the watchful eye of a state drill instructor.
“We would not single a student out and try to humiliate them in front of other people to do that for a purpose,” Saxon said.
Byfield’s investigation found the DeKalb County jail recruit who died last year was singled out and forced to wear a pink hat and shirt during training as he struggled to keep up.
Video obtained by Channel 2 shows Ward in distress doing a range of activities, like wall sits and even walking.
The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office did not investigate Ward’s death and will not say why. The Sheriff's Office issued another statement on Wednesday explaining that Ward was wearing a pink shirt because recruits who need special attention wear clearly identifying clothing. The sheriff also questioned why it took Ward's mother, Lorraine Fredericks, so long to ask question's about his death.
Fredericks never saw the videos obtained by Channel 2 Action News until Byfield showed them to her more than a year after Ward's death.
DeKalb County interim CEO Lee May said he is now asking for the GBI to get involved.
After Byfield showed the county medical examiner the video, he changed Ward’s manner and cause of death.
Saxon said his agency has a strict policy to investigate anything that happens to a recruit during training and if someone is ill, they sit out and get medical care.
“If there is a problem then we stop what we're doing and we call EMS or they're taken to the doctor,” Saxon said.
Saxon’s agency trained about 800 jailers and 1,000 law enforcement officers in the past year.