Thursday, March 2, 2023

Glynn County Sheriff chase
A pursuit in Glynn County on Feb. 28, 2023 ended when Sheriff Neal Jump himself caused the fleeing vehicle to spin out. It comes amid a countywide debate over police pursuits. Credit: Glynn County Sheriff's Office

Who can chase in Glynn County?

The public discourse over police pursuits in Glynn County culminated this week with the sheriff himself stopping a fleeing truck.

On Tuesday afternoon, Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump used a PIT maneuver – a chase technique where an officer strikes the back of a fleeing car to get it to spin out and stop – to halt an Atlanta man fleeing a traffic stop. The man was “traveling Spur 25 at speeds over 100 mph, running red lights, running vehicles off the road, and endangering citizens during heavily congested afternoon traffic,” the Sheriff’s Office alleged in a Facebook post.

The agency said the driver injured two deputies before Jump, a former state trooper, stopped him.

Since the beginning of 2023, Sheriff’s Office deputies have been involved in at least four chases, including Tuesday, stemming from attempted traffic stops.

Undersheriff Mario Morales said the agency doesn’t track statistics on chases due to a lack of manpower, but he said there appeared to be an increase in them in the last two months, from his vantage point. 

This comes after the Glynn County Police Department changed its chase policy on Jan. 9, according to The Brunswick News. The new policy restricted officers from engaging in chases with suspects only accused of a traffic offense. The Brunswick Police Department’s policy also forbids chases when the only crime is a misdemeanor, a misdemeanor traffic offense, or a nonviolent felony, the News reported. 

“Most cases don’t end with the bad guy pulling over and saying, ‘I’m giving up.’ … The end goal is to protect the citizens, protect the officers, protect the general public,” Interim Glynn County Police Chief O’Neal Jackson told the news outlet. 

Restrictive chase policies are becoming more common in U.S. police departments due to the danger those chases can pose to civilians, police, and the people they’re chasing. 

But Jump has been critical of such policies. He says that it comes down to training, and there should no limiting of officers’ discretion. 

“The men and women of the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office are well-trained. They’re smart. I don’t have to say stop or go,” Jump said in a recent interview with The Current. “These big boys and girls know when to stop. I don’t have to get out on the radio.”

The Glynn County Sheriff’s Office shared its chase policy with The Current. You can read it here.

DEA Savannah presentation
Ralph Iorio, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Savannah office presents drug statistics on Feb. 22, 2023, emphasizing the distinct threat fentanyl has become in Georgia. Credit: Jake Shore/The Current

Drugs seized in Georgia

The Georgia branch of the Drug Enforcement Agency, based in Atlanta, has reported a complete shift in which drug it is seizing the most. 

In fiscal year 2019, around 80% of the drugs the DEA seized in Georgia – through trafficking at the Port of Savannah and from the Mexican border and California driven into Atlanta – was cocaine. 

In FY 2022, more than 80% of the drugs the DEA seized was methamphetamine. This reported flip came from a presentation from Asst. Special Agent in Charge Ralph Iorio of the DEA’s Savannah office last week. 

“You see how meth is starting to increase. It is easier to transport,” Iorio said. “They can get that coming into the country in a variety of ways. One of the ways is through liquid transport and then they can crystallize it back into crystal methamphetamine.” The Sinaloa cartel, known as the cartel previously run by “El Chapo,” and the Cartel De Jalisco Nueva Generacion are responsible for “the majority of the meth and fentanyl coming into the country right now,” according to Iorio. 

The rise of methamphetamine is a trend that’s matched nationally, with deadly results. The overdose mortality rate from methamphetamine has increased fiftyfold from 1999 to 2021, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health.

Around 60% of the reported meth overdose fatalities in 2021 were from a co-ingestion of meth with heroin or fentanyl. A researcher said the potency of illegal fentanyl has risen, and some drug users mistakenly ingest it when trying to take meth. 

Iorio said much the same about pills his agency is seizing in Georgia.

“Our lab tests fake pills laced with fentanyl,” Iorio said. “What they’re finding is six out of 10 of those fake pills contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. . . . we cannot state enough the dangers of these fake pills and the fentanyl poisoning.”

U.S. Army soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., Oct. 26, 2012. (DVIDS)

One last thing: Military gun safety, mental health

The Department of Defense should raise the age at which a military member can purchase a firearm from 21 to 25 and restrict private weapons in military barracks and dorms, an independent committee recommended last week.

The Pentagon convened the committee as part of its effort to reduce rising military suicides. The panel also requested the department update its suicide prevention strategies as well as address alcohol use and financial issues, which are common factors in military member suicides.

The recommendations were driven by grim statistics: 66% of all active-duty military suicides involve firearms and half of all suicides of service members occur between the ages of 21 and 25, the panel reported.

The numbers match trends in Coastal Georgia, where three Army Rangers at Hunter Army Airfield aged between 21 and 26 died in a four-month span last year. Two of the deaths were attributable to suicide and the third a “tragic shooting accident.”

This week, The Current asked for updates on the inquiries into their deaths.

A spokesperson for the 75th Ranger Regiment said on Wednesday the investigation into one soldier’s death, SPC Charles Tafel, was completed. They did not respond to questions about the outcome of the investigation, the date it was completed, and whether or not Hunter Army Airfield has taken any measures since the deaths. The other two soldiers’ deaths are still under investigation.

Gun safety restrictions in the military could save lives, the panel suggests. One of the doctors on the independent committee, who previously served in the Air Force, said the typical dysfunction in Congress over civilian gun restrictions may play out differently with the military.

“Military personnel are much more open to this than civilians, and my sense, I don’t know for sure, but my sense is that so many of us who have served have lost friends to suicide,” Dr. Craig Bryan, clinical psychologist and psychiatry professor at the Ohio State University said to reporters last week.

“Many of us are tired of our friends and loved ones dying,” Bryan said. “We recognize that we have to absolutely take on this issue straight away if we’re going to bend the curve and save lives.”

Read the full report for yourself.

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...