Many elected officials’ speeches avoid — or at least gloss over — anything negative. But when speaking to the Kiwanis Club of Marietta Thursday, Cobb Sheriff Craig Owens pulled no punches: “We have had in my tenure at the (jail) facility six deaths … we’ve had three suicides, we had one with a medical condition … we had one unresponsive … we had one who was trying to hurt himself. We restrained him. During restraint, he unfortunately passed away.”
Not that long ago, inmate deaths at the jail was a big plank in Owens’ campaign to unseat longtime Sheriff Neil Warren. Now that Owens wears the badge and bears responsibility, he’s found keeping all 1,950 inmates currently housed at the Cobb County Detention Center alive is not easily accomplished. But the career lawman has not lost sight of the goal.
To prevent deaths, he recently announced some inmates will don medical wristbands that monitor their heart rate. Any detected emergencies prompt a notification to sheriff’s personnel, who will take action to “do everything possible to bring back” those in distress, Owens said.
“So every time someone gets hurt or tries to commit suicide, we fight like hell to keep them alive. We do everything we can to provide the best service to everyone who enters those doors. But it’s not easy.”
In his talk, Owens covered a bevy of department-related topics, such as mental health, parenting, and anger management programs designed to improve an inmate’s outlook once time is served. All Cobb deputies carry body cameras and tasers inside the jail, Owens said, adding the department is one of the few sheriff’s offices that arm deputies with both.
The sheriff has signed onto an I.B.E.W. union internship program that teaches skills that turn the incarcerated into electricians or pipe-fitters or heating and air repairmen. If all schooling is completed, the inmate, once released, the union places them in a job that pays between $28 and $37 per hour, the sheriff said.
“The day they are released, they have a job to report to the next day … but it gets better than that. We give them cars when they walk out. Tell me another sheriff’s office that gives people cars when they walk out of jail.” (Owens clarified that the cars and six months of auto insurance are provided by the I.B.E.W., not the Cobb County taxpayer.)
MOUNTED PATROLS: In other sheriff’s news, you’ll soon see deputies on horseback. This program is a “two-fer” benefitting inmates via “horse therapy” and deputies with crowd control.
“There’s a program out there through the state’s prison systems in Georgia called ‘horse therapy.’ So we’re bringing back the mounted patrol unit and using our horses for therapeutic care for our inmates," Owens said. "The inmates can go out, work at the stables, they can help train the horse, clean and have some time outside of the facility … So, I’m happy to say that within the next week, we’ll have our first horses coming. Now these are not just common horses … these are Clydesdales and what we call cross draft horses — about 900 to 1,000 pounds and 16 hands high. They are massive. They are people movers.”
In addition to horse therapy for the inmates, the sheriff said that the mounted horses will be used for patrolling functions.
“They’ll go into the neighborhoods, they’ll work at the mall, they’ll work at the Braves games. What are the biggest people movers in crime control? Anybody know? Horses. If you’ve ever been in New Orleans in a crowd event, what clears the street? Horses,” Owens said, explaining the horses are so massive that people move to get out of their way.
“So, we’re going to have a couple horses here in a few weeks and they’re going to be ‘Duke’ and ‘Diesel.’”
DEPUTY DAWGS: Horses aren’t the only critters on the sheriff’s force.
“We’ve increased the size of our canine unit," Owens said. "People ask why. Because our dogs are aging and need to be retired. We have some dogs that are over 10 years old, and it was time to let them go home and rest. They’ve done their duty.
“We have eight canines – seven on hand and one coming. We have drug dogs and bomb dogs and tracking dogs.”
"In closing, we’re rebranding the sheriff’s office. We’re changing some things, different car color, different things. The only way we can change some of our past days is to rebrand our organization.”
Owens said he recognizes with all the changes, new technology and programs, people will wonder where all the money is coming from.
“Let me tell you about money spending. The sheriff is spending money that was set up through the SPLOST program …. So I’m not spending something that wasn’t there. I am spending for things that should have been done and should have been fixed. It’s $2.6 million to fix a roof — and I have four. I’m updating our fleet. Deputies were driving 1997 Crown Vics. So I’m updating our fleet, updating our facilities, updating some things that should have already been changed.”
POLITICAL PLATTER: Wednesday’s Around Town touched on the runoff between east Cobb attorney Jake Evans and Dr. Rich McCormick, who are locked in a scorched earth race for the Republican nomination of the 6th Congressional District.
AT observed how McCormick had seized on a paper Evans wrote in law school, describing, with pearl-clutching alarm, the "manifesto" as “inspired by self-proclaimed Communists and Marxists.”
After writing that anyone who knows Evans could only laugh at him being described as a woke Marxist because of a paper he wrote in law school 10 years ago, Team McCormick demanded a correction. The paper was written seven years ago when Evans was a practicing attorney, not when he was in law school, claimed McCormick spokesman Ryan Mahoney.
We checked back with the Evans campaign, and while Mahoney is correct that the paper was published by the University of Miami Race and Social Justice Law Review in 2015, Evans said he did indeed pen the piece as a class assignment while at UGA law school in 2012. It was later picked up and published by the academic journal in Miami.
“My desperate opponent, RINO Rich McCormick, is trying to distract from the fact that he takes liberal special interest money from groups that support abortion on demand, restricting gun rights, and biological men competing in women’s sports, and he’s doing this by trying to make an end-of-course school paper into a ‘manifesto’ saying something that it just blatantly doesn’t say,” Evans said.
Why McCormick remains fixated on Evans’ school writings is anyone's guess, but if he's sincere, he'd admit communists "inspire" Evans as much as they inspired Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
ABOUT THOSE CCSD SANITIZERS: During Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale’s remarks to the Smyrna Business Association Thursday, an attendee — who said she was a former teacher and current substitute for the district — told the boss she had a tough question.
“Can you talk more about the sanitizers that are in the schools?” she asked, referring to the district’s controversial 2020 purchase of ultraviolet light devices and hand sanitizing stations meant to disinfect schools during the pandemic.
“Yeah, sure — that’s not a hard question,” Ragsdale said with a laugh.
“A lot of negative press surrounded it, and primarily it was focused on me. That’s fine. If I’m the target, then it prevents the target from being any of the other teachers, principals, et cetera,” he added.
In March 2021, the district canceled its contract with ProTek Life, the manufacturer of the ultraviolet lights, citing a malfunction at one of the schools in which they had been installed. Quoting a credible source within the Cobb County District's Attorney's Office in March, the MDJ reported that the district’s purchasing decisions — including that of the lights — were the subject of a Cobb County grand jury. (The MDJ has not heard anything about that case since then, however.)
Ragsdale went on, implying the coverage of the controversy was just hot air.
“That's part of my job. I'm not going to say it doesn't get old, because in this era, apparently, if you can type, you can make up your own version of the truth and put it on the internet, and there's a lot of people that apparently will believe it. It turns out everything on the internet is not true,” he said.
He referred to some reports on the spending as “nonsense,” disputing the $12 million figure reported as the total price of the contracts for the COVID safety equipment.
“That was not what that was,” he said.
And the district had paid for the equipment with federal relief dollars, he added, “so no taxpayer money, if you will, SPLOST or otherwise, was used for any of those projects.”