AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Georgia deputies drank beer at jail as Hurricane Matthew roared, report says

McIntosh County Sheriff Stephen Jessup suspended his chief deputy this week after reports that at least a half-dozen deputies drank beer at the county jail as Hurricane Matthew scraped the Georgia coast.

Jessup told the Florida Times-Union that Chief Deputy George Trexler gave the deputies, who were apparently off-duty, permission to drink as they waited out the storm earlier this month at the jail. He said the six to eight deputies involved had consumed a couple beers apiece.

“It was light drinking. There was no drunkenness,” said Jessup, who is facing a re-election bid next month. “It was a bad, bad, bad decision.”

The deputies were in the sally port -- the secure area of the jail where inmates are loaded and unloaded -- but no inmates were in the jail at the time, the sheriff said.

It's the second issue to surface this month that raises questions about the judgment of officers in the small southeast Georgia agency. Jessup said last week that he fired a white deputy over the summer after he and another officer sent each other racist and sexist Facebook messages.

That story, first reported by the AJC, got picked up by news sites around the country and revealed that the messages shared by the officers used the N-word to refer to African Americans and discussed targeting black motorists.

Sheriff Jessup  said he does not tolerate racism among his deputies and has no knowledge of his department targeting black motorists.

“There is no joke about something like that. Period,” Sheriff Jessup said. “It’s total racism.”

The AJC continues to investigate the Facebook incident and other allegations of racial bias in the McIntosh County sheriff's department. Reporter Brad Schrade would like to talk with black motorists who felt targeted by the department or with others who have knowledge of racial profiling or racists activity within the agency. Contact him at 404-526-2875 or by email at brad.schrade@ajc.com or on his Facebook page.

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About the Author

Brad Schrade is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on the AJC’s investigative team.