News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, March 5, 2012
SARDIS, Ga. -- Chief Gary Jones is back to work at the Sardis Police Department after serving as acting director and liaison at the Augusta YDC for the past 90 days.
Jones says his investigation started the moment he walked into the Augusta Youth Development Campus. His opinion is that inmates were walking out of the facility worse off than when they first went in. He says he hopes he and other leaders at the facility made a difference over the past three months.
The chief says various investigations at the Augusta YDC led to at least 18 terminations at the facility under his watch.
"I was pretty open as far as what I expected [when I first started]. However, when I got there, it was pretty easy to see that things were fairly out of control," Jones said.
Restoring control, he added, wasn't easy.
He first implemented new rules about "line movements" for inmates moving place-to-place.
"The inmates were to walk in order with hands held behind their back. That was not taking place. They were pretty much at will -- doing what they wanted to," he said. "And that creates too much free time for them to get involved in fights."
Jones also reinstated an optional Bible study on Wednesday nights and sat down one-on-one with staff and inmates to earn their trust.
"They came forward almost non-stop for a couple of weeks after that bringing information to me," Jones explained.
Jones said there were guards providing pornographic materials, drugs and cellphones to inmates.
"You name it, it was happening," he said.
Jones was alarmed by the reports of contraband and corruption that flooded his desk.
Now, three new people are now at the helm of the Augusta YDC. Ron Brawner is the director, Melvin Womble is taking over security and Aisha Hunter will be the assistant director in charge of programs.
At a news conference Friday, Brawner announced, "You have to step up to the plate and take the challenges, take it in small chunks, small pieces."
He says he's looking forward to continuing progressive changes at the YDC. Brawner comes from the Augusta Transitional Center, where he was superintendent since 2005. He's worked at other state facilities and is an ordained minister, according the the Department of Juvenile Justice.
"I'm looking forward to working with my new counterparts in rebuilding Augusta YDC," Hunter added.
Jones says he hopes the new leaders will continue forward. He admitted he worries that some of the investigations he opened might be lost in this transition of power.
"They did in fact ask me to stay on a permanent basis as the director. I had a couple of stipulations which were that I wanted to bring law enforcement professionals in as the two key personnel that would be under me," he said. "They would not do that, so I was unable to [accept the job]."
He said he feels as though law enforcement officers with specific field training should be in management positions at the facility.
The hardest part for Jones was saying goodbye to the young men he led for three months.
"They had a ceremony for me. The boys were dressed nicely in shirts and ties, and they presented me with two pieces of furniture they had made for me. They gave my wife flowers. And one of the boys read a poem he had written called, 'The Chief's Motto.' They were emotional and I was emotional at the same time. Having the kids get up there and say nice things, that meant a lot."
What is the "Chief's Motto?" He says the young man's poem was referring to his stance on the importance of integrity and hard work ethic.
"That place has a lot of potential," he said. "There are some good staff there."
He said he feels if the new leadership will make security the priority, they'll be heading in the right direction.
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