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The Georgia constitution mandates that each county has a sheriff, and legislation designates the sheriff as the chief law enforcement officer in the county. In most counties with a sheriff and a county police department, the sheriff voluntary relinquishes the general law enforcement responsibilities to the county police department, although he cannot be forced to do so. The sheriff retains the authority to intervene in any law enforcement effort within his county when he feels compelled to do so. This includes actions initiated by deputies of this department who have witnessed a violation of law or in the absence of a county police officer.
1. As a Law Enforcement Officer The sheriff has the responsibility of protecting life and property and for preservation of the public peace. This includes all law enforcement functions associated with those endeavors.
2. As an Officer of the Court In addition to providing physical security in the courtrooms and building, the sheriff must serve as bailiff to the superior court or designate deputies to serve in that capacity. Bailiff duties include escorting juries to the courtroom, and if requested to do so, to their meals and hotel rooms. Bailiffs otherwise attend to the needs of the jury and guard them against outside influences. The sheriff is charged with serving all court summons, including subpoenas and civil process papers. In addition, the sheriff must execute all court-ordered levies on property to satisfy judgments- in court actions. The sheriff is also responsible for the transportation of mentally ill residents of his county to mental health emergency receiving facilities.
3. As a Detention Officer The sheriff is the official jailor of the county and is responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of all prisoners. The courts have established strict guidelines that the sheriff must follow in providing these things to his prisoners. The sheriff is also responsible for preventing the escape of prisoners from the jail.
Creation of DeKalb County
On December 23, 1822, the Georgia legislature established the boundaries of DeKalb County, which included the location of land which would eventually be incorporated as the city of Marthasville. John S. Welch was commissioned as the first Sheriff of DeKalb County. It was not until a year later however, that Decatur was officially designated as the County Seat. County officials were not elected by the citizens of DeKalb until January 15, 1824. George Harris was the first elected Sheriff of DeKalb County.
The first death penalty to be handed down by a DeKalb County judge was in 1829, when a man named Crowder was sentenced to hang for murdering his wife and 3 children. While DeKalb had steadily become more civilized, things were far from perfect. One of the recommendations by the Grand Jury in 1840, was to keep the courthouse locked at night, to prevent its further use as a dancing room and a place for disorderly collections.
In 1843, the town of Marthasville was established as the terminus of the Western and Alabama Railroad. During the years that followed, the town of Marthasville, along with the rest of DeKalb County, experienced an increase in population of the rougher elements of society. There were growing complaints that the DeKalb Sheriff and the town Marshal of Marthasville, were not doing enough to control this rougher element.
In 1848, a railroad official designated the railroad terminal as Atlanta, even though the surrounding town maintained its name of Marthasville. After a few years of freight being shipped with Atlanta listed as the destination, the city eventually changed its name to match that of the terminal.
By 1851, two sections of Atlanta, known as Murrel's Row and Snake Nation, inhabited by the criminal element, had grown in size and reputation. The first Atlanta jail was not very suitable. Prisoners would either dig their way out, or wait until enough people had been incarcerated, at which time they would simply turn the structure over, and crawl out. It was in this year that law abiding citizens started their own war against crime, and completely destroyed Murrel's Row and Snake Nation, scattering their inhabitants.
In 1852, Moses Formwalt, Atlanta's first mayor, became the first DeKalb County Deputy-Sheriff to lose his life in the line of duty. He was stabbed to death while escorting a prisoner from Council Chambers.