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Magistrate and Probate courts closed this week due to exposure to COVID-19

The Butts County Magistrate Court and Probate Court are closed to the public Jan. 11-15 due to exposure to individuals testing positive for COVID-19. The courts will handle their business remotely.

Chief Magistrate Rebecca Pitts and Chief Probate Judge Elizabeth Biles said they were notified that they were all in direct contact with more than one individual assisting the court that has tested positive within the last few days. They said they have to follow strict safety protocols mandated by the Supreme Court’s Statewide Judicial Emergency Order as well as follow local health and safety guidelines.

The procedures for action in the courts this week are as follows:

Magistrate Court

♦ All essential court functions will be handled remotely. Essential court functions include clerical duties of processing civil and criminal case filings, answers to civil claims, issuance of arrest and search warrants, and daily first appearance bond hearings.

♦ All first appearance bond hearings will be conducted by Zoom with availability to view the hearing live on the Butts County Magistrate Court YouTube Channel.

♦ Civil cases and answers to civil cases can be filed online at https://www.efilegeorgia.com or by mail to:

Butts County Magistrate Court

835 Ernest Biles Drive,

Jackson, GA 30233

♦ Court staff can be contacted by email at buttscountymagistratecourt@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail message at 770-775-8220. Email and voicemail messages will be checked and returned as quickly as possible by court staff.

Probate Court

♦ All essential court functions will be handled remotely. Essential court functions include clerical duties of processing estate filings, marriage licenses, issuance of death certificates, and disposition permits.

♦ All previously scheduled court hearings will be conducted by Zoom.

♦ Estate filings and traffic payments can be mailed to:

Butts County Probate Court’ P.O. Box 1940

Jackson, GA 30233

♦ Staff can be contacted by phone at 770-775-8204 or fax at 770-775-8004. Email and voicemail messages will be checked and returned as quickly as possible by court staff.

The Magistrate and Probate courtrooms and offices will be deep cleaned and sanitized before staff members will be allowed to return, following medical advice and court safety protocols. The court will determine the time and ability to reopen the offices to the public with limited or complete in-person access in a way to ensure compliance with all local health and statewide judicial safety guidelines.

The Butts County government social media pages will be updated as necessary to give public notice to any changes as they work to resume more normal court operations. They apologize for an inconvenience and ask for understanding during this difficult time.

'Operation Crystal Web' busts meth distribution network in middle Georgia

Butts County Sheriff Gary Long and officials from 16 other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies held a news conference Friday afternoon to discuss the success of ‘Operation Crystal Web,’ a five-month investigation of a methamphetamine distribution network across middle Georgia that began in Butts County and culminated with multiple arrests.

More than 140 arrest warrants were executed Friday on 70 suspects in 12 counties believed to be part of the network, and on 20 more suspects in Spalding County. More than 125 deputies and police officers from 15 different agencies took part in the arrests. They met at the Central Georgia EMC Annex early Friday morning and were divided into eight teams and given their warrants to be served. The teams began leaving about 8:20 a.m. and continued to make arrests throughout the weekend.

Long said his office began the investigation last August and soon realized the enormity of the operation.

“We were targeting what we thought was a small group in our county,”Long said. “It didn’t take long at all to realize how big this was going to be. I made the determination to partner with numerous other local, state and federal agencies in order to dismantle this drug dealing organization and stop the destruction it causes.”

Agencies involved included the sheriff’s offices in Spalding, Lamar, Monroe, Jasper, Pike, Meriwether and Upson counties, the Henry County Police Department, FBI — Middle District of Georgia, United States Marshals Office — Middle District of Georgia, DEA — Middle District of Georgia and Atlanta Field Office, GBI — West Metro Regional Drug Enforcement Office, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

At one point, the investigation led into Spalding County, and Long said they turned it over there to the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office, the Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney, and the GBI’s West Georgia Drug Task Force for a secondary investigation.

Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix said law enforcement there have arrested 12 of 20 suspects following the investigation, and praised the collaboration between agencies.

“What we have here is a prime example of what happens, and the good that comes out of law enforcement officers and agencies working together, putting egos aside, and doing exactly what they’re supposed to do to protect the counties that they’re in charge of,” Dix said. “This is especially true for Georgia sheriffs who work together, and the agencies that work with them.

“You always hear people talking about cutting the head off a snake. Well, today there was a very big head cut off a very large snake in Georgia.”

Daniel Sims, Special Agent in Charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations’ West Metro Regional Drug Enforcement Office, added his praise to the efforts provided by multiple agencies during the investigation.

“GBI is pleased and confident that this has been one of the best efforts and collaborations of multiple law enforcement agencies in the metro Atlanta area that I’ve seen in a long time,” Sims said, “and I’m honored to be with these fine sheriffs and district attorneys who have helped this came come to fruition.”

Towaliga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jonathan Adams said the operation is “an outstanding example of law enforcement and how they can keep our communities safe. These types of drugs bring in the worst kinds of violence and harm to our communities. Our citizens are harmed by the drugs, they’re harmed by the gangs, they’re harmed by the guns, they’re harmed by the trafficking that comes with every element of this crime.

“This was a huge operation. This was a huge group of people that we were able to go after, and I’m looking forward to being able to take these cases to court and getting the prosecution that they deserve and that the community deserves.”

Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Marie Broder added her congratulations.

“Today is a monumental day. Today with ‘Operation Crystal Web,’ we took down prolific drug dealers who were spewing poisons into the streets of our communities. These traffickers were profiting off of people’s pain.

“Methamphetamine is a poison, and these men and women were trafficking it all over our counties,’ Broder added. “These dealers, these traffickers, they will feel the weight of the law from my office, and from the Towaliga Circuit’s office.”

Long concluded the news conference by stating that his office, and the other agencies involved will not tolerate illegal drug activity in Georgia and said he believes Operation Crystal Web will made a huge dent not only in drug trafficking, but also in related crimes.

“Right here in my community, there are about 45 people from Butts County who are now in jail,” he said. “We will definitely see a sudden decrease in theft and burglaries and violent crimes as well, because we’re knocking out these addicts and these dealers.

“If you just look at any community in the state of Georgia or any community in the country, they have a drug problem. The difference is in this county and in the counties represented here today, we’re not going to turn a blind eye to it. We’re going to investigate and dig and dig and dig until we identify you, arrest you, and prosecute you.”

Top stories of 2020 in the Jackson Progress-Argus, Part 2

While the COVID-19 pandemic and the presidential election will probably rank in most people’s minds as the top stories nationally in 2020, Butts County had its own fair share of top local stories during the last 12 months, including pandemic-related news.

The Progress-Argus is presenting a four-part series on the top story for each week of 2020, along with honorable mentions, based on the opinions of the staff. The Jan. 6 edition had the months of January-March, this week will be April-June, followed on Jan. 20 by July-September, and ending Jan. 27 with October-December.

April 2020

♦ April 1

Butts County prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more

The Butts County Board of Commissioners has amended their Declaration of Local Emergency to prohibit community gatherings of 10 or more people; require bars, taverns, nightclubs and similar establishments outside of city limits to be closed; require restaurants outside of city limits to close to the public except to provide takeout, delivery, drive-through, or curbside service, and require all businesses remaining open to ensure everyone in them remain six feet apart as much as possible.

♦ Honorable mention

School Meals on Wheels: Butts County School System providing almost 3,000 meals a week to students

♦ April 8

Manhunt after Sunday murder narrows to two suspects

A search for a suspected killer and possible female hostage has changed into a search for two suspects after the Butts County Sheriff’s Office determined Autumn Keara Finlay, 21, may be aiding Cody Bryce Matthews, 20, to evade apprehension. Matthews is wanted for the shooting death of William Ryan Ray, 30, of Jenkinsburg. Ray was gunned down near the pool and tennis courts on Sunday, April 3, in the Jackson Glenn subdivision west of Jackson off of Ga. Highway 36 near I-75. Witnesses told investigators several children were playing near the pool when shots rang out.

♦ April 15

Cody Matthews captured in Williamson; Autumn Finlay found safe

The hunt is over. The Butts County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia State Patrol, and United States Marshalls apprehended Cody Bryce Matthews. Autumn Keara Finlay was also found and is safe. Matthews was wanted for the shooting death of William Ryan Ray, 30, of Jenkinsburg. Ray was gunned down near the pool and tennis courts on Sunday, April 3, in the Jackson Glenn subdivision west of Jackson off of Ga. Highway 36 near I-75. Matthews was hiding in at a residence in Williamson in Pike County. He is being transported to the Butts County Jail.

♦ Honorable mention

Spirit of service: Churches are stepping forward to assist community during COVID-19 pandemic

♦ April 22

Two deaths, 82 cases reported in Butts County

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has confirmed the first two deaths from COVID-19 in Butts County, both patients at Westbury Medical Care and Rehab, and 82 confirmed cases countywide.

♦ April 29

126 confirmed cases, 3 deaths in Butts County

As of noon on Tuesday, April 28, Butts County had a total of 129 residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, 3 deaths, and 9 residents who were hospitalized at the time their doctors reported to the Georgia Department of Community Health (DPH). Two of the deaths occurred at Westbury Medical Care and Rehab. The third was not a patient at Westbury.

♦ Honorable mention

Body of missing Henry County kayaker found in Butts County

♦ May 6

Butts County child found safe on Friday

Multitudes of concerned Butts County residents turned out to search by foot and on ATV’s Friday afternoon and evening for a lost 8-year-old non-verbal autistic child. Thankfully, the boy, Kayden Reaves, was found safe on a paintball field near his home on Harkness Road at 9:47 p.m. about 6 and a half hours after he went missing.

♦ Honorable mention

Westbury has 15 of the 17 COVID-19 deaths in Butts County, according to DPH

♦ May 13

No deaths in 7 days, reports DPH; Westbury celebrating recovery of 92 residents from virus

As of 1 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12, both Butts County and Westbury Medical and Rehab have cause for celebration, with the numbers of deaths in the county — reported by the Department of Public Health (DPH) — remaining at 17 for the last 7 days, and with 92 Westbury residents having recovered from the virus and only 10 others remaining symptomatic. As of May 12, Westbury has reported 24 deaths from the virus, with 92 residents recovered, 10 residents that remain symptomatic, and only one new case. The difference in the number of deaths reported by Westbury and the DPH is because deaths are not included in the DPH report until they can be confirmed as COVID-19 related.

♦ May 20

JHS Class of 2020 Senior Procession set for Friday

Due to COVID-19, May 22 will be a day the Jackson High School Class of 2020 will remember for years to come, but not for the usual reason, which would have been their graduation before a cheering crowd of family and friends. Instead, May 22 will be remembered as the Jackson High School Class of 2020 Car Procession. Hosted by the Butts County Sheriff’s Office, the procession will begin at Jackson High School, go through downtown Jackson with family and friends cheering them on, and end with a balloon release at Red Devil Hill.

♦ Honorable mention

Cause for celebration: Westbury residents, families mark COVID-19 recovery with parade

♦ Honorable mention

Butts County Administration Building reopened to the public

♦ May 27

Inmate, girlfriend captured following manhunt

An inmate awaiting trial on drug charges is now facing additional charges, including aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer, after he fled from a work detail, allegedly attempted to strike Butts County Sheriff Gary Long with a vehicle, and was captured 28 hours after his escape. His girlfriend is also facing charges in connection with the escape.

♦ Honorable mention

City of Jackson cancels 4th of July Red, White & Boom

♦ June 3

Third suspect in shootout surrenders to Jackson police

The third suspect in the May 27 shootout on the square in Jackson surrendered to Jackson Police Chief James Morgan Friday afternoon. Courtney Deon Marshal, 31, of Jackson, is facing charges of aggravated assault, reckless conduct, terroristic threats, and two counts of criminal damage to property. Also under arrest and facing similar charges are Xavier Walker, 26, of Flovilla, and Deon Jermaine Smith, 29, of Jackson.

♦ Honorable mention

No programs this summer at Parks and Recreation

♦ June 10

Butts County proposes increase in millage rate

For the first time in five years, the Butts County Board of Commissioners are proposing to raise the county’s millage rate by one mill, from 12.209 mills to 13.209 mills. It will mean an increase of 16.06% in property taxes.

♦ Honorable mention

Ward wins Clerk of Superior Court; Marshall wins BOE District 4

♦ Honorable mention

Guest of honor: Bride and groom travel to Westbury to share wedding with his grandmother

♦ June 17

BOE taking ‘wait and see’ approach on 2021 budget

The Butts County Board of Education is taking a “wait and see” approach toward the school system’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget, waiting to see what the Georgia General Assembly will decide on in the state’s budget. The largest portion of school system revenues come from the state, so how large a cut in school funding the legislators decide on will have major effect on school system budgets.

♦ June 24

‘We deserve to be supported:’ Peaceful protest march, celebration in Jackson ends with call for collective action

More than 200 people took part in a peaceful Juneteenth march and celebration on Friday, June 19. Hosted by the Jackson Renaissance Group, the march through downtown Jackson and celebration had a four-fold purpose. The first was to celebrate Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The second was to march against police brutality, the third was to begin a collective seeking better conditions for blacks in Jackson, and the fourth was to encourage voter registration.

♦ Honorable mention

Officer Gilroy, Deputy Vick honored for saving the life of another officer

♦ Honorable mention

Residents protest rate increases, county budget