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December 27, 2007 Issue

Up on the Roof
Officers meet to discuss prosecuting gang members

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Up on the Roof

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

After years of paint, tar and foam, what seemed like a good idea at the time is now costing the county money and the Jefferson County Courthouse its structural integrity.

Luckily, after bidding out for repairs to the courthouse roof and tower, the commissioners have found a company and a man who have worked many hours to replace and repair the damage years of tarring and an application of foam have caused.

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B.A. Johnson Construction is owned by Burles Johnson. When surveying the roof and tower for the job of repainting them, Johnson noticed damage that was being done to the roof and tower, unbeknownst to the commissioners.

“I was contracted to do the roof and paint the bell and clock tower,” Johnson said. “When we were scraping on the tower we saw that people had been covering it with tar and painting over it.”

Now Johnson and his team of construction workers are stripping the tower down to the metal. Johnson said that maybe 30 to 40 years ago, the tower was water sealed and tarred.

But eventually the tar began to crack. Moisture penetrated the cracks and was then trapped there by subsequent layers of tar and foam. The moisture caused the metal to begin to rust away.

“We got with the county commissioners and showed them this whole thing needed to be stripped down to the metal,” Johnson explained. “If you look up close you can see the hairline cracks in the tar.

“Over the years, I have renovated a number of historic buildings. There is an importance in our heritage and keeping things the way they were.”

The cracks are caused when the paint dries, the tar shrinks and the metal begins to rust out, he explained. Underneath the metal is the wooden structure that rises high in the air.

“We are trying to strip it all to salvage the metal,” Johnson said of the tower that looks like they are constructed from wood at a distance. “If they would have waited 10 to 15 years, it would have had sections that were completely gone.”

The tower had some detailing that Johnson has either recreated himself or has had recreated for him from a type of Styrofoam that will not rot and does not absorb moisture.

Not only did Johnson have to worry about the bell and clock tower, the courthouse roof itself was topped with foam, which has caused the roof to lose its details, including the old metal seams that can be seen now from the ground.

“The water was running to the side of the building,” Johnson said. “The water would pool in the corners. Eventually something will begin leaking.”

The foam later formed bubbles that would allow water to stay in pockets on top of the roof. Several layers of foam are believed to have been sprayed on the roof, filling its gutters. After stripping the foam away, the gutters are now able to be used.

“Water has to get to one of the drains,” Johnson said. “We have made channels on top of the roof to allow water to get in the channel and run off.”

The process to preserve the roof and the tower is very intricate. After scraping and removing the tar and foam, Johnson and his team are now painting on a layer of green primer, which is visible atop the roof. They are placing a “rubber roof” on top that should need maintenance only once every 10 years.

After the primer, he applies an elastic foundation, then puts on a fabric mesh, followed by another coat of the elastic foundation.

“This gives full adhesion to the metal roof we are dealing with,” Johnson said.

Once the foundation and mesh are in place, a spray is applied to finish the roof. During the summer, Johnson said the roof will never get over 105 degrees.

The work on the roof will have a 10 year warranty. In 10 years Johnson said the commissioners will be asked if they would like to renew it. If there is penetration for some reason, Johnson said they could patch the spot.

“In nine years, we have never had a problem, besides some accidental damage,” Johnson said.

Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan has been pleased with the work done by Johnson and his crew.

“I am well pleased,” Bryan said. “I think we were fortunate in requesting the professional rehabilitation of the courthouse roof. And we are very lucky to have someone with a sense of historic preservation.”

Bryan noted that the same system used on the roof of the courthouse has been used on schools in the area and has been very successful.

“It is wonderful to be a part of saving the clock and bell tower,” Johnson said. “We are taking it back to the original so it can be here for another 100 years or so.”



Officers meet to discuss prosecuting gang members

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

Wrens Police Chief David Hannah has been aware of gang activity in his area for some time.

But when a Dec. 2 armed robbery led to a shooting in Wrens on Dec. 6, and then, just a few hours later a home-made incendiary device was thrown at the home of the shooter in apparent retaliation, it claimed the attention of law enforcement from across the area.

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Last Tuesday, Dec. 18, Chief Hannah met with four members of the District Attorney’s office, Sheriff Gary Hutchins, Major Charles Gibbons and Investigators Clark Hiebert and Robert Chalker, Wadley Police Chief Paul Jordan and his Investigator David Way, GBI Agent David Leonard and Blaise Dresser, an investigator with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office who is a member of that county’s street gang task force.

“We were the ones that called everyone together after we got a call from Chief Hannah about several incidents that looked like we had a little war going on,” Assistant District Attorney Al Evans told those gathered last week. “And then, we spoke to Chief Jordan (Wadley) who said they had a shooting victim who would not talk about what happened and thought this incident could also be gang related.

“Chief Hannah actually called me a couple of years ago and asked if we could charge people under the gang law and at the time it was pretty difficult to do. But some things have changed and we thought it would be a good idea to get all local law enforcement together to start talking about this, to see if the law fits the kind of activity you all have here.”

The Problem

“There have been incidents going on for the last two or three years,” Chief Hannah said. “At first it was between the East Side Boys and the 102 Gang. Mostly it was incidents of a group of guys going in and beating up guys in other areas or dealing drugs. Some of it was in the Pine Valley area before it closed and was reopened.

“Then, with this most recent shooting and incidents surrounding it, it sparked some interest with the DA’s office.”

The most recent activity has more to do with a group Chief Hannah calls the “G-Disciples” or “Gangster Disciples,” a group with ties to the Meadowbrook neighborhood gangs that were recently hit in a Richmond County undercover storefront operation that just last month ended in a federal grand jury indicting 48 defendants, for a combined total of 124 counts related primarily to firearm and drug offenses.

“It looks like the gang problems in Richmond County are moving south, overflowing to here,” Chief Hannah said. “That’s part of what this meeting was about. We have to stand up to it here, now. We have to keep our citizens safe and address these problems now before they get too far out of hand.”

Coordination of offices

In last week’s meeting, law enforcement and prosecutors discussed how they can best work together to make cases against gang members; use Georgia Code 16154, which makes participating in criminal street gang activities a chargeable offense; and how best to obtain evidence that can be introduced in court.

They talked about ways to document and compile evidence that can be later submitted in court to prove an individual’s gang affiliation.

“Two years ago it was very difficult to make a gang activity arrest,” explained Dresser. “As of July 1, there have been some modifications to the law that makes it easier.”

He went on to explain that to get convictions, it still takes some extensive case files and well organized evidence, but the specific definitions of a street gang have become easier for officers to address.

“You still have to have good intelligence, and that all starts with your road officers,” Dresser said. “They are the ones who really know the neighborhoods they work. They are the first step.”

Building the required database of information involves these officers recording everything they see, from graffiti to similar colors worn by groups of individuals often seen hanging out in certain areas.

For instance, investigators have noticed that a number of the suspected members of the G-Disciples group in Wrens are often seen wearing black.

Sheriff’s office investigators in the meeting said it appears the gang also has ties to the Wrens Quarters area outside of Louisville, but does not seem to be fully established there.

“We don’t call them wannabees,” Dresser said. “We call them hybrids.”

“With our information,” added GBI Investigator David Leonard, “they’re not wannabees, they’re gonnabees.”

Sheriff’s Office investigators agreed that there does not appear to be too much gang activity south of Louisville, however Wadley’s Chief Paul Jordan said that there are some rappers who travel and gangs from other counties have been known to enter the area to attend certain clubs where these musicians are performing.

“When the club closes down they take out their guns and start firing into the air,” he said. “The next day you can walk around out there and pick up all the (spent) shells.”

Dresser said that to get convictions, it is of utmost importance to begin compiling data on all area gangs and those individuals known to be associated with them.

“These are pretty complex case files,” Dresser said. “It isn’t something you can put together in 30 days.”

Dresser spoke of a nationally recognized point system that street officers and departments can use to determine if a suspect is likely a member of a street gang.

“If he or she claims affiliation they get x number of points,” Dresser explained. “If they are connected with certain graffiti they get so many points. If they are known to have certain gang affiliations they get so many points, etc. Once you add up all the points, if they score above a certain level, then they are recognized as a gang member.”

Then all of this information has to be shared among departments and with the prosecutors who will be taking these charges into the court system.

“Documentation and coordination is what we are talking about,” clarified senior Assistant District Attorney Heyward Altman.

A second meeting of the area chiefs on the gang problems has already been scheduled, Chief Hannah said.

“Now we need to go back to our officers and make sure they are on the look out, that they know what to look for,” Sheriff Hutchins said. “But we really need to do more than just gather information. We have to be there.”

Dresser talked of the good that a strong police presence does.

“Neighbors see you there and if they see you covering up the graffiti and coming back to the same areas again and again, if they see that you are determined to stand against a gang, then eventually you’ll start getting calls from them,” Dresser said. “There are good people in these neighborhoods who are afraid to speak out against the gangs. But if they see you really mean to make a difference, they’ll start feeding you information.”

Chief Hannah says his officers have been stepping up patrols in the areas where known gang members are often seen hanging out and have been compiling much of this data for some time.

“This is all about making a stand,” Chief Hannah said. “We’re going to be combining forces and making a stand against this sort of thing.”




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