In a press conference held Tuesday at West Point’s Bethlehem Baptist Church, the lawyer for the family of a West Point man who has been missing since May said they still are waiting for requested records from Chambers County.
James Garner, 41, was last seen on or about May 3 after his release from the Chambers County Jail in LaFayette, Ala., for a public intoxication charge, according to the family’s lawyer, Eric Hutchins, legal representative for the NAACP. The family grew concerned when Garner did not attend his court date in Troup County on May 7 for a previous charge and began seeking his whereabouts.
“This is completely unlike Mr. Garner,” said Hutchins. “He doesn’t disappear for a significant period of time. He’s well known throughout West Point for miscellaneous jobs in the community like cleaning, washing cars.”
While at the Chambers County Jail, Garner became ill and paramedics treated him at the jail, but Garner refused to be transported to the hospital for medical attention, Hutchins said. He alleges that at no time was Garner’s family contacted or notified that he was ill and when released the family was not notified of his release or court date.
The family, with help from the West Point Police Department, reviewed a video of Garner leaving the Chambers County Jail and it showed him being assisted by a jailer.
“That causes great concern on a part of the family because his condition is not conducive to the condition of a person to be released without medical attention,” Hutchins said.
After his release from the jail, witnesses say Garner was seen at a nearby day care, owned by the wife of a sheriff’s department employee, Hutchins said. A concerned citizen called 911 indicating that Garner looked disoriented and was near the day care, where there were children.
Local enforcement personnel arrived and told Garner he was to leave LaFayette and Chambers County, according to Hutchins, and they offered to drive him to the state line. There were various accounts from witnesses indicating that two Caucasian deputies were seen putting Garner into the rear of a patrol vehicle and driving off, he said.
The family has submitted an open records request for video, audio and other records pertaining to Garner, but have yet to receive the requested information.
“We’re not trying to cast any aspersions on the (Chambers County) sheriff because we know he’s going to do what’s right,” said Hutchins. “If we don’t get everything, we’re going to try to talk to authorities to get everything we can get to avoid going through litigation. The family is just trying to find out Mr. Garner’s whereabouts and what happened.”
Hutchins said that if Garner died, disappeared or was injured in any way upon being released from the Chambers County Jail, the jail would be liable due to “sufficient reason” to believe that the Chambers County Sheriff’s Department did not exercises sufficient and due care in taking care of Garner while in their custody.
Troup County’s NAACP president Willie Cameron said that Garner was not on medications and did not have any mental or medical problems, and that bulletins of Garner were sent to all jails and hospitals in Alabama and Georgia to assist in locating Garner to no avail.
Garner’s mother, Mary Burden, pleaded that the family wants any information about her son.
Mark Garner, James Garner’s cousin, asked for law enforcement to step forwards and “do the right thing.”
“I would like the police department, FBI or somebody to please step forward and do the right thing to help this family find some answers,” said Mark Garner. “We’ve tried several times to contact the sheriff’s department and city of LaFayette and each time it’s a closed door. Will someone at that police department please do a better job at contacting the family.”
Tallapoosa, Ala., NAACP president, Sam Alexander, was at the press conference to provide support.
“Nine months is a long time for a family not to know anything about their loved one,” he said. “We’re here to lend support and resources and hopefully we’ll revitalize the search. There will be bulletins put back out again and the search will continue. This could be your child. We’re asking for closure or for somebody to come forward and speak to these people and let them know what has happened to their loved one.”
In a previous statement to the LaGrange Daily News, Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart denied the allegation that Garner had gotten into a deputy’s vehicle, though he said a deputy did see James Garner walking near the area. Lockhart said LaFayette City Attorney Joseph Tucker is reviewing the case and is now responsible for turning over the requested information.
Investigators at the Chambers County Sheriff’s Department and LaFayette Police Department said they were still investigating and assisting in search efforts.
Anyone who may have any information on the whereabouts of James Garner was asked to contact the Lafayette Police Department at 334-864-7243, the West Point Police Department at 706-645-2226 or the Chambers County Sheriff’s Department at 334-864-2211.