Outgoing Sheriff Donny Turner appeared before County Commissioners Friday to refute allegations that he and his department dropped the ball on uncollected bond amounts.
Turner said reports that he failed to collect $300,000 in bond forfeitures are inaccurate. Although it is his responsibility to collect bond forfeitures, the sheriff’s department cannot until he is given property to levy the bonds with, Turner said.
“There are laws out there you’ve got to go by. I can’t just go out to you house and pick up property because you owe the county money,” Turner said. “You’ve got to be in court and the solicitor or somebody has to say you have to levy on (certain property)”
Turner said that despite a letter by State Court Judge Jeanette Little sent to District Attorney Pete Skandalakis to investigate him over uncollected bond forfeitures, she never tried to speak with him directly. He said he was informed by then-County Manager Mike Dobbs and Clerk of Courts Jackie Taylor of the complaints.
Turner contacted the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, which contacted an attorney for him, he said, because someone with legal knowledge should discuss the legal details of the bond forfeitures.
From 2002 to 2009, Turner said his office collected more than $190,000 in bond forfeitures. He said he also took in an additional $37,000 in cash from people at the jail, which was turned over to the court system.
Turner said that all parties involved in the bonds – himself, Little, Taylor, State Court Solicitor Markette Baker and local bondsmen – met in 2009 to discuss how bonds would be handled. None of the uncollected bonds prior to 2009 were brought up then, Turner said.
“We’re the first sheriff ever to have bonding regulations and bonding rules,” Turner said. “We set those up and made them abide by those rules.”
According to Turner, of the $295,551 in bonds not collected in the last 10 years:
•$78,000 was due from a bondsman who is deceased and there has been no court issue for property to collect for the bond. Without a levy on property from the deceased’s estate, he has nothing to collect.
•$56,000 were due from defendants released from the jail on their own recognizance due to medical reasons or deemed in the best interest of the county, with permission from a judge.
•$23,000 were due from property bonds where a levy of property to collect was not issued.
•$54,620 were due from businesses no longer operating.
•$29,400 were from costs added for collection of the bonds.
“So, of all this money that I can’t hardly get anywhere until someone tells me where to get it, or because I can’t get the men out of the grave or whatever is $241,000,” Turner said. “That leaves me with a true number of $54,531 in money that was out there that people didn’t look at, or didn’t collect, or whatever.”
Many of those bonds that were uncollected were due to errors in the bond issues at the court level, Turner said. He showed several examples of court-issued papers that he said prevented him from collecting the bonds, which included errors like missing dates, wrong dates, wrong addresses or incorrect charges against the defendant.
Turner said that, following the inquiry, $38,000 was collected, which included $8,800 set aside from bonding companies that had been stopped from making bonds for not paying. To collect those bonds, more than 500 hours of employee time and 3,000 paper copies were used, with associated legal fees that came to a total estimated cost of $28,500.
“Until the whole truth is told about these bond forfeitures, it looks like old Donny didn’t do his job doing that,” Turner said.