Chatham Co. officers attacked by inmates diagnosed with mental health issues

CHATHAM CO., GA -For Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher, the number one priority is the safety of his officers – making sure they go home each night to their families.

That’s easier said than done when mental health inmates – off their medications – are added to the mix.

On Friday, the sheriff showed me pictures of one officer who just had his head split open by an inmate being escorted to make a phone call. Those pictures are much too graphic for television.

However, videos that were shown to Georgia State Senator Lester Jackson and Congressman Buddy Carter during their tour of the jail Wednesday give all of us a better idea of what happens behind steel doors.

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When you’re being treated for a mental health issue – from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia – don’t get arrested in Chatham County. Whatever assistance you were getting for medication will be cut off before the cell door slams. What happens next is nothing more than the roll of the dice.

Sheriff Wilcher has dozens more violent incidents on camera.

At the jail on Wednesday, I spoke with a recent officer attacked by a mental health inmate. Officer Deandre Gibbs learned the hard way that these inmates are constantly looking for a weakness to exploit. Gibbs was the sole officer in a 30 inmate pod when he was attacked for the first time by a mental health inmate.

“It was in February. I put an inmate out to get on the phone. When he came out, I put leg cuffs on him. He ran out and I talked to him and pulled him to the side and he scratched my face,” Officer Gibbs said. I would say it’s a learning process for me because that was my first time going through that. So, the next time, I have to face that I know what to do.”

Like hundreds of others, this won’t be his last inmate attack. You accept that reality, or you leave.

“I felt like I’d be quitting on the team, and I’m not a quitter. I like to keep going, push through it and keep fighting,” said Officer Gibbs.

Wednesday, Sheriff Wilcher saw how deep the support for a cure is when Congressman Buddy Carter, State Senator Lester Jackson, and County Commissioner Helen Stone came for a tour of the jail and to hear stories of the infinite potential for violence.

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