COVINGTON, Ga. – Johnny Green’s body was found in Jackson Lake Nov. 7, 2017. He was reported missing by his wife three days earlier. Since then, his death has been ruled accidental, as the result of an overdose on methamphetamine. Green’s family and friends, however, still have questions.
Green’s brother, James Green, has shared a series of letters on his personal Facebook page written from the perspective of the now-deceased Johnny Green. The Covington News has also received these letters and spoken to friends of the family about the case.
In an effort to hear all sides of the story, The Covington News reached out to the Newton County Sheriff’s Office and requested an interview with Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown and NCSO Investigator Jamie Green (no relation to Johnny Green). That interview request was sent via email Feb. 5. Brown requested The News instead submit questions via email Feb. 7. The questions were emailed Feb. 8. After not hearing a response, The News checked in Feb. 16 on the questions and was assured they were being worked on. On Feb. 22, The News received the following correspondence from Sheriff Brown. The following is presented exactly as it was received. Any editing or additional information will appear as an italicized editor’s note within the text.
I would first like to give my condolences to the Green family. Never once have I responded to criticism of the Office of Sheriff nor considered to politic anyone’s misfortune and by no means do I want anyone to misconstrue this as being political. But only at the request of the news am I responding. Because of so much being said on Facebook and the article by former police officer Ryan Rolston “Justice is sometimes slow” (Editor’s note: This “article” is actually the Our Thoughts editorial, as written by Covington News Editor and Publisher David Clemons and Managing Editor Jackie Gutknecht. It was published Feb. 5.). After careful consideration with prayer and thoughts and being contacted by the news because of the Facebook post that someone would attack an officer by demeaning them; I felt it my responsibility to respond to the emails and opinions posted the week of Feb. 4.
We respect the life and dignity of every individual we are called upon to serve. But when you make a personal attack on an officer it is my responsibility to defend that officer carrying out the fundamental duties and not myself because I don’t expect everyone to like me. I intend not to cast a shadow on the Green family, in particular the deceased. Hear the facts as they are and not according to the facts by the news.
Does the Newton County Sheriff’s Office have a standard protocol for reports of a missing person?
Yes we do have such a protocol. (Editor’s Note: Sheriff Brown called Gutknecht Feb. 22 and asked if The News would be interested in the whole protocol, as it was pretty lengthy. The News asked for it to be attached as a separate PDF or Word document with his responses. That separate attachment is available below.)
What would the steps in the protocol entail?
Missing person’s policy 5.11 Please see attached. NCSO did follow protocol. Mr. Green was missing over 20-plus hours before the report was made by the family. The family had already conducted their own independent search before the Office of Sheriff was notified and could have tainted any physical evidence if there were any.
How are investigators assigned to cases? Is it dependent on the type of case or who is available?
Follow-up investigation - Cases requiring expertise will be assigned to investigators possessing such skills. This does not however, prelude the CID Commander from assigning additional assistance. All deputies assigned to a follow-up investigation shall revise their case file within five working days of the assignment detailing their efforts thus far, including a second contact with the principals in the case. Principals are victim’s, complainants or witnesses.
Is the Johnny Green case still considered an open investigation?
Yes, as of this day it is still considered an active case.
What resources does the sheriff’s office have when investigating a missing person, specifically a missing person near a lake? Does the sheriff’s office have access to a boat, K9 team, drone or other equipment?
The Newton County Sheriff’s Office does have access to Boat Patrol, K-9 with three working dogs, Drone with FLIR, Off Road 4x4 ATV, Crime Scene Unit, Swift water Rescue, Helicopter (Memorandum of Understanding with DeKalb) and Community United Efforts(CUE)- Center for Missing Persons
(Editor’s note: The remaining questions were directed at Investigator Green, as The News was asked to submit its questions to both the investigator and Sheriff.)
Upon receiving the call reporting Johnny Green as a missing person, what steps were taken to start the investigation?
Keeping in mind Mr. Green was reported missing after 20-plus hours of being missing and the fact that he was known to wander off, according to statements provided, and not return for several days; We conducted a thorough search in the immediate area where he was last seen the day he was reported missing and without getting into further details we used human intelligence to aid us in this process. There was a continuation of the investigation the following day which did not yield positive results. Without going into details, the information received contained conflicting stories.
Were interviews conducted in the process of the missing persons investigation? Who was interviewed?
We interviewed three individuals and was still tracking information being provided on Mr. Green’s case. Simultaneously, we were in the process of contacting additional resources including CUE when residents from the community called in and reported Mr. Green’s body had floated to the surface on Nov. 9, 2017.
Was a search party organized by the sheriff’s office? Is it the job of the sheriff’s office to organize a search party?
The Sheriff Office will gather resources and organize a search party as it relates to missing persons
Was Jackson Lake searched in the process of the missing persons investigation, as Mr. Green was reported missing so close to the lake?
Again, Mr. Green was reported to the Office of Sheriff over 20 plus hours after the fact he was reported missing and the family stated he was known to wander off and not return for several days. It was unknown to us whether or not he had walked away from his fishing party and/or caught a ride or what may have happen. Nonetheless, the Sheriff’s Office took in consideration many hypotheses while investigating Mr. Green’s case. There was an aerial search where we were told he was last seen. However, there was no evidence that would have suggested Mr. Green had fallen into the lake. NCSO did not search the lake because the family and a community helper had already searched the lake by boat and drone while Investigators were taking pictures and canvasing the area on Nov. 7, as a unified effort.
What evidence was taken in the missing persons case of Johnny Green? Is that evidence still in NCSO possession?
The fact that this is an ongoing investigation we will not list the evidence that was taken or released to the family. Yes, evidence was taken and some has been returned to the family.
Once Johnny Green’s body was located in Jackson Lake, how did the investigation change?
Once Mr. Green’s body was discovered an autopsy was conducted by Georgia Bureau of Investigations Medical Examiner’s Office. His manner of death was determined to be accidental methamphetamine and ethanol toxicity. From there the investigation changed from being a missing person with suspicious circumstances to investigating how Mr. Green ended up in the lake.
How did Johnny Green’s body end up in Jackson Lake?
It is unknown how Mr. Green ended up in the lake. This is still an active case.
With Ryan Ralston being a former officer of the law, I find it disturbing that a former police officer would write a letter with misleading facts and denigrating law enforcement without any justification other than hurt and pain (or what is the motive?) from the loss of his friend. Personally, I have lost family members and friends in tragedies and never once did I take it to social media or any other outlet, nor will I.
I would like to commend Investigator Green and all my deputies for the hard work they do. I am honored to have such committed deputies and investigators assigned to each case. It yet remains that my deputies do an outstanding job though we are 30-plus officers short. However, we are not blaming this case on the fact that we are short-staffed.
In closing, I have prayed for you and your family and will continue to have faith that during these trying times you will be sensitive to how good God really is. That you may know how great is the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18) and that the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds.
This has been the hardest article to write because I could not put all the facts and particulars in this article out of respect for Mr. Green and his family.
Sheriff Ezell Brown