Addressing the Media

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Mike Ayers, left, and Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman talk to reporters after a shooting in Loganville, Ga., on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.

MONROE, Ga. — A handful of Walton County Jail workers have contracted COVID-19, but Sheriff Joe Chapman said there are no staff shortages.

“I have seven confirmed cases with staff members,” Sheriff Joe Chapman said Tuesday.

All of those are correctional officers, he said.

“All indications that we know of is that two contracted it from outside sources,” he said. “We think the others contracted it from them when they brought it into the jail.”

Chapman said no inmates have tested positive for the illness, and no deputies have either.

“We don’t have any confirmed inmates with COVID-19,” he said. “We have done everything within our power to prevent that from happening.”

The jail has a population well below normal. Early in the coronavirus pandemic, Chapman asked Walton County’s police chiefs not to bring people to jail unless absolutely necessary.

There were 330 inmates in the jail at midday Tuesday, where an average census is around 450.

“We’re well below what we normally are, and that’s even on top of the state not taking any inmates because of COVID-19,” Chapman said.

Twelve inmates are waiting for transfer to the state Department of Corrections, which has been slow to accept new prisoners.

Inmates who contract COVID-19 will be sent to the Rockdale County Jail, which is newer and has a larger medical facility.

Chapman said school resource officers have been brought into the county jail to help maintain order. He denied rumors of inmates being out of control within the jail’s walls.

“Since the staff has gotten COVID-19 and due to the uptick of COVID-19, we have put the inmates on 23/1 lockdown,” Chapman said. “They’re on lockdown 23 hours a day and out one hour a day.

“That’s for their safety and ours too.”

The fourth-term sheriff said he’s been inundated with calls from people concerned about inmates, but he said he can only do so much.

“We’re getting a rash of call from family members or boyfriends or girlfriends of inmates wanting their relative or loved one released,” Chapman said. “The only person who can release someone is the courts.”

Newton and Walton counties currently are under a local judicial emergency due to the spread of COVID-19 and the death of Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. on July 1, days after he was diagnosed with the illness.

Criminal court is closed through July 14, but Judge Eugene M. Benton will have a hearing July 15 in Walton County Superior Court to consider “essential, in-custody matters,” interim District Attorney Randy McGinley’s office said.

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