Family of missing person quarrels with Chambers County Sheriff's - WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

Family of missing person quarrels with Chambers County Sheriff's department

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WEST POINT, Ga. - A story is unfolding in Chambers County, Alabama involving a missing man and a family convinced the Sheriff's department could do more to find him.

James Garner went missing at the beginning of May. Two searches in June conducted by Chambers County authorities, and Garner's family turned up nothing. Now, the family is trying to find out exactly what happened to James Garner.

Garner was arrested at the beginning of May for public intoxication. Garner's family claims he became ill at that time. He made bond two days later. Then, LaFayette police got a call reporting a man outside of a daycare center. It was James Garner. 

“We have various eye witness accounts that state that two caucasian male Sheriff’s deputies were last seen the last time the witnesses saw Mr. Garner on may the third,” said the Garner’s attorney Eric Hutchins. “They were seen putting him into the vehicle and driving off with him.”

The Chambers County Sheriff’s department disputes that claim.

“The LaFayette police department went and interviewed the two witnesses that said they saw him get into a sheriff's car,” said Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart. “Both witnesses deny saying that, and denied saying that and they have signed statements of that.”

Sheriff Lockhart claims authorities were only offering Garner a ride home.

"One of my deputies was in the area so he went by him,” said Sheriff Lockhart. “ (He) located Mr. Garner, spoke with him, and then LaFayette officers arrived and offered him a ride home. They did not know at that time that he had just made bond and gotten out of jail. He would not get in the car with our officers or LaFayette’s."

Sheriff Lockhart says that he received a few reports from people claiming to have seen him after that incident. But not long after, James Garner was missing.

The Garner family filed an open records request to get all video, audio, or documents related to James Garner. Both sides claim there has been miscommunication about the records request.

“He did call me back a few times and then I called him back,” said Hutchins. “But given something of this magnitude, I think it would be best, if people would memorialize it in writing. Now I should have done that I think to follow up, but I think I did what I needed to do with the open records request. I’m not trying to point the finger at anybody, but where I’m at right now is, we need that information, we want it, and we're going to get it. If they don't produce it, we're going to file a suit for it.”

Sheriff Lockhart claimed that Hutchins has been difficult to contact. But, The Garner family wants the United States Justice Department to get involved.

I think it's best to listen to the family and have federal officials come in and investigate this,” said Hutchins. “You had the NAACP involved. This is an African American who’s missing, last seen being placed in the custody of two caucasian police officers. So, we want some answers.”

Sheriff Lockhart says that they did nothing wrong.

“I can assure them there was no wrong doing by the chambers county sheriff’s department,” said Sheriff Lockhart.  “We hate something like this happened. We wish we could locate him alive and well. We just hope and pray that one day he will turn up somewhere alive.”

The Garner family's attorney called later and said that he and the county attorney have arranged a time to meet.

If you know anything about the location of James Garner, contact the Chambers County Sheriff's Department at 334-864-4333.
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