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K9 Kora catches Atlanta criminals

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    Putnam County Sheriff Howard R. Sills stamps “recidivist” on the legal paperwork of 24-year-old James Gardner of Atlanta. The term means Gardner had three prior convicted felonies at the time of his arrest on felony charges in Putnam County.

Putnam County residents and business owners are not exempt from the Atlanta crime wave, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said; but thanks to an alert deputy sheriff and persistent K9 officer, two repeat-offender criminals from the Atlanta area are behind bars in Putnam County.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more hoodlums from Atlanta come down here,” Sills said Monday as he read the paperwork on the incident and looked at the extensive criminal record of the arrestees. “We keep hearing that they are forming committees in Atlanta on what to do about all the crime there, but this is why it’s bad – because they don’t do anything to them. … So, if you think the crime in Atlanta has no impact on you because you don’t live there, you’re wrong.”

Around 3:30 a.m. Monday, Deputy Alfred Flores was conducting his routine patrol when he noticed a 2002 Ford Explorer around the businesses in the Sammons Industrial Parkway area.

“It’s highly unusual that time of night for someone to be in that area, and the deputy knew that. So, he turned on his blue lights and initiated a traffic stop, but a chase ensued,” Sills said.

The Explorer went down Harmony Road and Parks Mill Road, reaching speeds of 100 mph, Sills said. The chase continued into Morgan County on Reids Ferry Road, where the driver eventually lost control and crashed into a ditch.

Two men reportedly jumped out of the vehicle and ran into the woods, ignoring deputies’ commands to stop. The deputies combed the woods to no avail while waiting for Deputy Hollie Collins and K9 Kora to arrive.

“Kora tracked them into the woods and found them and Kora was actually standing on top of one of them, holding him when the other deputies caught up and got there,” Sills said.

In the Ford, deputies found mail from the businesses on Sammons Industrial Parkway, a loaded gun, a “substantial amount” of marijuana, a cache of assorted stolen checks, a check printer and fictitious checks, stolen credit cards, credit card reading devices, credit card programmers, and blank credit cards, Sills said. The checks and/or credit cards were stolen out of Bibb, Morgan and Putnam counties.

“They had some fairly sophisticated equipment,” the sheriff said of the credit card readers and programmers. “So, they can pull the information off of the stolen credit cards and put it on a new, blank card.”

The driver of the Ford, Corey Antonius Shephard, 22, of Charleston Terrace, Decatur, was charged with failure to maintain lane, driving while unlicensed, felony attempt to elude a law enforcement officer, speeding 100 mph, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of a financial transaction card forgery device, theft by possession of stolen mail, and forgery in the third degree, according to Sills.

James Gardner, 24, of Savannah Trail, Atlanta, was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of firearm during the commission of a crime, possession of a financial transaction card forgery device, theft by possession of stolen mail, and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

Putnam’s veteran sheriff said Gardner has a 13-page criminal record from Clayton, Henry and Dekalb counties, was on probation in Henry and Dekalb, and had outstanding warrants in both of those counties as well as Miami-Dade County, Florida. Gardner also is out on bond in Fulton County for trafficking cocaine and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, and Shephard is out on bond in Dekalb for possession of cocaine.

“It is incredible to me that in Fulton County, somebody on felony probation is arrested and released on bond and now here he is in Putnam County going from business to business stealing mail and then running from deputies at 100 miles per hour,” Sills said. “The one thing I wish they’d do is keep them up there because we are not going to tolerate it down here. They are like coyotes, roaming the night as predators, stealing where they can.

“The problem is, in 1974, if you stole a hog, you served three years in prison,” Sills continued. “But now, you can do multiple felonies over and over again and just get put on probation.”

Because of his three previous convictions, Gardner is considered a recidivist in Georgia, which means if he is convicted on these new charges, he will have to serve the full sentence imposed by the court and cannot be considered for parole.