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3 Washington Co. deputies fired after man died in their custody

Lee Copeland (left), Michael Howell (center), and Rhett Scott (right)/Washington County Sheriff Thomas Smith{p}{/p}
Lee Copeland (left), Michael Howell (center), and Rhett Scott (right)/Washington County Sheriff Thomas Smith

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, GA. -- Three Washington County Sheriff's Office deputies were fired Thursday after they were found in violation of several procedures in a case where a man died in their custody.

According to Sheriff Thomas H. Smith, deputies Michael Howell, Henry L. Copeland and Rhett Scott were found in violation of their Standard Operating Procedures in the death of Eurie Martin.

"I am convinced that not only have I been given the opportunity to make necessary personnel decisions based upon facts, but also, the criminal justice system will have an opportunity to properly evaluate this incident and respond accordingly," Smith said in a release.

It was reported that on July 7, 2017, the deputies responded to a suspicious person call in Deepstep. When they approached the suspect, Martin, a fight ensued and a deputy used a stun gun on him.

He was then placed in handcuffs.

Later, Martin began having respiratory problems and died at the scene after being treated by EMS.

Following Martin's death, the three deputies were placed on administrative leave pending the GBI investigation.

Smith said District Attorney Hayward Altman briefed him on the GBI investigation Tuesday, leading him to the decision to terminate the deputies.

"I am committed to ensuring that all personnel within my Organization are properly trained, and work in a professional manner within the laws, regulations and procedures that have been established to govern their conduct," Smith said in the release.

Smith added that he is grateful for the community's patience during the investigation and said the shooting was "deeply troubling" for them.

The Washington County community has mixed opinions about the sheriff's office.

Longtime resident Sandra Jackson said backing the county's law enforcement is easy.

“I could call an off duty officer right now and he would be willing to come help me in any way he could," Jackson said.

For resident Raymond Foster, it isn't so black and white.

“It became a problem when they Tased this guy," Foster said. "It became a bigger problem and people cannot ignore that what happened.”

He believes firing the deputies is a step in the right direction.

“Any person that abuses their power in authority should be dismissed out of their position," Foster said.

Melinda Nova said she believes there is a bigger, more deeply rooted issue.

“You see people doing stuff that they shouldn’t be doing and the sheriff can be right there, but turn around and walk away or sometimes they are a little aggressive with other people," Nova said. "I think maybe the cultural thing in United States needs to be worked on some.”

"I deeply regret the incident and continue to offer my thoughts and praters to Mr. Martin's family for their loss," Smith said in the release.

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The Peace Officer's Standards and Training Council will be notified of the deputies' terminations.

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