Joint investigative unit responds to major Henry County crimes

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Posted: Saturday, May 4, 2013 4:45 pm | Updated: 6:31 pm, Sat May 4, 2013.

It’s a numbers game.

Numbers involve using logic and your mind. When you combine more than one mind it’s easier to solve mysteries, especially crimes reported to local law enforcement.

Solving crime often boils down to whose number is up to respond to the latest major crime.

Shortly after Henry County Sheriff William Maddox took office he joined the investigative forces of the sheriff’s office and the Abbeville Police Department, nearly doubling their investigative numbers.

After five years what was originally dubbed the Henry County Sheriff’s and Abbeville Police Investigative Task Force has evolved into the Henry County Sheriff’s and Abbeville Police Investigative Unit. The investigative unit includes two of the county’s three largest law enforcement agencies.

Maddox said the investigative unit works any type of felony crime, not just drug crimes.

“I was told when I took office you never would get everybody in the county to work together, and we’re mighty close right now. If we can get Headland on board it unifies everyone, and everybody knows what’s going on in the whole county,” Maddox said. “You’ve got more people looking at a crime scene and two minds are better than one.”

Joint Investigative Unit

Abbeville Police Chief Mike Jones welcomed the prospect of joining the investigative unit, which he said strengthened his department by adding more manpower.

“I’ve got two investigators, but being a member I’ve really got five investigators,” Jones said. “They can act a lot quicker. You might have to wait hours to get an investigator to a crime scene if you didn’t have five investigators.”

Maddox said he swears in the investigators from other departments who serve on the unit as sheriff’s deputies, which he said gives them authority to make arrests if they’re called to respond to something in the county.

“You can solve crimes better and faster if you’ve got more people working on them,” Maddox said. “I don’t think we would’ve solved as many cases as we’ve solved without this investigative unit we’ve got now.”

Maddox cited the arrests of three people for conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Victor Cruz Sanchez in 2009 as evidence of how the two agencies came together under the leadership of then commander Clyde Hornsby.

Sanchez was killed during a robbery at Roberts Trailer Park where he lived with the four suspects. The trailer park is located off Alabama Highway 10 near Abbeville.

Sanchez’s former wife Jessica Lynn Wilson, Robert Lee Burns, Wilson’s mother Tamara Lynn Burns Wilson and Victor Manuel Solorzano all face charges in Sanchez’s death.

Maddox said sheriff’s Lt. James S. Culbreth serves as the current commander of the investigative unit.

Culbreth said the current investigative unit includes six detectives, five full-time and one part-time, all of which come from the sheriff’s office and Abbeville Police Department.

“It’s where we have an agreement with the chief of police and sheriff of the county where we investigate together,” Culbreth said. “Whatever we get as far as guns and money we split.”

Culbreth said they’re looking to get away from using the name “task force” because he said task force signifies it has its own Originating Agency Identification (ORI) Number, which he said the unit does not have. He said a task force also usually receives funding from the federal government. He said they’re completely funded by the agencies within the investigative unit.

“That’s the biggest plus, the joining of forces and just being able to help each other at large crime scenes,” Culbreth said.

Culbreth said a shooting in December 2011 worked by the investigative unit spread the detectives all over the region.

“We had a shooting, and an individual was shot on Kirkland Street where he was taken to the hospital,” Culbreth said. “We actually found one of the suspects in Barbour County.”

Culbreth said a larger group of investigators comes in handy when they have to work a larger crime scene or multiple crime scenes.

Investigators arrested two brothers in the shooting that left Christopher Kirkland with five gunshot wounds. Willie A. Brooks Jr., 27, of Shorterville, faces felony charges of attempted murder and shooting into an occupied vehicle, which remain pending and scheduled for trial.

Mark Anthony Marsh, 33, of Abbeville, pleaded guilty to a felony second-degree assault charge last year.

The shooting happened in the roadway near the Henry County Department of Human Resources building around 11:30 p.m. in Abbeville.

“The biggest thing is the manpower of course,” Culbreth said. “It increases our capability of working a large crime scene.”

Culbreth said that extra manpower also helped most recently as investigators were called to the stabbing death of 17-year-old Emmett Tyric Leqwaun Brown last month.

“With the stabbing of the 17-year-old we had a humungous crime scene there. You’ve got to control all that, and you’ve got to send investigators to all those sites,” Culbreth said. “It helped a lot that night to have five or six investigators come out and work together on such a huge case.”

Detectives with the investigative unit charged 17-year-old Gregory Spann, 17-year-old Marquise Barwick and 18-year-old Montrez Brown with murder in the stabbing death. The stabbing death came as a result of an altercation at a block party near the intersection of Crawford and Phillips streets.

Culbreth said one of the other advantages to combining forces is it spreads out their on-call roster for detectives.

“If we didn’t have it our investigators would be on-call here every third week where as now it’s every fifth week,” Culbreth said.

Both Maddox and Culbreth said the countywide investigative unit isn’t quite complete without the Headland Police Department.

“It would work to the degree we wouldn’t need them to have to come up here and stay. My thing would be they would pretty much stay down there in Headland unless we had something big where we needed them,” Culbreth said. “It should save them money with the investigative unit being on-call every seven weeks.”

Culbreth said the investigators from the Headland Police Department could add to the group, which he said already includes four general investigators and two drug investigators. He said the larger the investigative unit the less often the detectives have to be on call.

Headland Police Chief Mark Jones called a task force idea a “great” idea because it’s putting more experience out in the field.

But Jones said with a county as large and spread out as Henry County it could prove financially tough.

“It’s a good thing if it’s feasible for the city and county to be able to do it budgetwise, where it’s not a burden on any of the departments’ budget,” Mark Jones said. “Our budget just couldn’t handle it with the OT. Our officers get no OT.”

As commander of the task force, Culbreth said he’s willing to do things a little differently than in the past in an effort to help make up for the distance between Headland and Abbeville.

Culbreth also said if one of the officers on the investigative unit were to get hurt on the job they’d still be covered by their department’s insurance.

“We hope Headland comes on board. We can only offer it to them the best way I can. I would do things a little different because I know they are far from us,” Culbreth said. “I would do everything I possibly could to try and accommodate the chief down there, and I understand the gas situation. I wouldn’t require them to be up here constantly. There’s a give and take of course.”

Chief Mark Jones said his officers and the county already work well together assisting each other responding to reported crimes.

“They do definitely work together now. We’ve got a lot of help from the county task force down here, and if they need extra men my guys got it, they’re gone. The task force they got now, they got a great team. They’ve got some serious investigative knowledge on the team,” Jones said. “We can’t afford it due to budget reasons, the way economic times are right now. We’re not part of it, but if they call and need help we’ll send them.”

Culbreth called it a numbers game. The more investigators on hand to work a crime scene the more quickly an arrest can be reached.

“That’s the end goal, to make the county as a whole and the cities a safe place for everyone, and to provide as much law enforcement as we possibly can with the small agencies that we have,” Culbreth said.

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