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Local police honored at annual ceremony

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

Families of crime victims expressed their appreciation to law enforcement officers in Henry County, last week, for helping them through dark times in their lives.

The county held its annual Law Enforcement and Public Service Recognition Ceremony on The McDonough Square on Friday. The event, sponsored by the Henry County District Attorney's Office and Solicitor General's Office, was part of the local commemoration of National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

All of the police departments in Henry, and the Henry County Sheriff's Office, were recognized during the ceremony. Individual awards also went to officers and detectives from the Henry County and Hampton police departments.

Senior Assistant District Attorney Jim Wright said the event was designed to applaud police personnel who have "gone above and beyond the call of duty" in their jobs. He said the occasion is often therapeutic for families of crime victims.

"Obviously, everybody copes with their emotions and their difficulties in different ways, but I believe this is one way to assist those family members in dealing with their loss," Wright said.

Crystal Cohran said she came to the event to express her appreciation to two members of the Henry County Police Department, Detective Tom Stott and Sgt. Woody Fowler. Both men, according to her, helped her during the investigation of her daughter Molly's death.

Molly Cohran and Yahshika Frye, both 16, of Stockbridge, were killed at a June 2, 2007 graduation party at the St. Ives Crossing Apartments in Stockbridge. Labaron Devon Curry, of Stockbridge, was convicted in their deaths in December.

"I just wanted to show them a little thank-you, and how much we appreciate [Stott and Fowler]," Crystal Cohran said. "All the hours and everything that they took away from their families to help solve my daughter's case ... it just means so much to me from the bottom of my heart."

Cohran got the chance, minutes later, to hug Stott and Fowler on behalf of her family as fellow officers and public safety workers looked on.

"You two will never know how much you mean to me and my family," Cohran told the officers. "I know I can never repay you for all the sweat ... that you put into Molly's case, but maybe you'll have a slight idea of how grateful me and my family are to you, and I thank you on behalf of Molly."

Stott, who has worked with the police department since 1991, was unaware of why he was asked to attend the ceremony until moments before Cohran spoke. He said he appreciated the "unusual gesture."

"We work a lot of cases, and we're not doing it for recognition or accolades or whatever," Stott said. "But it's nice to know that people appreciate it."

Elizabeth Martin drove from Michigan to give a certificate of appreciation to Henry Police Detective Wayne Bender, and representatives of the District Attorney's Office's Victim Services Division. Martin's son, Damon Martin, died from a gunshot wound on Jan. 1. Rap music producer, Demetrius Stewart, also known as "Shawty Redd," is charged with murder in the case.

Elizabeth Martin said she is grateful for Bender's work in the investigation into her son's death.

"Detective Bender ... looked at my son as not just another young man being killed, but as a person," she said. "He took a special interest. I talked to him on the phone constantly. He informed me of what was going on, and I was able to get my son back to Michigan for his burial. I realize that the legal process is a slow-moving machine, but I was informed every step of the way."

"I'm very humbled that [Elizabeth Martin] would come all the way down from Michigan to meet me, and to present me with this award," Bender said. "What's even more humbling is, since this is a recent crime, that she would take time from her pain and sorrow to recognize or even think about someone else besides her son."

Henry County Solicitor General Chuck Spahos recognized local officers who were nominated by his staff to receive awards. One of those, he said, was Henry County Police Officer Geoffrey Gravius.

"When I asked [his staff] why we picked him, they said he was the one, consistently, that went above and beyond in every case that we dealt with," Spahos said. "You could always count on him to know about his cases, about his victims. He came in truly representing them."

Other officers lauded by the solicitor's office were Hampton Police Officer Eric Hayes, and Henry Officer Raymond Leduc. Members of the Henry County Stop Violence Against Women Alliance were also honored at the event.

Henry County Sheriff's Chief Deputy David McCart has worked in law enforcement for nearly 30 years, and was in attendance at the ceremony. He said he and his colleagues sympathize with crime victims and their families.

"We hate the stuff that happens to them, and our hearts go out to them when they're faced with these situations, whether they're a victim of a burglary or theft, or ... a loved one's life has been taken," McCart said.