By Carol A. Gasser Moore
LANIER COUNTY, Georgia – An unidentified Georgia State Patrol (GSP) trooper stopped Lanier County Deputy Kevin Lee on Saturday, after Lee suddenly went off duty while driving a Lanier County Sheriff’s Office vehicle. The trooper checked and arrested Lee for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) while he was driving in another county. It has been the understanding of the Lanier County News (LCN) that Lee is or has been held in Brooks County on the DUI charges.
It’s a sad story, but area readers should also be aware that anyone employed in First Responder positions have enough increased pressure, due to the traumatic nature of responding to horrific and risky community behaviors, that there is a higher rate of problem alcohol and drug abuse in those occupations, so these kinds of problems happen. That’s true nationally; that’s true in the state, and it can certainly be equally true locally.
A quick check of a 2007 survey of 980 American police officers found that 37.6% of the respondents endorsed one or more problem drinking behaviors. The National Institute of Justice says that stress, poor management, lack of funds, inadequate or broken equipment, and excessive overtime, which are well known problems in law enforcement and other first responder occupations, such as fire fighting, contribute to the problem.
Occupation groups like police officers and fire fighters are exposed to a number of traumatic events which put them at a risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Previous studies have found the prevalence of PTSD in police officers to vary between 7 and 19%. This is one reason why our long time Sheriff Nick Norton is so diligent in his effort to minimize some of these problems and keep overtime in his department personnel to a minimum.
While it is true that everyone attends bachelor parties, nights out with friends and gatherings that can and do affect each of us the next day. Everyday decisions we make can and do reflect on us and our lives daily. Just like we were taught in school, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The fact is some mistakes by the potential magnitude of their possible ‘worst case scenario’ are weighted to need urgent and immediate response. Just ask anyone who speaks at Victim Impact Panels because they have lost someone or had someone severely injured by a DUI driver
Also true is the fact that certain occupations such as law enforcement have their personnel held to higher standards, meaning those persons have less margin for error when out in normal day to day activities or special events.
Such was the case on Saturday, February 25. Lanier County Deputy Kevin Lee was working in Lanier County when dispatched to a call for service. During his interaction with the family, they noticed Lee acting as if something was wrong. Deputy Kevin Lee left the residence and Sheriff Norton was informed out of concern for the officer.
Deputy Kevin Lee “clocked out” of work and began his journey home.
Because possibility of sobriety was a concern, Sheriff Norton actively began trying to locate Officer Lee, including notifying surrounding law enforcement agencies. This notification included the Georgia State Patrol, who located Lee.
After Kevin Lee was stopped and arrested for driving under the influence, Chief Deputy Stryde Jones was immediately dispatched to the stop location. The Lanier County Sheriff’s Department vehicle and all property held within were secured.
Kevin Lee’s employment with the Sheriff’s Office was immediately terminated.
Sadly, Lee has had a prior offense when he was suspended about eight years ago. At that time he worked for Thomas County, Thomasville Narcotics, Vice Division as their commander. Lee took responsibility at that time for his choice and apologized to the Thomas County citizenry and to his employer, the Thomas County Sheriff’s Office. At that time, Lee was driving his personal vehicle, instead of a department vehicle.
In the Thomas County incident, records noted that Lee was unsteady on his feet, his eyes were red and glassy, and a strong odor of alcohol came from the vehicle. The report showed he tested .148 grams for blood-alcohol content. Lee took responsibility and acknowledged that he put himself in a bad position, along with the sheriff’s office and his job. On the other hand, in both the Thomas County incident as well in his work within Lanier County, Lee has demonstrated good law enforcement and leadership during over two decades of law enforcement work. What Lee may be guilty of is an inability or limited ability to positively cope and release the traumatic stress related to his work. Unfortunately, alcohol can be a socially acceptable way to relax, but not safe when driving.
It has been said Lee has defended citizens and their property in a manner that is a credit to law enforcement. On the other hand, everyone in the community is affected when a law enforcement officer breaks the law.
Sheriff Nick Norton has affirmed, “This was terrible decision on his part. Regardless of the circumstances, this was absolutely and without question unacceptable.”
Norton went on to say, “Those who know me, know I arrested my own dad for DUI when I worked as a deputy over 30 years ago. I’m not proud of it, but it was necessary to keep him from hurting someone or his self and it was my job…. which I will always do regardless of who you are.”
This incident will be reported to POST, the certifying agency for law enforcement officers.