Man gets DUI charge after reporting abuse by Georgia sheriff

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A 75-year-old man who filed a complaint that a Georgia sheriff had grabbed him by the throat was arrested on a drunken-driving charge the following day, according to police reports.

Prosecutors charged Bacon County Sheriff Mark Cothren on Wednesday with elder abuse, battery and violating his oath of office. The sheriff’s arrest came a week after John Daniel Melton reported the sheriff to police in Alma, a small city in the rural southeast Georgia county that’s about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Savannah.

An incident report says Melton came to the police station May 22 and told an officer “he attempted to shake Sheriff Cothren’s hand and was grabbed by the throat and shoved into a pole.” The police chief had the case turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the inquiry that resulted in the sheriff’s arrest.

GBI agent Mark Pro said Thursday the sheriff grabbed Melton by the throat outside the sheriff’s office, but he declined to say what preceded the outburst. The police report, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, gives no further details.

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Alma police arrested Melton on a DUI charge the day after he made his report accusing the sheriff.

Sgt. Michael Hewett, the same Alma officer who took Melton’s complaint against the sheriff, pulled over Melton the morning of May 23. That incident report says Hewett witnessed Melton change lanes without signaling and veer outside his lane while making a right turn.

The police report says Melton reeked of alcohol when he rolled down his window to speak with the officer.

“Melton stepped out of the truck and immediately fell back into the door frame,” the report said. “Sgt. Hewett asked Melton how much he had been drinking this morning. Melton advised he had only had one beer.”

The officer told Melton he received a call from someone who saw Melton drink three beers inside a convenience store that morning, the report said. Melton allowed his blood to be drawn for a blood-alcohol test. Then he was taken to jail — not in Bacon County, where he had just filed a complaint against the sheriff, but in neighboring Appling County.

Melton does not have a listed phone number. It was not immediately known whether he has an attorney.

Those weren’t Melton’s only recent encounters with police. An April 29 incident report by Alma police says he was charged with shoplifting a pair of sunglasses from a business where he had an appointment with an eye doctor.

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