At least 27 sheriff’s office employees across Georgia have died with COVID-19, according to an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Fresh Take Georgia. Among them are an elected sheriff, senior officers, veteran jail employees, men and women. Sixteen worked outside of jails, patrolling counties, securing courthouses and handling other duties. Some were U.S. military veterans. Many left behind families with children. Here are four of their stories.
Sheriff’s Deputy Jody Smith
Age 48, of Ranburne, Alabama. Read the obituary.
By Skyler Heath, Fresh Take Georgia
Bella Smith fondly remembers the time she hit her first home run. Then 9, she stepped up to home plate on a softball field in East Alabama, read the pitcher like a book and swung with all her might. The ball soared over the outfielders. She charged through the bases and safely reached home well before the catcher could tag her out.
Bella’s father, coach and hero, Jody Smith, was cheering her on from the sidelines. The two bonded over softball and spent their free time practicing in their backyard. For countless hours, Bella pitched curveballs and he hit popups for her to catch.
“But really what I loved most about the game was my daddy being there and now he’s not,” said Bella, now 14.
Her father died from COVID-19 complications Sept. 3. Smith, 48, worked for eight years at the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office in Carrollton, where he was responsible for driving detainees to other jails and prisons. His widow believes he contracted the disease in the Carroll County Jail.
Born in Ranburne, Alabama, Smith was a tenacious athlete who was passionate about softball.
“From the minute Jody was old enough to hold a ball, he never put it down,” said his mother, Brenda Smith.
Smith’s friends said he closely resembled “Dirty Dancing” star Patrick Swayze when he was younger. Cheryl Smith, who grew up in the same hometown, was enamored by his looks and found his deep belly laughs contagious. They married in 2005. Jody loved Cheryl’s son, Tristen, and raised him as his own. Three years after they married, Jody and Cheryl brought Bella into the world.
Smith stayed upbeat after he tested positive for COVID-19, said his widow, adding their family expected him to fully recover. But his blood-oxygen level began to fall. His family took him to the hospital and he was eventually moved into intensive care. When Cheryl Smith visited her husband, she lifted up his oxygen mask and the two shared a kiss.
“And even at that point, I never once doubted he was coming home,” she said.
The Carroll Sheriff’s Office and Smith’s family held a prayer vigil outside of his hospital room. A nurse told Cheryl that he was improving. But the next morning a doctor called to tell her that he was not going to make it through the day.
Bella stopped playing softball after she lost her father. She said she never played without him and doesn’t plan to now.
Capt. Michael D’Angelo Garigan
Age 56, of Calhoun. Read the obituary.
By Caleb Groves, Fresh Take Georgia
Hundreds of friends and loved ones gathered at Phil Reeve Stadium in Calhoun for a memorial service last year for Michael Garigan, a law enforcement officer who served Gordon County for 31 years. A church pastor related to Garigan led the audience in the chant, “Be Like Mike,” a nod to Garigan’s admiration of NBA legend Michael Jordan.
“We are here because we love Mike,” said Pastor James C. Marable, who leads Bethel Baptist Church in Barnesville.
Garigan, 56, died with COVID-19 on Jan. 24, 2021. He was married with three children and four grandchildren.
A Calhoun native, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Jacksonville State University. He served as a deacon at First Corinth Christian Church in Calhoun, coached youth football and worked as the commander of the Gordon County Jail. The kids he taught in the D.A.R.E. program remembered him as kind and respectful, said his widow, Leslie Garigan. He was passionate about sports and education, she added, and refused to let others celebrate him, despite his accomplishments.
The pandemic changed him. He and his wife spent thousands of dollars on cleaning supplies and scrubbed their walls until paint came off. He never left the house without a mask and spent as little time as possible in the jail, where social distancing is difficult.
“He was petrified of COVID,” his widow said.
When he became ill last year, his family was certain it wasn’t COVID-19. But it eventually became clear to them that his illness was more than a cold as he struggled to breathe. Leslie Garigan called 911 four times. Every time, she said, 911 operators told her the hospitals were full. She nursed her husband until he was admitted to an intensive care unit, where he spent 19 days. When he was told he had COVID, he denied it, she said, and shook his head, repeatedly saying “No.” Garigan died later that day.
Leslie Garigan said she believes her husband contracted COVID-19 in the Gordon County Jail.
“COVID was the one battle we would come up against that we were not able to overcome,” she said.
To honor her husband, she is starting a nonprofit, “Be Like Mike.” A college scholarship, she said, will be given to others who are like he was — dedicated to making the world a better place.
Sgt. Bobby Williams
Age 56, of Columbus. Read the obituary.
By Melissa Walsh, Fresh Take Georgia
Bobby Williams’ sons vividly remember tagging along with their father while he worked the night shift as a security guard in LaGrange during the 1980s. They would hop in the family car along with their sister, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to walk the warehouse grounds and learn from their dad how to keep watch.
He instilled discipline and determination in his children. Williams built them an outdoor gym with a basketball hoop. His children remember him cheering them on from the sidelines at their sporting events.
“He was joyful, he was kind,” said Yairick McFadden, Williams’ oldest son. “He was just that person someone would look up to.”
Williams, 56, died from complications with COVID-19 on Sept. 13, 2021. His family believes he contracted the disease in the Muscogee County Jail, where he worked as a sergeant.
Williams was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Warsaw, North Carolina, by his grandparents. Shortly after graduating from high school, he moved to Columbus, where he joined the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office in 1993. Williams loved to collect guns and rare coins and go fishing with his youngest son, Jordon Williams.
When Bobby Williams began experiencing symptoms, he didn’t want anyone to worry about him. He struggled to catch his breath but sought to reassure his family it was just a cold. A few days later, Williams, who lived alone, didn’t show up for work, prompting his colleagues to contact his family. Williams was too frail to get up and answer the door.
Williams was placed on a ventilator at the hospital. His relatives weren’t allowed to visit because of the pandemic, so fellow sheriff’s deputies who were stationed there connected them by phone. That allowed his family to communicate with him every day until he died.
Muscogee deputies now routinely check on his family members, buy them dinner and share memories about Williams. Meanwhile, his oldest children are now teaching their own children what he taught them as they reminisce about the days when they were able to ride with their dad to work.
Cpl. Gregory Bernard Campbell
Age 54, of Augusta. Read the obituary.
By Lilly Carter, Fresh Take Georgia
Gregory Bernard Campbell enjoyed spending his early mornings at the gym when it was quiet so he could read his Bible while he worked out. He worshipped at Restoration Ministries International in Augusta, where he became a minister, ushered and worked with children. He met his wife, Pamela Campbell, there at a Wednesday night Bible study more than 26 years ago.
His faith, hearty laugh, and “winner’s smile” are among his qualities she remembers most.
“There was a brightness and countenance about him that always left an impression on people,” she said. “He was one of the nicest people you would ever meet.”
Campbell, 54, died from complications from COVID-19 on Sept. 18, 2021, five months after he was promoted to corporal at the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. He started as a deputy jailor and worked there for more than 14 years.
Campbell was working closely with detainees in the Charles B. Webster Detention Center when he contracted COVID-19 in August. He battled the disease in the hospital for several weeks before he was placed on a ventilator. Campbell’s health was complicated by sleep apnea, a common condition that can prevent people from getting enough oxygen.
He had three sons, all of whom shared his Christian faith. His eldest son, Reign, runs a car detailing business they started together before the pandemic, Reign and Greg’s Pressure Wash. In memory of his father, Reign wrapped his work van with a photo of him and one of their favorite Bible verses, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Fresh Take Georgia partnered on this investigation. They asked all of the state’s 142 county jails for information about COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Learn more about the project.