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'I want to be that voice': Team of Central Georgia sheriff's offices chooses leader for co-responder task force

Washington County Investigator Trey Burgamy coordinates the group made of representatives from six nearby sheriff's offices.

SANDERSVILLE, Ga. — Since 2017, the Washington County Sheriff's Office has struggled with the death of Eurie Martin.

Martin had documented mental health struggles when he was tased and killed on the side of Deep Step Road.

"Opened my eyes up," Sheriff Joel Cochran said. "Mental health is a serious issue."

Last year, state lawmakers passed a co-responder bill to prevent situations like Martin's. Resources in rural areas were often hard to come by, until now.

"We as law enforcement have got to better train and equip our officers in how to respond to these types of situations," Cochran said.

Now, Cochran believes his office is on the forefront of developing a new strategy. They decided to form a team of other rural sheriff's offices and combine mental health resources.

Washington, Wilkinson, Johnson, Hancock, Jefferson and Glascock counties officially joined forces in June with the help of a state grant. 

All of them are working to combat a shortage of mental health resources. Now, what they say is the state's first-ever multi-agency task force has a leader: Washington County Investigator Trey Burgamy.

Burgamy heads the group, designed to make sure people in mental health crises don't get mistreated.

"I want to be that voice for those people in crisis," Burgamy said.

He wanted the job because he loves helping people. It's also personal.

"I have a son who was born with down syndrome. So, I know what it's like to have someone with special needs," Burgamy said.

He's grateful to have the chance to lead the program. It's one he hopes serves as a blueprint for so many other rural Georgia counties. 

They've already held two meetings discussing how to implement the program. They plan to have a third next month after a summit at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.

According to the Washington County grant proposal, 87% of Cochran's deputies are trained in crisis intervention; but he says it's not always enough. 

Mental health caseworkers and peer support specialists will join several deputies with crisis training. Together, they hope to start serving early next year, lending an ear to people who just want to be heard.

"It's a huge task. A very huge task. But it's going to be awesome in the end when we get this thing up and running like we're supposed to," Burgamy said.

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