June 18, 2002
By RUSS BYNUM, Associated Press Writer
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Gov. Roy Barnes on Tuesday suspended Effingham County Sheriff Jay Space from office for 60 days after an investigation determined Space's battle with multiple sclerosis has affected his ability to serve as sheriff.
Space, 40, has continued working as sheriff in Effingham County, 20 miles northwest of Savannah, since he was diagnosed last year with MS - a degenerative disease that causes loss of muscle control.
Barnes ordered an investigation of Space's fitness for office last month at the urging of the Effingham County Board of Commissioners and the Georgia Sheriffs' Association. Commissioners said the disease had affected Space's ability to drive and made him emotionally erratic.
Space did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. He had previously said he was taking medication to control the disease. He also had given commissioners a March 14 letter from his neurologist saying Space was well enough to perform his duties.
''Let me repeat this in no way was to hurt anybody, nor was it political,'' said Commission Chairman Phillip King. ''It was strictly in the best interest of the citizens of Effingham County.''
Barnes' order, signed Tuesday, did not explain his reasons for suspending Space. Attorney General Thurbert Baker and two sheriffs, at the governor's request, spent last week interviewing people close to Space before making their recommendation.
King said county officials were mostly worried about the county's liability if Space, who declined their offer to provide him a driver, injured or killed anyone in a wreck.
Space was pulled over by police in Garden City, near Savannah, on April 13, 2001, when an officer spotted the sheriff's Mercedes weaving between lanes. On Aug. 24, Space rear-ended a motorist on Highway 21, causing $4,900 in damage to his county car, according to police reports.
King also says the sheriff's behavior has become erratic since his diagnosis. He says Space verbally accosted a police officer who stopped him for speeding April 24 and interrupted a commission meeting May 21 by yelling at commissioners.
Barnes could extend Space's suspension for another 30 days, but the law does not allow the governor to remove a sheriff from office.
To do that, the local district attorney must file a removal petition in Superior Court. In essence, Space would be put on trial and a jury would determine whether to remove him altogether.
Barnes' order stopped short of recommending Space's removal. ''If the district attorney intends to bring a removal petition, he is admonished to do so without delay,'' Barnes wrote.
District Attorney Joe Martin did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
The committee Barnes appointed to investigate Space consisted
of Baker, Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison and Tift County Sheriff
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