Georgia sheriff charged with grabbing 75-year-old by throat

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Authorities arrested a rural Georgia sheriff on felony charges after he grabbed a 75-year-old man by the throat outside the sheriff's office, the lead investigator on the case said Thursday.

Bacon County Sheriff Mark Cothren was booked at his own jail Wednesday on charges of battery, elder abuse and violating his oath of office. Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Mark Pro said the charges stemmed from an incident May 22 when the sheriff approached John Daniel Melton as he was walking up to the sheriff's office.

Pro said Melton was "engaged in conversation" with Cothren when "the sheriff put his hands on him."

"He grabbed him around the throat area," Pro said.

Pro declined to give more details about what preceded the sheriff grabbing Melton. He said Melton was not an inmate or in custody. He also said Melton did not strike the sheriff.

"The sheriff just released him and the guy went on his way," Pro said.

The sheriff's office said Cothren was not at work Thursday. It was not immediately known if the sheriff had an attorney. Melton did not have a listed phone number.

Cothren, 50, was elected sheriff in 2016 in Bacon County, a rural county about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Savannah. According to the sheriff's office website, Cothren has worked there since 1990 in roles ranging from jailer and patrolman to investigator and chief deputy.

A corporal and a sergeant who answered the phone at the jail Thursday refused to provide The Associated Press with a copy of Cothren's booking photo, which is considered a public record under Georgia law. Bacon County Chief Deputy Stan Livingston did not immediately return phone messages or respond to an emailed request for the photo citing Georgia's Open Records Act.

The Bacon County Sheriff's Office isn't shy about publicizing booking photos of other people. In the month of May alone, the department shared 47 mug shots on its Facebook page of people jailed on charges including public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and driving on a suspended license.

The Georgia Sheriffs' Association sent a letter Thursday to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, requesting an investigation to determine whether Cothren should be suspended from office with pay while the case is pending, said Terry Norris, the association's executive director. If Kemp agrees, two sheriffs and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr would be appointed and have 30 days to make a recommendation to the governor.

Asked if Kemp would grant the request, spokeswoman Candice Broce said she couldn't comment because she hadn't seen the letter.

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