Meriwether County Sheriff Chuck Smith reported that his agency has conducted a multitude of investigations that resulted in numerous arrests, along with a successful locate of a missing elderly man who was found alive and well.
“In June 2020, our investigators were requested by the Administration of the Meriwether County Board of Commission to investigate complaints of missing funds from the Meriwether County Animal Control. These allegations of missing funds primarily stemmed from fundraising and adoption events held by employees of the Meriwether County Animal Control Shelter. These fundraisers were held at various locations throughout the county at various times. Reportedly these funds were never submitted back to the Meriwether County Government after collection. Through the course of the investigation our investigators examined hundreds of documents and executed search warrants at various locations along with property belonging to Meriwether County. Search warrants of personnel banking records of Meriwether County Employees were also served in this case investigation. Upon collecting the items of evidentiary value and identification of a suspect in this case, the case packet was submitted to the Coweta County District Attorney’s Office for review and charging status. The Coweta County D.A.’s Office appointed a special prosecutor outside of Meriwether County to review said case. Once the District Attorney’s Office completed its review our case investigator was advised to proceed with arrest warrants related to this matter. On June 2, 2021, our investigator obtained arrest warrants for Shawn Christopher Downs, W/M, 49 years of age, of Newnan, Ga. for the offenses of (Felony) Theft by Taking, 7 counts. Downs is the former Director of the Meriwether County Animal Control Shelter. Shawn Downs turned himself into the Meriwether County Jail in the afternoon on June 2, 2021, related to these charges. Downs was booked and posted bond in the amount of $7,000.00 on the same date.
On May 24, 2021, one of our investigators responded to an area hospital located in Coweta, County regarding an injured person that was receiving treatment for injuries sustained in Meriwether County. The victim reportedly was able to flee a residence in the 100 block of College Street, Luthersville, Ga. where she was being held against her will. Through the course of the investigation our investigator was able to identify the suspect in this matter related to an act of family violence. The victim reported that she was assaulted by a person that was known to her and had substantial injury to her body that was consistent with the testimony provided. Based on the information that was received, the victim had been held against her will at the location since May 23rd and was able to flee the next day when the suspect fell asleep. Our investigator, based on the testimonial evidence, physical evidence and evidence obtained through a search warrant obtained arrest warrants for Michael Dylan Thornton, W/M, 23 years of age, of Luthersville, Ga. for the offenses of Criminal Attempt Murder, Kidnapping, False Imprisonment, Aggravated Assault, Terroristic Threats and Acts, Tampering with Evidence, Interfering with Emergency Assistance, Battery and Criminal Trespass, (Under the Family Violence Act). Our personnel were able to take Michael Dylan Thornton into custody on May 24, 2021, without further incident from his residence in Luthersville, Ga. Thornton was transported to the Meriwether County Jail where he is being held without bond.
On June 1, 2021, around 6:20 am. a Meriwether County Sheriff’s Deputy was on patrol on Roosevelt Hwy near its intersection with Loop Circle, Greenville, Ga. Our unit observed a gray in color Toyota Van that was being followed too close by black in color Chevrolet Colorado Pick-up. Our deputy observing these moving traffic violations attempted to conduct a traffic stop. At that time both vehicles began fleeing from our unit who had all his emergency equipment activated. Additional Meriwether County Deputies, who were in proximity joined the pursuit. The vehicles turned down Gay Connector Road at which time the driver of the Toyota Van lost control and wrecked the vehicle in the 700 block. The driver and lone occupant fled into a wooded area on foot. Several deputies gave chase on foot to the suspect and located him in the wooded area. The subject was identified as Saw Torta Pui, A/M, 19 years of age of Stone Mountain, Ga. Pui was found to be in physical possession of a handgun which was later determined to be stolen. Other deputies continued the pursuit of the Colorado Truck in which the driver of that vehicle lost control of the vehicle at the end of Rust Chapel Road, Greenville, Ga. and wrecked in the cemetery. The driver of this vehicle identified as Kay Nay Ywa, A/M, 17 years of age, of Clarkston, Ga. was taken into custody from inside the wrecked vehicle. There was a stolen firearm located within this vehicle at the time of arrest. Both Pui and Ywa were transported to the Meriwether County Sheriff’s Office. Upon inventory and further GCIC check of the vehicles involved it was discovered that both were stolen, along with other items to include credit cards, wallets, electronic devices, in addition to the stolen firearms. The Toyota Van was reported stolen out of Dekalb County, Ga. on May 31, 2021. The Chevrolet Colorado Pick-up was stolen out of Coweta County on June 1, 2021, between 5 and 6 am. Our investigators were able to locate victims out of multiple jurisdictions in the Metro Atlanta Area. We recovered stolen property in excess of $32,000.00. Saw Torta Pui and Kay Nay Ywa were both charged with a multitude of serious traffic violations, along with (Felony) Theft by Receiving Stolen Property 4 counts, (Misd.) Theft by Receiving Stolen Property, Possession of a Firearm in the Commission of a Crime, (Felony) Fleeing / Attempting to Elude, Financial Transaction Card Theft and Reckless Conduct. Pui is being held in the Meriwether County Jail on bond in the amount of $58,800.00. Ywa is being held in the Meriwether County Jail on a bond in the amount of $60,700.00. Both subjects are also wanted out of other jurisdiction related to our case investigation.
On June 4, 2021, around 12:30 pm., the Meriwether County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a missing elderly person from the 2000 block of Stovall Road, Greenville, Ga. that suffered from physical health and mental health related issues. The person was identified as Ernest Strozier, Jr., 69 years of age. He was last reported to have been seen on or around June 3, 2021, at approximately 4 p.m. Our investigators and deputies began checking the area by conducting a neighborhood canvass, ground searches along with an aerial search by a Georgia State Patrol Helicopter equipped with FLIR Technology. Our personnel also began contacting surrounding agencies, hospitals, mental health facilities, news media, and seeking the publics help through civic alerts as well as through social media. We also issued a Maddie’s Call through the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. On June 5, 2021, in the late afternoon hours we received a tip from a landowner who had seen our social media post. This landowner began checking his game cameras on property off Fire Tower Road, Greenville, Ga. This property being approximately two miles from Ernest Strozier’s residence. The property owner located a photo that was confirmed to be our missing person. The photo was recorded on June 4, 2021, at around 7:30 am. This was the only confirmed location that Ernest Strozier had been seen since being reported missing. We utilized all resources that we could get to begin checking this area to include K-9 units from our agency along with Harris County S.O., EMA, Meriwether County Fire Department and the GSP Helicopter. This extensive search was conducted by foot and personnel on ATV’s. This extensive search went on into the early morning hours. On Sunday June 6, 2021, our personnel along with the multitude of search party resources continued this search during day light hours. We were aided by Alpha 1 K-9 search teams who we had requested to help us as they have many times in the past. After approximately 8 hours of extensive search of the surrounding area one of our investigators was able to locate Ernest Strozier alive at a cabin approximately a mile and a half away from his residence. Ernest Strozier stated that he had been lost in the woods and was able to locate the unoccupied structure. He stated that he took refuge on the back porch and had been drinking water from a garden hose. Ernest Strozier was checked out at the scene by Meriwether County EMS and transported to an area hospital for further medical treatment and evaluation.” Sheriff Chuck Smith said.
“I appreciate the work our personnel put forth in working these case investigations. I am very thankful to all the agencies that assisted us in these cases, especially in locating Ernest Strozier, Jr. This was a vast undertaking that covered a mostly desolate large land mass of our county. From the very beginning there was so little to work with in a direction of travel and we were behind in time of last seen to time of reporting. This landowner having the fortitude to check his game cameras and capturing the photo image gave us a valuable lead. I know that there were so many other citizens that assisted us through this process as well. I cannot thank the agencies and citizens enough that helped locate Ernest Strozier, Jr. alive and well. This definitely was a group effort with a positive result.” Sheriff Smith advised.