Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sheriff in Trouble Is Just Tradition; Baker County Has a History of That

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Sheriff in Trouble Is Just Tradition; Baker County Has a History of That

Article excerpt

Byline: Elliott Minor, Times-Union staff writer

ALBANY -- Baker County Sheriff Isaac Anderson is only the latest in a string of colorful and controversial souls who have held the rural county's top law enforcement post over the past 50 years.

Anderson, the county's first black sheriff, and five others are accused of hindering the investigation of a domestic dispute Dec. 7 in Clearwater, Fla., according to a federal grand jury's indictment unsealed this week.

He is the third of five sheriffs since 1982 to face criminal charges in the rural Southwest Georgia county south of Albany. Most of its 343 square miles are covered with forests and peanut and cotton fields.

Charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and commit perjury, hindering an investigation and making false statements to a federal agent, Anderson faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and $1 million in fines if convicted.

The county's most memorable sheriff was Warren "Gator" Johnson, an outspoken former sharecropper who held the post from 1957 to 1977.

Some say civil rights workers gave him the name "Gator" because his voice sounded like the bellow of an alligator. Others say he got the name because he shed "crocodile tears" when he testified before the General Assembly. Because Georgia has no native crocodiles, they became alligator tears.

An advocate of public hangings, Johnson was once accused of knocking a civil rights worker out of the courthouse during a black voter registration drive. He closed the county jail during a funding dispute with county commissioners, and he advised residents to set traps, including shotguns, to stop burglars.

Gator Johnson begot Warren "Scroot" Johnson, who was elected to fill his father's post in 1977. Federal authorities charged Scroot Johnson in 1982 with embezzlement and tax evasion. He resigned about two weeks after his conviction and spent a few months in prison.

Meanwhile, during the investigation of his son, Gator Johnson sought reinstatement as a deputy, claiming state and federal investigators were undermining his son's authority. …

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