SGTC celebrates 10th anniversary of Law Enforcement Academy, holds graduation  

Published 8:59 am Thursday, May 23, 2019

AMERICUS — South Georgia Technical College (SGTC) President John Watford, Ed.D.; Academic Dean Vanessa Wall; and Law Enforcement Academy Director Brett Murray presided over the 10th anniversary celebration of the college’s Law Enforcement Academy (LEA) and the graduation of LEA Class 19 – 01. This is the 24th Law Enforcement Academy graduation at SGTC since the academy began in 2009. Twelve graduates of SGTC Law Enforcement Class 19-01 were recognized and received their Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Certification.

The graduates of SGTC’s LEA Class 19-01 included: Corey Stephen Brown of Leesburg, Shuntunta Brown of Lumpkin, Bradley Wayne Clayton of Vienna, April Cosby of Marshallville, Hunter Cole Fallin of Leesburg, Justin Scott Flowers of Trotman, Michael Chase Francis of Smithville, Heather Gartman of Tifton, Joshua Peyton Merritt of Cuthbert, Eric Rutherford of Americus, Bradley Dion Small of Americus, and Travis Jackson Turner of Cordele.

“This is a very, very special day today,” said Dean Wall. “Not only are we celebrating this awesome group of graduates from the Law Enforcement Academy today, but we are also celebrating the 10th anniversary of this Academy. This academy has been successful because of the tremendous support of the law enforcement agencies here in our service area as well as from around the state.” She also singled out Travis Jackson of Cordele as the 245th graduate of the program.

Wall asked all of the former graduates as well as the law enforcement agencies and officers who had volunteered to teach in the academy or who had made donations to the program to stand and be recognized. “Our graduates are currently working in 37 counties across Georgia. We have individuals serving in the GBI, the Georgia State Patrol, many other state agencies, and working as police chiefs, officers, and deputies. Many of our alumni have gone on to do tremendous things and we are very proud of each of you.”

SGTC President Watford praised Wall for her efforts to get the Academy started and for helping to insure its success. “Almost 18 years ago, South Georgia Technical College chose Vanessa Wall to start a criminal justice program. She got the program up and running and today it is still one of our largest program areas. About 11 years ago, she was tasked with beginning the Law Enforcement Academy and here we are today. Vanessa cares about people, she has a passion for her students and law enforcement, and if you give her a project to do, you know it is going to get taken care of. We are here today because of her hard work and influence,” said Watford. “I think it is very fitting that she serves as the keynote speaker for this 10th anniversary celebration.”

As Wall recognized the various individuals in the room who had worked so hard to make the academy a success, she singled out Watford as well as former President Sparky Reeves, along with Academy Director Murray and assistant Melissa Grantham and former assistant Sandy Alford. “As each cadet knows, you have to go through many hoops just to get into the Academy. Melissa Grantham and Sandy Alford guided each of you through that process. This has been a team effort and I am proud of everyone who has been a part of making this academy and our graduates successful,” she said.

She also singled out Murray as being the “heart and soul” of the Academy. “Brett Murray is extremely intelligent and has a tremendous work ethic. He makes sure that these graduates know that they are here to serve the public and come home safely each night. I am so proud to work with him,” said Wall.

Murray gave an overview of the past 18 weeks of training that the cadet/graduates had mastered. To the graduates he said, “You have worked hard to get here. Today is the first day of your life in law enforcement. This is your day. It has taken everyone at South Georgia Technical College working together to get you to this point so congratulations — this is your day!”

A number of awards and scholarships were presented to the SGTC Class 19-01 LEA cadets at the ceremony. Cadet Bradley Clayton of Vienna was selected as the Class Representative by his peers and also earned the Academic Excellence Award for receiving the highest grade point average for the class. Cadet Justin Scott Flowers of Trotman was presented the Top Gun Award for excelling on the firing range.

As the class representative, Clayton shared his comments with the individuals at the graduation ceremony. “Thank each of you for being here to honor this class as well as the 10th anniversary of this program.  To my fellow graduates — ‘congratulations — we made it!’

“We have had a lot of highs and lows over the past 18 weeks; regardless of that, each of us had to dig down and dig deep and push through to move ahead to today. At the end of the day, everything we do as law enforcement officers is about serving others. Every week, Maj. Murray would challenge us to find an opportunity to serve. I do the same thing today,” said Clayton, who left the class with three scripture verses reminding them to “do unto others as you would have done unto you. Be strong and courageous. And greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for others.”

In addition to the keynote address and graduation awards, four students were recognized as scholarship recipients from class 19-01. Shuntuta Brown of Lumpkin was presented with the Lt. Michael Sangster Law Enforcement Academy Scholarship. Sangster’s mother, Connie Sangster Youngblood, his sister Melissa, and his father Bob, were on hand to make the presentation with Director Murray.

Hunter Fallin of Leesburg was awarded the Lou Crouch Law Enforcement Academy Scholarship. Watford, Murray and Crouch presented that scholarship award as well as the endowed Smallwood-Sondron scholarship in memory of Peach County Sheriff’s Deputies Patrick Sondron and Daryl Smallwood, who died in the line of duty in November 2016, to Heather Gratman of Tifton.

Brandon Glover of Americus was presented with the Smarr-Smith Scholarship for criminal justice students. Glover, who is already a certified POST officer, was awarded the scholarship for returning to complete an associate degree in criminal justice from SGTC. This scholarship was endowed and awarded in memory of fallen Americus Police Office Nicholas R. Smarr and Georgia Southwestern State University Campus Safety Officer Jody C. Smith. Smith’s stepfather Paul Johnson was in attendance to help present the scholarship award.

During the scholarship presentations, Watford and Wall paid tribute to Crouch for his support. They recognized him for endowing another scholarship for the Law Enforcement Academy this past year as well as being for a member of the SGTC Foundation President’s Club giving level.

SGTC also held a drawing and gave away a Callaway Cooler to one lucky graduate. State Trooper Danny Nguyen won the cooler and Cadet Justin Flowers won the drawing for a SGTC umbrella.

Shown are the different graduates and law enforcement agency representatives that attended the 10th anniversary celebration of the South Georgia Technical College Law Enforcement Academy. They are shown with SGTC President John Watford, Academic Dean Vanessa Wall, and SGTC Law Enforcement Academy Director Brett Murray and the Class 19-01 graduates.

A tremendous crowd of over 300 law enforcement officers, LEA alumni, family, and friends of the graduates were on hand for the ceremony. SGTC President Watford welcomed individuals to the event, and recognized the cadets and their families as well as the individual law enforcement agencies and individuals at the graduation ceremony.

Cadet Hunter Fallin provided the invocation/pledge of allegiance and Cadet Eric Rutherford gave the benediction.

The LEA graduates received their POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) certification from SGTC as well as a technical certificate of credit that can be utilized toward a diploma or associate degree in criminal justice.