The son of Debbie Collier, the woman found dead and severely burned in a Georgia ravine in September, is calling for the sheriff handling the investigation into her demise to resign after he says the cop “snickered” at him during a phone call last week.
“I want him to resign, absolutely,” Jeffrey Bearden told The Daily Beast on Monday. “He just dismissed my concerns and laughed at me. I would not be the man I am today without my mother, and I can’t let another victim’s family go through what I went through on the phone with [Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell].”
Bearden said that last Wednesday, after attempting to get ahold of an investigator handling his mother’s case, he spoke to Terrell about concerns he had about possible leaks from the sheriff's department to the press. He also just wanted an update on the case, he told The Daily Beast.
Authorities say that Collier, 59, was last seen alive at the Family Dollar store on Sept. 10 buying a tarp and a refillable torch lighter. Shortly afterward, Collier’s daughter, Amanda Bearden, said she received an almost $2,400 Venmo payment from her mother with the cryptic message: “They are not going to let me go love you there is a key to the house in the blue flower pot by the door.”
The next day, Collier was found in a ravine about an hour from her Athens, Georgia, home. Six weeks into an investigation that has spurred national attention, authorities have been tight-lipped about the case—besides indicating that they do not believe it was a kidnapping or suicide.
Multiple outlets, however, cited sources last week in reporting that investigators are now questioning whether Collier’s death was really a homicide, as had been presumed. According to the Now Habersham, those same sources revealed details about how Collier may have died—though the state medical examiner has not released a final autopsy report.
After seeing these “media leaks,” Bearden said, he reached out to the sheriff’s department to express his concerns and request that he be kept up to date on pertinent information about the investigation.
“I explained my concerns for my family and my own physical safety about being doxxed online due to the extensive media coverage of my mother’s case,” Bearden said in an Oct. 27 email to the department requesting a formal complaint be filed, which was obtained by The Daily Beast.
Bearden said in a Monday phone interview that Terrell claimed when they spoke on Oct. 26 that he had no knowledge of the leaks before explaining that the press had the “right to free speech.” But as Bearden continued expressing his frustration about the way information was shared by the sheriff’s department and that he has gotten “no updates,” he said that Terrell “proceeded to snicker.”
“I had to ask him to stop. I told him that I felt like it was disrespectful to laugh at my circumstance,” Bearden said. “And when I began to push further about the leaks, he said, ‘I am trying not to hang up on you.’”
Collier’s son said that he again tried to turn the conversation back to his mother’s case, which he said prompted Terrell to explain that his department is “short staffed” and that sometimes law enforcement does not do the best job at communicating with family.
“And then he started laughing again, and that’s when I ultimately hung up on him,” he added.
The phone call was so upsetting for Bearden—who has repeatedly asked for privacy from the public and justice for his mother—that he went as far as to attempt to file the complaint the next day.
“Unfortunately, the elected Sheriff’s attitude, lack of understanding, and misbehavior does not give me faith or confidence in their ability to handle her ‘deliberate and personal’ death,” Bearden said in the email to the chief deputy. “Please let me know if you need any additional information regarding my request for a formal complaint to be filed. I want to ensure this is done in a timely manner.”
On Monday, Bearden went further, telling The Daily Beast that he wants Terrell out of office for his “unprofessional” behavior during their phone call.
In a response to Bearden’s allegations, a spokesperson for the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office told The Daily Beast that the department is “certainly sympathetic to the emotional tension that the extended period of time taken to investigate such a complex and unique case causes a family seeking answers.”
“We can assure you that Sheriff Terrell, as well as all involved members of the sheriff’s office, have nothing but respect and understanding towards the family and that any misunderstandings regarding discussions related to this case are nothing more than just that—a misunderstanding,” the spokesperson added.
“However, at the same time, it is incumbent on us to exhaust every theory of what happened and to derive at a finding that is based on facts and evidence rather than speculation and rumor. As stated, several times in the past, the scene involved in this case resulted in more questions than answers. As soon as all requested information has been received, analyzed, and evaluated, the sheriff’s office will provide a complete statement regarding the findings of this investigation.”
Bearden, however, said he was shocked to hear about the sheriff department’s characterization of Wednesday’s phone call as a “misunderstanding.” He stressed that Terrell—whom he described as a “snickering sheriff”—has not reached out to him or his family since the phone call in question.
“What is your definition of respect at this point?” he said. “At this point, my mother has passed. What we want to know now is what happened to her so we can move forward. So we can get justice.”
Later, he added: “I just want [Terrell] to resign.”