COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -A Columbus boy’s home is under the microscope following a recent state investigation and an employee-related arrest.
Muscogee County Marshal Greg Countryman said he’s the co-owner of Invictus Transformational Wellness Center located on Juniper Avenue in East Columbus. He opened the home in June 2018 to house kids whose parents don’t want them or who can’t provide the appropriate care.
Countryman said he’s speaking out now to clear up what he calls misinformation that’s been circulating about Invictus. Following complaints from some neighbors who appeared before Columbus City Council in October 2018 expressing their disagreement with the home being located in their neighborhood, Countryman said he took action.
“I went out and knocked on doors along with another staff worker, and we handed out flyers and left them on the doors because we wanted to answer every question they may have had, every concern,“ added Countryman.
That move spurred a neighborhood meeting organized by who has not only lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years, but also pastors of a nearby church, where approximately 40 people attended the meeting along with the boys from the group home, Countryman, and staff.
“We came with questions because we wanted to know what was going on because we were under the assumption that there were troubled youth here, and we were unaware of it.”
Jim “Jimbo” Albrecht said they quickly found out that Invictus was not a troubled boy’s home. “I think the coolest thing I saw that night was they didn’t look at Greg Countryman as someone who was overseeing an operation and they looked at him as daddy. There was love in that room. I came out with a broken heart because I was either going to know about this home in our neighborhood or get involved with boys who don’t have a father.”
A recent probe citing several infractions against the facility is now closed, according to Invictus Executive Director Paul Walker. “I don’t like the politics that I am having to deal with right now, but I love serving the kids and just seeing the transformation process of them becoming who they want to be.”
One cited problem involved a worker who failed to write their initials on a medication document when giving out meds to a boy. Additionally, a state visit found no adult supervision.
"Now, I normally schedule two people here so if someone has to go to a doctor’s appointment or to a school, there will always be a second person here,” stated Walker, a 20 year expert in the mental health field.
There have also been 26 police reports filed at the home since it opened June 2018. Most dealt with missing juveniles, drug paraphernelia found at the home, and disputes.
Some incidents were for missing juveniles, sometimes multiple reports for the same child. When that happens, a report is filed initially and then a second report when he returns. And in August, an employee was arrested on sexual assault charges by a person in custody.
“When we got the child to confess based on his conscious, he confessed and we had to do our own internal investigation and when we turned the information over to Columbus police, they did their due diligence and then came the arrest.," Countryman said. He said they also worked with other state agencies on the investigation like DEFACS.
There was another incident involving a 17-year-old boy who lives with autism. He was also arrested and jailed for four days following a meltdown at a Columbus Walmart. Countryman said, at the time, the boy was with a behavioral aide that’s not connected to his home.
"I had nothing to do with it, nor did Invictus. I asked the officer if he could do a principal summons, allowing him to come to court later. The officer was told to go ahead and transport the boy to the county jail. We can’t bond them out of jail. The case worker has to do that. We tried to make contact with the case worker from his county 29 times. We’re glad to have him home now. This young man thrives when there’s one on one,” explained Countryman.
We also knocked on doors talking to neighbors to see how they feel about the home being in their neighborhood. We received mixed reactions, some supporting it while others are opposed to it.
One woman who didn’t want to go on camera said, “We haven’t had any issues. The boys are always nice to me and my mom." That neighbor also said she wished the home wasn’t there because of what’s she’s hearing about it.
Countryman said for him, it’s a ministry. “God has been good to me as a special needs student who didn’t know how to read and write. And I promised God, I would make a covenant with him to give back and help others. Having a ministry is doing God’s work and serving these kids is serving the least of them. When someone is hungry you should feed them, when some is in prison you should go see them. When they are thirsty, you should give them something to drink.”