A Savannah police officer who has been scrutinized after shooting and killing a Carver Village man last month was disciplined three times for not turning on his body camera before traffic stops in Savannah.
Officer Ernest Ferguson, 27, shot and killed Saudi Arai Lee, 31, on June 24. Since he has been on paid leave while the shooting is investigated, records published by The Current last week showed how Ferguson was previously disciplined and investigated for use-of-force incidents in his year-long stint as a Coastal State Prison guard.
Now, new records obtained by The Current show Ferguson also had trouble following the rules after he got hired by the Savannah Police Department in April 2021.
During a seven-month period, Ferguson’s superiors wrote him up three times for violating policy on body-worn cameras.
In three incidents between November 2021 to May 2022, a month and a half before Lee’s shooting, Ferguson didn’t start up his body-worn camera during traffic stops, according to documents obtained via public records request.
That’s against Savannah Police rules. Ferguson is supposed to turn on his body camera at the start of an interaction. A Jan. 7 report notes that Ferguson turned on his body-camera after a traffic stop had ended and the subject fled.
“You have it initiated when you go to make a traffic stop. Activate your BWC at that point,” an officer instructs him afterwards, in an exchange captured in the footage.
Body-worn cameras (BWC) provide a layer of transparency for police departments, when, in the past, it used to be a police officer’s word against a citizen’s. The footage can also be the deciding factor for prosecutors when deciding whether or not a police officer should be taken to court for indictment and conviction after criminal accusations.
The Chatham County District Attorney’s office cited the body-camera footage in the Savannah Police shooting of Maurice Mincey in July 2021, when clearing the officer of criminal wrongdoing.
Ferguson’s three written reprimands for not turning on his body-worn camera raise questions in the Carver Village shooting last month, where activists have already been calling for the footage’s release.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into Lee’s shooting in Carver Village while Ferguson is on paid administrative leave.
Asked whether or not Ferguson’s body-camera footage captured the June 24 shooting, GBI spokesperson Nelly Miles confirmed “there is police body-worn camera for this case” but did not elaborate whose footage that was.
According to a GBI press release, Ferguson and another officer stopped Lee, who immediately showed his wallet saying it had a weapons permit in it.
He then “lifted his shirt and pulled a weapon from a holster.”
The release only says a chase “ensued,” and Lee was shot.
Since Ferguson’s history at Coastal State Prison has come to light, activists have questioned why he was even hired by the department in the first place.
The Savannah Police Department previously said a background investigation revealed no issues when Ferguson was hired.
“At the time of his hire, there were no documented issues or causes for concern with this officer; therefore, there were no additional requirements placed upon this officer,” the Savannah Police Department wrote in a statement.
On Monday, Rev. Alan Mainor, of the Savannah-chapter of The Racial Justice Network, held a press conference lambasting Mayor Van Johnson for dismissing criticisms and asking for transparency from the police department.
“We all know he was at Coastal State Prison beating on inmates,” Mainor said. “Why was he hired?”
The Tide brings news and observations from The Current staff.
This story was updated to correct the information on the background information. The information came from the Savannah Police Department.