This is the second of two stories detailing court records for candidates for Savannah City Council and Savannah mayor in 2023. Here is a link to the first.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article relied on lawsuit documents by the Rape Crisis Center, which stated Kesha Gibson-Carter was “terminated” from her role. Gibson-Carter said she was asked to resign. The article has been updated to reflect the terminology.
Amid a fierce debate over how to spend city finances to address crime and policing, Savannah city council candidates have differing views, some of which are informed by their experiences with the criminal justice system.
The Current reported on those histories after searches of Chatham County court records and interviewing candidates for multiple elections, including both post-at-large seats and districts 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
As part two of this reporting, The Current examined court records of the three mayoral candidates and District 2 candidates. The report reveals approximately two dozen criminal citations and charges for one mayoral candidate, which she says was the result of racial profiling, as well as a harrowing experience for the District 2 Alderman running for reelection.
This seat is held by Mayor Van Johnson. He is being challenged by Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter and Tyrisha Davis.
Van R. Johnson II
Johnson, a Brooklyn native, graduated from Savannah State and Georgia Southern universities before his election to District 1 alderman in 2004. Voters elected him mayor in 2019 and he is running for reelection.
Johnson’s court history reveals no records in Chatham County in criminal matters.
In civil cases between 2006 and 2017, Johnson has sued at least 12 tenants over unpaid rent and/or damage to his rental properties. Most of the complaints stemmed from tenants living at a property on Augusta Avenue, which his parents purchased in 2006 and sold to him in 2008, according to property records. The west Savannah property is in the district he used to represent.
Gibson-Carter, a native Savannahian, previously served as executive director of the Rape Crisis Center (RCC) in Savannah winning the 2019 election for Alderwoman Post 1 At-Large.
Under the name Kesha T. Gibson, the alderwoman’s maiden name, court records indicate Gibson was cited for six traffic offenses between Oct. 24, 1995, and Sept. 4, 1996. Case records show five dismissed and one speeding charge marked as guilty. No other criminal charges or citations show up on her record.
On the civil side, Gibson-Carter’s departure from the RCC’s board played out contentiously in the public eye and in court records. Gibson-Carter stated she was asked to resign from the board. In a lawsuit, the RCC said her “employment with the RCC was terminated in 2018 after numerous complaints and incidents regarding her behavior.”
On Mar. 13, 2017, Gibson-Carter filed a Good Behavior Bond against a former RCC board member Jessica Ghormley.
A Good Behavior Bond allows for a person to take a complaint and swear on its facts to a magistrate, who will sign the document as a means to keep two disputing parties separate. The complaint typically expires after a short period of time.
In this behavior bond, Gibson-Carter alleged in the document that Ghormley harassed her repeatedly, said she would call the police and sue her, in addition to calling her “Black ghetto trash.”
Gibson-Carter faces an ongoing lawsuit by the RCC over alleged breaches of their confidential settlement agreement. The case is playing out in Fulton County Superior Court.
Reached by The Current, the alderwoman declined to comment about the bond and Ghormley, citing the still-pending lawsuit.
“I am inclined to encourage that we have more coverage of how our taxpayer dollars are spent,” said Gibson-Carter, who has been critical of spending by Johnson’s administration.
The trial was originally scheduled to take place in mid-October, but the record does not reflect that it did. The judge’s clerk declined to comment when The Current asked when the trial was supposed to occur.
The RCC accused Gibson-Carter of breaching their settlement agreement when Gibson-Carter stated on a February 2022 social media video that “I did win the race for Alderwoman At-Large for Post 1, but I also won that case,” court documents stated. The comment was in reference to a racial discrimination case filed by Gibson-Carter over her departure from the organization. The case settled and one of the terms of the settlement was a non-disparagement clause, which the organization said Gibson-Carter violated by saying that on social media.
The alderwoman disagreed in court filings and stated RCC has defamed her character and trustworthiness through this litigation.
The case was transferred to Fulton County in March 2022 after Chatham County judges recused themselves from the case.
On Jan. 3, 2023, Superior Court Judge Rachelle Carnesale of Fulton County ruled against Gibson-Carter, writing that she “is hereby permanently enjoined from remarking upon the terms of the Agreement or the Lawsuit.”
It remains unresolved how much, if any, in attorney’s fees RCC is entitled to recoup from Gibson-Carter to enforce their agreement, the order states.
Davis, a newcomer to Savannah, where she has lived for two years, is running for office for the first time. She works as a colon hydrologist as well as a “transportation specialist.” Davis highlighted her youth and new ideas as reasons to elect her as mayor.
Davis has no criminal nor civil court records in Chatham County. But a search of records from her home state of Iowa reflects more than two dozen criminal charges or citations. Many of the citations are for traffic offenses: driving on a suspended license, driving without insurance and speeding.
Other charges discovered were misdemeanors: disorderly conduct – fighting or violent behavior in 2006 (case marked as guilty) as well as intoxication and interference with official acts in 2013 (case marked as a guilty).
Davis was also charged with what Iowa calls “serious misdemeanors.” A Dec. 29, 2019, court filing states Davis was accused of driving under the influence first offense, possession of marijuana first offense, and possession of a controlled substance first offense. An Iowa newspaper article states the substance was ecstasy, which Davis did not dispute.
The two drug charges were dismissed. She pleaded guilty to the DUI and was jailed for two days.
In regards to the DUI offense, Davis told The Current that the drug charges were dismissed because those drugs didn’t belong to her. She suggested much of her court history is due to racial profiling by police in Iowa, a state she says is “really hard for colored people,” specifically in her hometown of Waterloo. News articles note a history of racial tension in the small town, including a recent fight to remove the police department’s insignia which resembled a Ku Klux Klan dragon.
“I am a firm believer in everybody being treated equally, and people having second chances and not being double punished,” Davis said. “When you throw a person’s past in their face it’s like you’re breaking into a house that I no longer live in.”
She said she hopes to institute weekly therapy for Savannah police officers and more community programming, like Big Brother/Big Sister mentorship and a “Squash Your Beef” unit, in order to reduce racial profiling by police, like she said she experienced.
CITY COUNCIL, DISTRICT 2
Detric C. Leggett’s position as District 2 alderman is being contested by two challengers: Tia Z. Brightwell and Taylor Washington.
Leggett works as an operating room technician at Memorial Health Medical Center and has served as District 2 alderman since 2019
Leggett received several traffic citations in the 1990s, and in 1992 he faced two felony drug charges.
On May 13, 1992, Leggett was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. There are no digital court records available, but documents available for public review show that Leggett’s defense lawyer, Michael Schiavone, convinced the court to suppress the evidence against Leggett. Weeks later, the prosecution dismissed the charges against him.
Reached by The Current, Leggett said the drug charges stemmed from being at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Leggett, then a high school student, was walking near E. 39th and Ott streets on his way to Savannah High when Savannah police officers undertook a drug bust, he said. They found drugs in the area nearby and arrested him along with approximately seven other students walking to school.
Growing up in a neighborhood with crack cocaine,“my friends and I had to daily walk through situations that compromise our safety,” Leggett said. The charges were thrown out after he proved he was merely a student on his way to school.
Leggett said the court recognized his innocence because of his involvement with investments and programs in his community — investments he said he is providing back to the younger generation.
“I understand where we came from. I understand what the investment is. I understand how we can get things done,” Leggett said. “One way to get done is if you have actually been on the ground level of it.”
Asked about traffic charges from the early 1990s to mid-2000s such as “unlawful noise,” speeding and not wearing a seat belt, he attributed those to being a young man in Savannah playing loud music and driving too fast.
Tia Z. Brightwell
Brightwell runs a nonprofit called Through It All, which provides resources and education in marginalized communities, as well as operates a small telecommunications firm.
Brightwell’s court history in Chatham County is minimal. She was cited in 2001 for improper lane usage and again in 2017 for failing to wear a seatbelt. Both cases are marked as guilty.
Taylor Marie Washington
A first-time candidate, Washington is a small business owner who announced her candidacy on Aug. 21, 2023
Multiple names were found under court records for Taylor Washington. She appears to have gone by the names “Nakia Wright” or “Taylor Wellington” until 2014, when she switched to Taylor Washington. Court records indicate a “defendant ID” change that year.
On Jan. 17, 2001, Nakia Wright was accused by a rental company formerly on White Bluff Road for failing to continue payments on a rental refrigerator. A warrant for “theft by conversion” was never approved.
Some six years later, on May 17, 2007, Taylor Wellington was accused of “deposit account fraud.” The charge was later dismissed after she paid restitution.
On Oct. 30, 2013, in an omnibus plea covering offenses by “Taylor Washington,” “Nakia Wright” and “Taylor Wellington,” she pleaded guilty to writing bad checks on five different occasions, stretching back at least two years. She was sentenced to a year in the Chatham County jail, suspended if she paid the companies she defrauded the roughly $2,000 she owed them, as well as more than $550 in court fees. She did so.
Washington did not respond to requests from The Current for comment about these issues.