– Thursday, August 10 –

Good morning. It’s Thursday and it’s already been a busy week in public safety — Brunswick officials’ efforts to shut down a homeless shelter escalated to federal court, federal prosecutors targeted a Savannah property manager for sexual harassment and the leader of the Camden County jail retired following violent jail incidents.

Questions, comments or story ideas? Email me at jakeshore.thecurrent@gmail.com. Let’s begin.

Perceptions vs. facts

The Well is a Christian day shelter for Brunswick’s homeless. It recently reopened with increased safety measures but is being sued by the city, which alleges it is a public nuisance. Credit: Justin Taylor/The Current

A political battle raging for months between Brunswick city officials and the city’s only day-time homeless shelter made its way to federal court last week.

Some city leaders and downtown business owners cast The Well, which uses private donations to aid around 100 people experiencing homelessness, as a so-called public nuisance and threat to public safety. They’re seeking to shut it down, while also failing to offer any alternatives to keep residents safe.

But there’s one problem — statistics and even the city’s police chief dispute the perception of soaring crime at the shelter. The Current dug into a list of 2,300 calls to police and emergency dispatchers related to The Well between January 2018 and April 2023. The city cited these calls in the federal suit as hard evidence of community concerns about crime realized.

The Current discovered that over 300 of the listed calls were duplicates and one-quarter were initiated by police officers, not community members. At the same time, only 40 of all calls were in response to an alleged assault and fewer than 10 for harassment or drugs. Cota also called Brunswick Police Chief Kevin Jones who said “the way (the shelter is) operating things now is a lot more efficient and puts less strain on the police department.”

Read more from the investigation here.

Feds sue Savannah property manager

Department of Justice Credit: DOJ

The Department of Justice filed a discrimination complaint against a Savannah property manager, whom prosecutors allege made unwanted sexual advances on female tenants for years and tried to evict those who refused his attempts.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Georgia on Wednesday, accused Iraj Shambayati, of Savannah, for repeated sexual harassment as well as two property owners and two companies for failing to intervene in his misconduct.

Since 2008, Shambayati managed approximately 70 single family, duplex, and condominium rentals in and around Savannah, the suit said. The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said he touched female tenants without their consent, asked female tenants to pay rent in person in order to make sexual advances, made repeated sexual comments, and tied repairs and rent deals to sex. He allegedly forced himself on one woman and tried to evict female tenants who complained or denied his advances, the complaint said.

“If you want to talk about that, you’ll have to talk to my attorney,” Shambayati said, when called by The Current. He hung up when I asked for the name of his attorney. Shambayati has not filed a response to the claims.

Shambayati owns numerous properties in the county, including the historic building housing “Club One” of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” fame.

We published the full federal complaint. Take a look here.

Jail leader retires following violence streak

Former Camden County jail administrator Maj. Rob Mastroianni, who worked under Camden County Sheriff Jim Proctor. Under his tenure, five deputies were arrested for alleged jail violence over eight months. Credit: Camden County, Facebook

In the last eight months, five Camden County deputies have been charged in violent jail incidents. Now, the jail’s overseer has retired.

Camden County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Rob Mastroianni retired at the end of July, according to Sheriff Jim Proctor.

Proctor said the last eight months, in which the jail repeatedly came under fire for violence against jailed people, played into his retirement.

In fact, the sheriff’s office lost its insurance coverage in the spring due to frequent misconduct by deputies, according to reporting by The Current.

The county has since obtained new insurance coverage but with higher costs. Proctor said that a frustrating budget process with the county also contributed to Mastroianni’s retirement and ongoing issues at the jail.

Requested raises for deputies, which Proctor believes would help them fill the 54 or so vacancies at the 150 deputy department and retain them, were not approved by county commissioners in the latest budget, Proctor said. The sheriff has an ongoing lawsuit with the county, accusing them of underfunding his agency.

One more thing: Coffee and criminal justice

Panelists from the Hungry Club Forum of Savannah speak about criminal justice issues in Chatham County on Aug. 5, 2023. Credit: Facebook screenshot

This reporter spent Saturday morning amongst over two dozen Savannah residents to hear from a panel of criminal justice experts. I opted not to sleep-in and instead attended the extremely-early 9:30 a.m. breakfast.

I wasn’t disappointed. I wanted to hear what questions residents had for the criminal justice leaders, which included the county’s district attorney, sheriff and public defender. New ideas shared over eggs and biscuits.

Want to take a look in my reporter’s notebook? Read what insights I had here.

Brunswick blames crime on homeless shelter and sues to shut it

Christian clergy run Brunswick’s only homeless day shelter. The city is suing to close it, leaving 100 people without services.

Continue reading…

Reporter’s notebook: Criminal justice forum in Savannah with a side of eggs

Savannah criminal justice arbiters and dozens of residents gathered at a Hungry Club forum at the local YMCA. Here are some insights into what happened.

Continue reading…

Disagreements over care for homeless population in Brunswick leaves dozens with nowhere to go 

City, business owners disagree with churches on how to provide care for unhoused residents.

Continue reading…

Frequent misbehavior by Camden deputies leads to dropped insurance coverage

Camden taxpayers will have to foot the bill, after the county’s insurance provider no longer wishes to cover its losses due to repeated malpractice incidents from Camden County Sheriff’s Office deputies, like jailhouse beating, car crashes and damaging PIT maneuvers during chases.

Continue reading…

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...