December 15, 2022


Brunswick Police Vehicle. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

More money for Coastal Georgia police

Funding for police increased in every Coastal Georgia county, according to a review of next year’s budgets by The Current.

The fresh funds approved by city and county officials from Chatham to Camden Counties will allow its police departments, jails, and sheriff’s offices to receive new officers, patrol cars, body cameras, license plate reader software, and administrative staff.

Biggest budget: The city of Savannah allocated more than $70 million to its police department for next year, an increase of around 9% from the nearly $64 million for 2022. The department will increase officer pay, buy 56 new police cars, and expand its behavioral health unit.

Largest increase: The Camden County Sheriff’s Office saw its budget rise by 28% for next year, as the county massively increased funding for its jail and patrol divisions. The agency says it needs 10 new jail officers for a newly constructed facility as part of the jail’s expansion. Those jailers will need “unique supervision skills,” like diffusion, tension recognition, and defensive tactics, according to the budget.

One more thing: Camden County Sheriff’s Office cited 9/11, terrorism, and the “danger of local attacks on law enforcement” as some reasons for its need for increased funding, according to the budget.

“Preparation for these acts must include planning, training, equipment, and added personnel that will allow law enforcement to effectively respond and operate in a contaminated and hostile environment while carrying out their duties,” the agency’s budget stated.


U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker of the Southern District of Georgia in 2017 (Wikimedia Commons) Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Surprise decision

A second federal judge has ruled that a Savannah man accused of setting a bomb in his ex-wife’s car and leaving her badly burned in 2019 must be let out of jail, as he has been detained for three years with no trial date in sight.

Barry Wright, of Savannah, argued the delays in his case and prolonged time in jail violated his Fifth Amendment right to “due process of law.” On Dec. 9, U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker affirmed the decision of another federal judge, agreeing with Wright and granting his request to be released.

The decision is a blow to Savannah prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who fought twice to keep Wright jailed and said he was a danger to his community and the victim, according to court documents.

The prosecutors blamed much of the delay on the COVID-19 pandemic. But they were responsible for at least eight months of the delay by continually extending the case and because of their “litigation strategy,” according to an Oct. 13 judge’s order.


Clarification

In last week’s Undercurrent newsletter, The Current used imprecise language to describe outgoing Glynn County Police Chief Jacques Battiste’s new job. Battiste accepted a position as executive director of FBI-LEEDA. It is “a private non-profit organization and is not part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or acting on its behalf.” Battiste said the group works “in conjunction with the FBI.”

Read our story on Battiste’s resignation amid struggles to reform the police department.


Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard (Screenshot, Linkedin) Credit: Linkedin

Follow the money

In case you missed this story and need a reminder of the importance of local journalism: an Atlanta TV news station found records in October showing a county solicitor allegedly spent thousands of dollars meant for victims on herself — on jewelry repair, her dog’s cremation, noise-cancelling headphones, and her daughter’s LSAT test.

The story crossed over into Glynn County briefly, when Fox 5 Atlanta found that Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard filed expenses related to a prosecutor’s conference on Jekyll Island. Woodard requested reimbursements for the same expenses from both Hall County and from the conference and was reimbursed twice, the TV station reported.

Woodard is under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

County solicitors prosecute misdemeanors, like driving under the influence, theft, and domestic violence.

Woodard ran unopposed in the Republican primary and the general election. She was re-elected to her fourth term last month. Since then, Woodard has since been accused of violating campaign finances laws as well.



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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 as a senior writer for the...