December 22, 2022

John Powell in 2017 at a law enforcement training weekend. Credit: Glynn County Police Department

Glynn County police chief’s past

With the resignation of Chief Jacques Battiste, Glynn County finds itself again searching for a new police chief. This week, The Current‘s Jake Shore looked back at the hiring of Battiste’s predecessor, John Powell, for clues about what led to Powell’s indictment and troubles in Coastal Georgia ahead of his 2023 criminal trial. 

The months-long examination found that in several past jobs Powell courted legal troubles and controversies. Glynn County officials say they saw no red flags when they hired him in 2018. 

The county officials will have to make a similar choice and conduct background investigations when hiring its new police chief.

The Current interviewed eight former supervisors, police officers and colleagues who worked with Powell across three states during his 37-year-career, in addition to reviewed multiple previous court cases involving Powell.

  • As police chief of the racially divided town of Dothan, Alabama, Powell hired a controversial cop from his own hometown whose violent past made him untouchable for Florida police.
  • An officer on that force, meanwhile, accused Powell of being complicit in attempts to change legal testimony and protect problematic officers.
  • Separately, a Florida sheriff whom Powell was seeking to unseat accused him of violating campaign finance law.  

Powell and his lawyer did not respond to several requests for comment.

Savannah gun violence, murders: mixed bag

A gun violence researcher found murders decreased in numerous U.S. cities, some of which could be attributed to falling gun violence.

Researcher Jeff Asher, a former CIA analyst and co-founder of a firm that specializes in criminal justice data, collected the data during the first week of December: it showed murders declined by 15% in Savannah between December 2021 (32 murders) and December 2022 (27 murders). He tallied year-to-date statistics from over 90 cities. In cities like Chicago and Charlotte, the data reflected a drop in gun violence driving the murder decrease.

But between the weeks of December 3 and December 17, homicides in Savannah rose from 27 to 31, after a rash of violent crime: two murders from shootings, a domestic violence killing, and a hit-and-run homicide. The Savannah Police Department numbers showed shootings remained consistent with 2020 statistics.

Context: In 2020, murders increased nationally by almost 30%, the sharpest one-year increase in U.S. history.

Yes, but: Those numbers are still much lower than the murder rates in the 1990s. While Savannah recorded 31 murders in 2020, the city dealt with 59 murders in 1991, according to FBI crime statistics.

Credit: Pierre Bamin/Unsplash

Banned books

Georgians in prison are forbidden from reading dozens of books, including the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, “Hacking for Dummies,” and several books on serial killers.

As banned book debates light up local school districts, The Marshall Project queried every state prison system about their banned books lists. This week, the outlet published the list from the Georgia Department of Corrections.

There were no official reasons cited with each of Georgia’s banned books.

Check out Georgia prisons’ full list for yourself.

Programming note

There will be no Undercurrent newsletter next week. The next edition will be on January 5.

Happy holidays and see you in the new year.

Snowman Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Support non-partisan, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.

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...