Thursday, March 30, 2023
Glynn police chief lawsuit dropped
Three former candidates for Glynn County police chief who sued the county, alleging politics after Ahmaud Arbery’s death tainted the chief search, dropped their lawsuit last week.
The suit contended that Glynn County leaders only meaningfully considered Black men for the job of chief in 2021, leading more qualified candidates to be excluded. County officials denied the claim and said they sought a chief who could build trust regardless of race.
But one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, now working for the sheriff, told The Current that he felt the county has since implemented changes to the hiring process.
The questions raised about the hiring process are pertinent, as Glynn County finds itself looking for its third police chief in five years. The Current‘s Jake Shore reported on the lawsuit being dropped and how race factored into the last chief’s hiring and tenure.
So-called ‘hazing’ investigation ongoing
The name on many people’s lips and social media posts in Glynn County this week is Trent Lehrkamp.
Lehrkamp, 19, was the subject of what police called a brutal “hazing” incident involving juveniles at a St. Simons Island house party. A Glynn County police report said Lehrkamp arrived at the Southeast Georgia Health Center last Tuesday covered in urine and spray paint and with a 0.464 alcohol level, a potentially fatal level for some drinkers. He was admitted to the ICU.
Social media posts spread showing teens posing next to someone, who is believed to be Lehrkamp, taped to a chair, unconscious and covered in food and spray paint. A video showed teens spraying a hose at someone who is also believed to be Lehrkamp.
Many online questioned why days passed between Lehrkamp’s admission to the hospital and the Glynn County Police Department’s statement of an investigation. No arrests have been made.
At a press conference Wednesday, Interim Chief O’Neal Jackson, flanked by other law enforcement officials, urged patience. He also said no part of the investigation is off the table yet: “Not only the parents (in) the home that this occurred in, but we’re also looking into where the alcohol was obtained from as well as any type of narcotics.”
Two points of clarification from the press conference:
- Debunking social media: Despite what posts online say, no evidence suggests that Lehrkamp is on the autism spectrum or has an intellectual disability, according to Jackson.
- Jackson admitted that calling the incident “hazing” does not fit under the definition of “hazing” under Georgia law.
Savannah club owner to plead guilty
A Savannah business owner of two nightlife establishments intends to plead guilty to bank fraud and participating in a drug trafficking operation, according to court documents.
Federal prosecutors accused Jacqueline Somesso, of Savannah, of submitting false bank statements for her bar, Liquid Cafe, in order to secure a $570,000 loan through a federal program meant to assist businesses during the pandemic.
Somesso’s attorney indicated in a court filing Tuesday she will also plead to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. It’s part of a larger case against four men accused of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs through a Pooler drug house, court records show.
Two weeks ago, Somesso appeared at a Savannah City Council meeting seeking approval of a liquor license for nightclub “Sloppee Toppee” on Montgomery Street. City Manager Jay Melder said pending federal indictments should disqualify her from getting a liquor license. Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter defended Somesso getting a license: “It is our goal as leaders not to shame people, not to air their dirty laundry … It’s our responsibility as leaders to see how we can work together.”
The vote ended with a tie, and no decision was reached.
Somesso also previously ran Club Karma, an adult entertainment club on U.S. 17 in Hardeeville, S.C. near the border with Savannah, before it burned down last year.
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Applicants for Glynn County Police Department chief in 2021 drop lawsuit alleging discrimination. They say the county has changed its hiring practices to be more fair.
When John Powell took over in 2018 as Glynn County police chief, officials hoped he’d work to build community trust. Now he faces trial on charges stemming from an out-of-control narcotics unit.
Glynn County hired its first Black police chief after Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. He has now quit, saying he was tired of being ‘beaten up every day’ for trying to reform the force.
Glynn County ex-police officers pleaded guilty to misdemeanors after being accused of perjury and violating their oaths of office in 2020 pertaining to misconduct in a troubled drug unit, called GBNET.
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