Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023

City candidates’ court records revealed

The Chatham County Courthouse
The Chatham County Courthouse Credit: Justin Taylor/The Current

Illegal pyramid schemes, driving under the influence, criminal negligence of a child, unpaid rent, dogs running loose.

These charges, citations, code complaints make up some of the court histories of Savannah’s city council candidates in what has already become a raucous election cycle and a referendum on the state of the city.

An anonymous citizen previously sent The Current a blank email with only the jail mugshots of certain city council candidates. In recent weeks, those same mugshots would be parsed and debated over social media.

So instead of hitting delete, we spent time digging at the courthouse to separate truth from fiction.

With early voting nearing its end on Nov. 3 and election day on Nov. 7, we published the first of two stories looking into the court records of city council candidates — in a good faith effort to provide information to voters to take to the polls. You can read that story here. This story is the first of two on city council court histories.

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Glynn chief’s plan to fight staff shortage

Glynn County Police Chief Scott Ebner speaks to county commissioners at a specially called meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023 on police staffing and pay. Credit: Screenshot, Glynn County Board of Commissioners

Officer shortages at the Glynn County Police Department have reached dire levels, according to the police chief. He told county officials Wednesday that an overhaul of the department’s pay system will help stop the bleeding of officers. 

Chief Scott Ebner, who took the reins of the Glynn County Police Department this summer after a long career in New Jersey law enforcement, called the shortage “critical”: 41 officers have left the agency since June 2022. That’s out of the 133 total officers budgeted for the department. Ebner did not give a specific number of their current vacancy level. 

Patrol “officers are working past their extended shifts of 12 hours, working on their days off,” Ebner said. “It’s also affecting investigations. (The unit has) very large case volumes and they’re forced to work long hours.” 

He told commissioners at the specially-called meeting that officers stated in exit interviews that better pay and improved shifts at other departments as well as burnout were major factors for leaving.

In response, Ebner pitched a comprehensive change to the department’s pay. He asked commissioners to institute a tiered pay system with yearly 3% raises based upon performance. He also proposed increasing the pay gap and educational requirements between officers and supervisors, to incentivize officers to professionalize themselves. Ebner cited a number of bonuses for hiring, referrals and retention that he said will help the department.

Ebner took over a department facing multiple challenges, including a severe lack of officer training highlighted by a problematic roadside cavity search, as reported on by The Current in June.

Incarceration trends improve

While conversations continue over how district attorneys and law enforcement officers do their jobs, The 19th published a breakdown of the country’s jail and prison populations over time. It’s based on a report from The Sentencing Project, and it shows that some court reforms are showing promise. 

Male jail populations are dropping, especially for Black men, in states that have eliminated cash bail, allowing them to continue working or stay home until court dates. 

Incarceration for women hasn’t dropped as quickly, the report said, and has risen among white women. Declines are also charted in areas with diversion programs for treatment for drugs or alcohol and in areas where mandatory minimums are lifted to give judges more latitude with sentencing.

Changes in probation programs have contributed to the decrease, as well.

This trend matches what’s been occurring in Georgia. According to a recent report by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the state experienced “a sharp decline in the percentage of people with a prison sentence of five years or less, from 32.1% to 10.2% between June 2013 and June 2014.” That was due to criminal justice reforms taking effect in Georgia that allowed for alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent crimes and higher thresholds for felony theft.

Savannah candidates’ records: from speeding to bounced checks

Court files detail lawsuits, traffic offenses, other charges for Savannah City Council candidates. (Part 1 of 2)

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Savannah’s mayoral campaign gets nasty

Candidates make final push with targeted barbs over outside support, finances, civility.

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Glynn police roadside invasive body search highlights training issues

New Glynn County Police Chief Scott Ebner says he will prioritize training on policies, after February body cavity search of an alleged shoplifter violated department rules.

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Ex-Glynn County police chief’s case heads to Georgia Supreme Court

Former Glynn County Police Department Chief John Powell will have his appeal heard by Supreme Court of Georgia. He faces criminal charges for allegedly ignoring a host of misconduct in his agency’s drug unit.

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New Glynn police chief’s past lawsuits linger

Ebner, 54, now Glynn County Police Department chief, has not been found liable in these past NJ cases. The allegations and his background played a role in two of five other municipalities where he has sought law enforcement jobs in the last year to drop him from contention.

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Georgia corrections prepares to spend $600M to replace older prisons

Criminal justice reform advocates say that resources would be better spent on education, mental health and other areas that could keep more people out of the criminal justice system and better prepare formerly incarcerated people for the workforce.

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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. Email him at Prior to joining The Current,...