July 28, 2022

Nice to meet you

My name is Jake Shore. I’m the public safety reporter for The Current and Report for America corps member for the region. 

A little about me: I’m originally from Los Angeles, home of good Mexican food and gridlock traffic. I went to Fordham University, then lived and worked in New York for a while before moving to Bluffton, South Carolina, to cover breaking news for the Island Packet newspaper. Though a big change to be sure, it didn’t hurt that I got to spend weekends lounging on Hilton Head Island beaches. I started to love the beauty of the coastal Southern landscape, its cuisines and its quality people.

For over two years at the newspaper, I wrote about crime, cops and the courts.

While jetting between police departments for arrest reports to courthouses for murder trials, I got to see up close how a system meant to prosecute criminals sometimes gets it wrong. 

Communities of color and communities struggling with poverty are often over-policed and overly-punished, misconduct among police and prosecutorial officials can be ignored or passed over, and community trust withers without sustained attention and scrutiny on the system. 

These are problems the whole country is facing and Coastal Georgia is no exception. Between Glynn County, a county still grappling with the effects of Ahmaud Arbery’s death and resulting activism, and Savannah, a historically Black city seeing violent crime increase and a police department struggling to fill vacancies, there is no shortage of issues. 

I hope with our new newsletter, Undercurrent, we can not only shed light on the problems facing our communities but also find potential solutions through investigative journalism and conversations that start as a result.

Officer disciplined again and again

Since the Savannah Police shooting of a Carver Village man on June 24, new information continues to come to light about the officer involved.

Records published by The Current last week showed how Officer Ernest Ferguson, 27, who shot and killed Saudi Arai Lee, 31, while on-duty, was previously disciplined and investigated for use-of-force incidents in his year-long stint as a Coastal State Prison guard.

New records obtained by The Current show Ferguson had trouble following the rules too after he got hired by the Savannah Police Department in April 2021.

During a seven-month period, Ferguson’s superiors wrote him up three times for violating policy on body-worn cameras.

Saudi Arai Lee (left) and Savannah Police Officer Ernest Ferguson (right)

In three incidents between November 2021 to May 2022, a month and a half before Lee’s shooting, Ferguson didn’t start his body-worn camera during traffic stops, according to documents.

That’s against Savannah Police rules. Ferguson is supposed to turn on his body camera at the start of an interaction. A Jan. 7 report notes that Ferguson turned on his body camera after a traffic stop had ended and the subject fled.

“You have it initiated when you go to make a traffic stop. Activate your BWC at that point,” an officer instructs him afterwards, in an exchange captured in the footage.

Body-worn cameras (BWC) provide a layer of transparency for police departments, when, in the past, it used to be a police officer’s word against a citizen’s. The footage can also be the deciding factor for prosecutors when deciding whether or not a police officer should be taken to court for indictment and conviction after criminal accusations. The Chatham County District Attorney’s office cited the body-camera footage in the Savannah Police shooting of Maurice Mincey in July 2021, when clearing the officer of criminal wrongdoing.

Ferguson’s three written reprimands for not turning on his body-worn camera raise questions in the Carver Village shooting last month, where activists have already been calling for the footage’s release.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into Lee’s shooting in Carver Village while Ferguson is on paid administrative leave.

Asked whether or not Ferguson’s body-camera footage captured the June 24 shooting, GBI spokesperson Nelly Miles confirmed “there is police body-worn camera for this case” but did not elaborate whose footage that was.

According to a GBI press release, Ferguson and another officer stopped Lee, who immediately showed his wallet saying it had a weapons permit in it. He then “lifted his shirt and pulled a weapon from a holster.”

The release only says a chase “ensued,” and Lee was shot.

On Monday, Rev. Alan Mainor, of the Savannah-chapter of The Racial Justice Network, held a press conference lambasting Mayor Van Johnson for dismissing criticisms and asking for transparency from the police department.

“We all know he was at Coastal State Prison beating on inmates,” Mainor said. “Why was he hired?”

Marty Daniel, CEO of Daniel Defense, testified via video before the U.S. House Oversight Committee. Credit: Screenshot via YouTube

Daniel Defense on the defensive

Marty Daniel, CEO of Bryan County gun manufacturer Daniel Defense, was in the virtual hot seat on Wednesday while testifying over video before the House Oversight Committee.

The committee’s stated purpose was to examine how major gun manufacturers market assault weapons and make profits off their sales to everyday Americans. Daniel was called to testify because an AR-15 made by his company was purchased online by the shooter who killed 19 children in Uvalde, Texas.

What actually happened at the hearing was all too predictable: Members of Congress tried to dunk on one another — Democrats asked Daniel inflammatory questions without waiting for an answer while Republicans rushed to coddle Daniel from their attacks.

Over the hours-long hearing, gun manufacturers held their ground on the issues — decrying the violence of mass shooters while arguing its rifles are sold and used for self-defense.

Daniel said mass shootings have risen in recent years, and it has little to do with guns.

“What changed? Not the firearm. They are substantially the same as those manufactured over 100 years ago,” Daniel said. “I believe our nation’s response needs to focus not on the type of gun, but on the type of persons who are likely to commit mass shootings.”

What we did learn from the hearings was how much Daniel Defense profited from the popular AR-15 rifle.

Daniel said 80% of the company’s sales in 2020 were for AR-15 rifles. The committee said Daniel Defense’s revenue tripled for AR-15 style rifles from $40 million in 2019 to over $120 million in 2021.

Members of Congress also called out Daniel’s company’s marketing tactics, including one social media post which shows a child holding a rifle.

“The photo was taken by a parent teaching their child what a gun was,” Daniel told Congress about the ad. “The child was being taught you can’t touch a gun without an adult. This is personal responsibility.”

Thank you for reading

If you have any tips or ideas for coverage, don’t hesitate to send me an email: jakeshore.thecurrent@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Make sure to check your inbox every Thursday for the new edition of Undercurrent.

Files show Savannah cop disciplined before shooting Carver Village man

A Savannah police officer already under scrutiny for past use-of-force discipline, investigations from his time as a Coastal State Prison guard was also disciplined three times by the Savannah Police Department for not turning on his body camera.

Continue reading…

Savannah cop who killed Carver Village man had use-of-force investigations in prior job

Savannah Police Officer Ernest Ferguson shot and killed a man in Carver Village last month. Records show he was disciplined and the subject of internal investigations for use-of-force incidents when he worked at Coastal State Prison.

Continue reading…

Political battle looms over crime, policing in Savannah

The street protest following Savannah Police’s 5th officer-involved shooting seemed small, but the repercussions of Saudi Arai Lee’s death last month signal a larger political battle ahead. The recent deadly shooting in Carver Village and questions from it highlight issues for 2023 city elections.

Continue reading…

Daniel Defense CEO says gun industry isn’t responsible for mass shootings

Marty Daniel, the CEO of a Georgia gun manufacturer, testified in front of Congress of Wednesday, as part of an ongoing investigation by lawmakers into what is fueling the country’s high rates of gun violence.

Continue reading…

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. Email him at jake.shore@thecurrentga.org Prior to joining The Current,...