– Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023 –

Good morning. In this week’s public safety newsletter, we’re investigating claims made by Savannah Police to obtain new handguns, body camera footage released in a traffic stop death in Camden County, and new bike and pedestrian protections for a dangerous road in Brunswick.

Questions, comments or story ideas? You can reach me at jake.shore@thecurrentga.org.

Savannah cops to get new guns

A large selection of used handguns that were traded in from law enforcement officials on display at Clyde Armory.
A large selection of used handguns that were traded in from law enforcement officials on display at Clyde Armory in Warner Robins. Credit: Justin Taylor/The Current

At a July 27 city council meeting, Savannah police leaders pitched officials on a plan to help failing recruits pass the academy. The solution was to approve a switch from Glock to new Smith & Wesson handguns equipped with optics known as red-dot sights. 

The 500 new duty and training guns will help stem the tide of recruits failing the academy’s firearms tests, the police claimed, while also making current officers who want new equipment happy. The city approved the proposal.

An investigation by The Current found misleading statistics and inconsistent information associated with the request. While the city manager said “the number one reason for attrition” at the academy was failing firearms tests, that didn’t turn out to be true for Savannah recruits. Total recruits – including those from other agencies – struggle with weapons proficiency, but Savannah’s recruits were more likely to fail academically between January 2022 and September 2023.

Red-dot sights can also be attached to different types of guns, not just Smith & Wesson firearms, experts said.

“Officers throughout the nation carry Glocks because they’re simple, they’re robust, they last a long time. They’re just easy to shoot with,” said Steve Lindley, a former California law enforcement chief and current executive at gun safety group Brady United. 

“If they’re saying it’s gonna be easier for their cadets to pass and make them better shots,” he said, “I don’t know, I might ask how are they going to prove that?”

Read more from our investigation here.

Body cam released in traffic stop killing

Ben Crump (center), a national civil rights attorney, speaks alongside Camden County NAACP Branch President Timothy Bessent Sr. (left) at a press conference on Oct. 18 over a Camden deputy shooting. Credit: Screenshot

Camden County authorities released footage Wednesday after the latest instance of deputy violence from the county has drawn national attention and outcry. 

The videos show Staff Sgt. Buck Aldridge of the Camden County Sheriff’s Office stopping a pickup truck off of I-95 on Monday at 7:30 a.m., pulling over Leonard Cure of Florida. Cure, who is Black, was killed in the stop after a struggle with Aldridge, who is white, after the deputy sought to arrest Cure for excessive speeding. 

Cure served 16 years in prison in Florida for armed robbery before being exonerated and released in 2020 by the Broward State Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit. 

The body camera footage shows an escalation by Aldridge immediately upon exiting his patrol car, yelling for Cure to put his body against the car to be arrested. The deputy tries to arrest Cure, who becomes incensed at being charged for a traffic offense, before Aldridge uses his taser on him. They begin to wrestle and Aldridge shoots Cure, the footage shows. 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting and will turn over any findings to Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins, who would decide whether or not to bring charges. 

The traffic stop escalation to use of force mirrors similar instances of Camden deputy misconduct. Former deputy Christi Newman was indicted for using excessive force in a traffic stop, where video showed Newman grabbing a handcuffed woman by her hair and ramming her into a patrol car.  

Local civil rights leaders said the county’s Black population is suffering the most due to repeated deputy violence. 

“Something has to be done here in Camden County Department,” said Timothy Bessent, president of the local NAACP. “Policing brown and black people, law enforcement shouldn’t always feel like we are a threat because of the color of our skin.”

How the county lost its insurance coverage due to repeated instances of deputy misconduct.

New Brunswick bike, pedestrian protections

The intersection of Scranton and Old Jesup Road. Credit: Google Street View

Glynn County officials are set to approve key bicyclist and pedestrian protections as well as sidewalk repairs for a dangerous stretch of Old Jesup Road in Brunswick.

The Glynn County Board of Commissioners will vote to award a nearly $100,000 bid to add necessary repairs to a mile-long swath of Old Jesup Road between Scranton and Walker roads.

“The road has a high volume of vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians which use the corridor. Currently, there are no accommodations for pedestrians or bicyclists along multiple segments and the existing sidewalk segments lack connectivity,” the agenda description states.

Though paid for by a state tax, the county chose a company for the bid whose asking price was larger than they had allocated for. That meant the project was scaled down from its original proposal to fix more parts of Old Jesup Road. The negotiated project now only focuses on the more concentrated mile-long stretch.

500 new police guns will help failing recruits pass academy, Savannah brass says

The Savannah Police Department and city leaders made misleading claims advocating for 500 new guns with red-dot sights. One reason was that the sights will help failing recruits pass the police academy.

Continue reading…

Frequent misbehavior by Camden deputies leads to dropped insurance coverage

Camden taxpayers will have to foot the bill, after the county’s insurance provider no longer wishes to cover its losses due to repeated malpractice incidents from Camden County Sheriff’s Office deputies, like jailhouse beating, car crashes and damaging PIT maneuvers during chases.

Continue reading…

DA prosecutes Camden murder trial from 2021 fatal police raid

Brunswick-area District Attorney Keith Higgins is prosecuting Varshan Brown for felony murder of his cousin, LaToya James, despite police saying they fired the fatal shots during a May 4, 2021 drug raid.

Continue reading…

Grand jury indicts fired Camden County deputy for violent traffic stop

Fired Camden County Sheriff’s Office deputy Christi Newman indicted on six counts by a grand jury after a traffic stop last year where Newman rammed a woman’s head into a car, according to the indictments.

Continue reading…

Savannah requests $23M grant in response to rising car crash deaths, injuries

Data shows car crashes in Savannah resulting in death and serious injury for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians grew again in 2022 after record high reached in 2021.

Continue reading…

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