– July 20, 2023 –

Good morning and welcome to Thursday. In this week’s public safety newsletter, we look at Glynn County residents seeking to move on from their criminal records, a lawsuit to stop the renaming of a Savannah square and the push and pull between homelessness and crime in Brunswick.

If you have questions, comments or story ideas, you can email me at jakeshore.thecurrent@gmail.com. Let’s dive in.

Lag in Brunswick criminal record clearing

Brunswick GA expungement clinic
A volunteer with Georgia Justice Project assists a woman at a Brunswick expungement clinic. Credit: Erika Curtis/Georgia Justice Project

In November, a Brunswick legal clinic sought to clear the criminal records of 150 residents. But eight months later, more than half of their requests remain pending. 

The Georgia Justice Project-sponsored clinic kickstarted the applications of residents who were eligible to get their records cleared. They include those with misdemeanor convictions and criminal charges that were dismissed. Additionally, people who were never told they could get their records cleared as first-time offenders were also eligible.

Criminal records, even for minor offenses, can serve as lifelong barriers to education, housing and jobs. The Brunswick-area district attorney’s office, which is in charge of processing these requests, said it is doing the best it can while prosecuting crimes. The DA also said his office is working to make the record restriction process more efficient.

Read more here about the controversy and delays in the Brunswick criminal record clearing.

Lawsuit challenges renaming square

The square formerly named after South Carolina senator and slaveholder John C. Calhoun in Savannah. A resident filed a lawsuit on July 13 to stop the renaming. Credit: Justin Taylor / The Current

A Savannah resident filed suit to stop the city from renaming a public square formerly named after South Carolina senator and slaveholder John C. Calhoun.

In a legal complaint filed on July 13, David Tootle, 38, of Savannah, alleged the city violated state law when it removed markers and a commemorative plaque bearing the name “Calhoun”. Tootle asked for an injunction to restore the original plaque and signage and stop renaming efforts.

Calhoun, a former senator and twice-elected vice president, was a staunch pro-slavery advocate, infamous for his 1837 speech extolling the “positive good” of slavery. One year after his death in 1850, the city of Savannah honored him by naming one of its 24 public squares after him. But last November, the Savannah City Council voted unanimously to scrub his name from the square at Abercorn and East Wayne Streets due to his slaveholding values. The city has already selected 15 potential new names and is due for a final vote between August and September.

The complaint marks the latest legal challenge in the statewide debate over the legacy of slavery in monuments. The central conflict lies in a city or county’s ability to alter or remove public monuments while Georgia state law forbids it. Last October, a decision by the Georgia Supreme Court failed to settle that question, but instead clarified that only a community “stakeholder” may bring a lawsuit to challenge such changes.

Tootle, a former Chatham County GOP district 2 chairman, largely based the suit on being a community stakeholder. You can read the full lawsuit here.

Tootle declined to comment. A city spokesperson said it doesn’t comment on litigation but said “we do assert that the City Council has full right and authority to name or rename any properties under their purview within the guidelines stated in the City’s code of ordinances.”

Read here about the Georgia Supreme Court decision that set the stage for the fight over Savannah’s square renaming.

Homelessness, crime perceptions in Brunswick

A woman experiencing homelessness sits outside of a homeless encampment at 1803 G Street. She is one of about 20 people who stay here since The Well temporarily closed. Credit: Kailey Cota

A perceived spike in violent crime in downtown Brunswick led to the closure of the city’s only daytime homeless shelter earlier this year.

Residents and politicians said the temporary closure has helped alleviate crime and increase safety. But with The Well set to reopen this month and no plan in place for homeless services, the fate of dozens of Brunswick’s homeless population remains up in the air.

As The Current‘s reporter Kailey Cota discovered in her new investigation, The Well’s closure led to no decrease in crime in downtown Brunswick, according to the police.

The story highlights the interplay between resources and crime in addition to homelessness and perceptions of crime. Read that story here.

The Tide: Delays, some progress 8 months after Brunswick criminal record clinic

Since a Brunswick legal clinic started applications for 150 residents to clear their criminal records, half of their cases remain pending. Prosecutors say they are doing the best they can with the resources available.

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Georgia Supreme Court hands supporters of Confederate statues in public squares partial setback

The presiding justice wrote that the case has far-reaching implications, and plaintiffs must prove that their injury is resolvable through a court process.

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Disagreements over care for homeless population in Brunswick leaves dozens with nowhere to go 

City, business owners disagree with churches on how to provide care for unhoused residents.

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Brunswick clinic seeks to clear criminal records for fresh start

A clinic in Brunswick last Saturday sought to jumpstart applications for Glynn County GA residents seeking to restrict and seal their criminal records, a process known as expungement.

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Judge gave Glynn cop who slept with informants clean record 

Former Glynn County Police drug investigator James Cassada got to end his probation six years early after a judge’s ruling in May. Now his record won’t show up in background checks.

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. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...