Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Islands Fire Station, built in 2021, is a small fire station meant to service the wide expanses of east Liberty County and Tradeport East. Officials say it has no water tank of its own. Credit: Justin Taylor/The Current

Fire protection falls behind development

For years, Liberty County officials have pushed for its eastern corridor next to I-95 to become a hub for warehouses and logistics industries. But businesses coming in may be in for a rude awakening when relying on the county’s fire protection.

One-third of Liberty County Fire Services is made up of part-timers, despite multimillion-dollar increases to its budget since 2018. Under the leadership of Chief Brian Darby, the department has failed to acquire basic safety plans and equipment, like ladder trucks.

The failures became evident after a Nov. 20, 2022, fire that destroyed one of the county’s oldest homes. Firefighters reported that problems accessing water and communication caused the fire response to go from bad to worse.

But Darby omitted mention of any issues in his final report to the state. Three days after the fire, the county manager recommended Darby stay away from a public meeting where residents sought answers about fire safety, according to emails.

A five-month investigation by The Current‘s Jake Shore revealed the broad issues at Liberty County’s fire department, highlighted east Liberty residents’ anxieties about fire safety amid a warehouse boom and investigated the response to the blaze at the historic home.

Chatham County and the surrounding area’s law enforcement leaders met with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr for a closed forum on gang prosecution at Savannah Technical College on Tuesday, May 22, 2023. Credit: Jake Shore/The Current

Police, AG gather for gang meeting

Law enforcement leaders in Chatham County and the surrounding areas met with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr on Tuesday to talk about anti-gang tactics and prosecution.

Carr closed the Anti-Gang Network meeting at Savannah Technical College to the press due to its “sensitive nature.” But a similar meeting last year attended by The Current suggests the format included different police agencies telling Carr their issues with gangs. It comes on the heels of Carr receiving $1.3 million in last year’s budget for a gang prosecution unit and a harsher gang sentencing law passed in this year’s session of the legislature.

After the forum, Carr spoke with reporters. He was unable to provide specific statistics about gang activity in Chatham County after the hour-and-a-half meeting.

Asked about jurisdiction of prosecution, Carr brought up how his agency will step in if need be: “We have jurisdictions around the state where some prosecutors aren’t prosecuting certain laws,” Carr said. “And if a prosecutor chooses not to prosecute a gang statute, we aren’t going to hesitate to come in to do it, because everybody deserves to be safe.”

Carr appeared to be referencing the Athens-Clarke County district attorney and Chatham County’s district attorney. They have been painted by opponents as progressive prosecutors who don’t prosecute enough crimes in their quest for criminal justice reform. Carr declined to comment on Chatham’s DA, Shalena Cook Jones.

It could be a signal Carr intends to prosecute alleged gang crime without the consent or help of the local DAs. As recently as this week, AG Carr’s agency announced indictments against four alleged Athens-Clarke gang members.

Update tracker

Something we hear from readers all the time is they want to receive updates on court cases of local interest.

Here are a few we’ve been keeping our eye on:

Case of Warnock canvasser shooting stalled:

The Savannah shooting of a 15-year-old canvasser for Raphael Warnock’s senate campaign made national headlines in December 2022, but the case against the alleged perpetrator has fallen off many people’s radars.

That’s because the case has joined a long list of pending cases awaiting Chatham DA Shalena Cook Jones. Jimmy Arturo Paiz, who faces aggravated assault and aggravated battery charges by the Savannah Police Department, has not been indicted by prosecutors. An indictment is the opening salvo of a criminal case and the case cannot advance without one. The last filing was in January.

DA Jones’ office is experiencing a shortage of prosecutors and high caseloads for the existing ones, which can lead to long trial backlogs and bottom-line plea bargain offers, according to a Savannah Morning News report.

Ex-Glynn County police chief awaiting appeal:

Over three years ago, a grand jury indicted Glynn County’s police chief with willfully ignoring misconduct in his agency’s corrupt drug unit. The former chief, John Powell, has been fighting the charges ever since.

His lawyer has sought to prove that Powell’s right to a speedy trial has been violated, given the long delays in Powell’s prosecution. Powell’s lawyer brought the conflict all the way to Georgia’s Court of Appeals in January.

Arguments have been filed by both sides’ lawyers. They are awaiting a ruling from the appeals court judges. As of Wednesday, they are still waiting. An appeals clerk said the judges have until November 3, 2023, to submit their ruling on whether Powell’s speedy trial rights were violated.

Savannah Police respond to interrogation room suicide lawsuit:

The Savannah Police Department, its former chief and the city denied accusations brought by the estate of William Zachary Harvey, who hanged himself while left unattended in an interrogation room after his April 2021 arrest.

Lawyers for Harvey’s estate alleged that officers received plenty of warning signs from Harvey that he planned to self-harm. However, an attorney for the city submitted video evidence of the officer’s interview with Harvey on Monday that he says refutes that. The footage “speaks for itself,” the attorney wrote. The videos were referenced but not made public in court records.

Are there more cases you want checked on? Email me at

Development continues as Liberty County fire protection lags 

Liberty County officials have pushed for warehouse development while its fire department lacks key equipment and safety standards. A historic home fire in November displayed the glaring deficiencies at the fire department.

Continue reading…

Tough-on-crime gang bill now law, signed by Kemp

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signs gang bill into law, requiring mandatory minimum prison sentences for people involved in gangs and gang recruitment.

Continue reading…

As trial approaches, indicted former Glynn County police chief’s history shows controversies

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.

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 Prior to joining The Current,...