October 20, 2022

Jackie Johnson

‘Highly disputed, inflammatory’

The ex-Brunswick district attorney, who is criminally accused of misconduct during the investigation of Ahmaud Arbery’s death, wants to block the use of her charges in a civil lawsuit brought by Arbery’s mother.

The ongoing legal battle pertains to the lawsuit where Arbery’s mother alleges Johnson and other parties deputized the men convicted of murdering her son, making them believe they could act with impunity, the lawsuit states.

The suit also cites criminal charges Johnson is facing for allegedly interfering in Arbery’s investigation by showing favor to one of the men, Greg McMichael, who used to work for Johnson, and allegedly telling police not to arrest McMichael’s son, Travis. Johnson’s lawyers deny the charges and say she is not guilty.

On Oct. 13, Johnson’s lawyer wrote the charges are “highly disputed, inflammatory,” and unproven. Therefore, he wrote they can’t be used as evidence in Arbery’s lawsuit.

The court filing highlights the former DA’s continued legal battle against the pending criminal case. Although she was indicted by Attorney General Chris Carr in March 2021, the case has been dormant for more than six months. No date has been set for her arraignment.

Savannah Police Department
A police officer assisting with school supplies at Daffin Park in July 2022. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

Community input for police chief

New survey results show there are stark differences and some similarities in what Savannah Police officers and Savannah citizens want in their next police chief.

With a combined 801 responses, the city’s survey in conjunction with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) sought to use community engagement to discern what backgrounds, goals, and qualities are necessary for its next chief.

Savannah citizens rated their two most important qualities for a police chief as “willing to hold themselves and the organization accountable” and “responding to rising crime using data, technology, and community-based solutions,” according to the results.

They felt the chief’s biggest priority should be “strategies to reduce violent crime.”

For Savannah police officers, the two most important qualities were “building trust and confidence through a transparent integrity in decision making” and “a demonstrated commitment to officer well-being and safety.”

The officers’ biggest priority for the chief was “a focus on building and sustaining staff levels to our authorized strength.”

The hiring decision ultimately comes down to Savannah City Manager Jay Melder. According to the survey report, Melder and PERF will use the results to recruit and assess candidates. Their proposed deadline to name a chief is by the end of the year.

Here are the results from the citizen’s survey.

Here are the results from the internal Savannah Police survey.

Police officer with body camera (Wikimedia Commons)

Federal dollars for body cams, victim support

Several public safety agencies and an advocacy group in Coastal Georgia are receiving an infusion of federal funding, for items like body-worn cameras and support for human trafficking victims.

The Department of Justice awarded the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office $53,940 to purchase 30 new body-worn cameras from California-based company, LensLock, according to a recent announcement.

“BWCs have provided Deputies with evidence in domestic violence cases, accident scenes, and consent decrees; helped command staff recognize patterns of Deputy behavior; and decreased the number of complaints filed against Deputies,” the sheriff’s office grant request said.

Body cameras worn by Liberty County deputies have increased accountability, evidenced by the high-profile traffic stop where deputies pulled over a Black women’s college lacrosse team this year and reportedly suspected their team bus of drug trafficking. It prompted national outrage, a federal civil rights complaint, and a review from the state NAACP.

The body camera footage, released by the agency to various media outlets, even contradicted the public statements of Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman. The sheriff said no personal items of the lacrosse team were searched on April 20, but footage showed the deputies rifled through the college athletes’ bags. The sheriff said the incident was under administrative review.

Another group receiving a sizable grant is a facility that provides housing and care for human trafficking victims in Chatham County.

Savannah-based Tharros Place (Tharros means “courage” in Greek) received $750,000 in federal funding to develop its 12-bed housing facility for victims ages 11 to 17.

“The facility will meet both emergency/rapid and long-term housing needs, with the ability to place young victims in crisis while also meeting long-term needs to transition to life beyond trafficking,” according to the grant request.

Tharros Place plans to partner with Chatham County Juvenile Treatment Court to identify trafficking victims within the juvenile justice system and divert them to receive care, it said.

Read here for where the rest of the grant money, totaling $2.8 million, went in the Southern District of Georgia.

Have a question, comment, or story idea? Email me at jakeshore.thecurrent@gmail.com.

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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...