February 16, 2023

United States Courthouse, Southern District of Georgia. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

Federal prosecutor, city funded

The federal prosecutor specially funded by the City of Savannah to combat violent crime has begun bringing indictments. 

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Makeia Jonese indicted four people in separate cases – one in January and three last week – on charges of having guns as convicted felons in Chatham County, according to Southern District of Georgia court records. Jonese is listed as the lead attorney on each case. 

Why it matters: Jonese was hired in December, as part of an effort from Mayor Van Johnson, the city council majority and the city manager to reduce violent crime in the city. 

The unusual arrangement where a city funds a federal prosecutor was a little awkward, as the city is already covered by the Chatham County prosecutor: District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones.

Jones – a progressive DA who supports criminal justice reform – said in a pointed Facebook Live interview in August that the scope of federal jurisdiction for violent crime is limited and most fall under her office’s responsibility. She criticized how the position was rolled out.

Meanwhile, Johnson has said the position’s purpose is to give more serious, federal consequences to those who commit crimes in Savannah – amid a rise in some violent crimes from 2021 to 2022 and an upcoming mayoral election for Johnson. 

Jonese’s city-funded salary is $80,000. Her position is overseen by the top federal prosecutor for the district, David Estes.

“Savannah is not my only priority, so when we have somebody focused on violent crime only in Savannah, that’s a great help to my prosecution and law enforcement efforts,” Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, told The Current.

Kerry Thomas
Kerry Thomas, Chief of the Port Wentworth Police Department Credit: Savannah Police Department

Familiar face

Port Wentworth has a new chief of police after the sudden retirement of its last chief.

Former Assistant Savannah Police Department Chief Kerry Thomas was sworn-in as Port Wentworth Police Department Chief this week. Thomas left the Savannah-area five years ago to serve as chief of the Chamblee Police Department, which is near Atlanta.

Thomas served in several roles while in Savannah and worked his way up to assistant chief.

While chief in Chamblee, Thomas made state headlines after someone broke into his department-issued vehicle, stealing two rifles and a shotgun, according to a 2020 article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Chamblee Police policy stated that officers are not supposed to leave weapons in their unattended, parked cars – it was a policy Thomas signed off on just two days before his car was broken into, according to the Constitution.

“Also stolen from the city-issued Tahoe were 34 rounds of ammunition, two 9 mm Glock magazines, a police baton, duty belt, handcuffs, bulletproof vests and badges from the Savannah Police Department,” the article said.

Thomas takes over for Matthew Libby, who was chief in Port Wentworth and retired abruptly last month.

Libby had been accused of misspending city funds for personal use and trying to hire his daughter to work in the department, according to news reports. His retirement also came a week after a conservative news website called The Daily Signal reported on how Libby disciplined an officer who posted “there is no such thing as homosexual marriage” on his Facebook account.


The Current misreported two figures in last week’s newsletter about the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s presentation to Glynn County residents. 

The agency has 15 full-time prosecutors, known as assistant district attorneys. Additionally, the presentation stated that Glynn County had 1933 open cases, making up 34% of the five-county circuit’s total caseload. Camden County had 2352 open cases, making up 41% of the caseload.

The Current has uploaded the full presentation online read it for yourself.

Daniel Defense ad
Example of a Daniel Defense advertisement allegedly appealing to young men. Its caption states “Saturdays are for the boys” featuring soldiers armed with rifles. (Screenshot of lawsuit) Credit: Screenshot of lawsuit

Daniel Defense fires back

The Bryan County-based gun manufacturer known nationally after its rifle was used in a mass shooting is fighting back in a lawsuit brought by the mother of a mass shooting victim.

In the federal Western District of Texas, Daniel Defense filed a 40-page motion seeking dismissal on Wednesday, after being sued for allegedly marketing its assault rifles to young men by making military appeals, posting on social media and having its rifles appear in a popular video game. 

Daniel Defense, which recently replaced its CEO, leaned heavily on the assertion that it is covered by the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” of 2005. It’s a federal law that gives broad immunity to “manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or importers of firearms  or ammunition for damages, injunctive or other relief resulting from the  misuse of their products by others,” according to the law’s text.

Daniel Defense’s lawyer claims that the lawsuit also does not establish a definitive link that the shooter who went on to kill 19 children consumed Daniel Defense marketing “and it motivated him to both purchase (a Daniel Defense rifle) and to use it to commit his horrific crimes,” the filing states.

The attorney also states Daniel Defense’s marketing is lawful and is protected because of “the First Amendment rights of firearm manufacturers and sellers to speak freely, among other purposes.”

Here is the dense legal filing where Daniel Defense argues its side. 

Have questions, comments or story ideas? Feel free to 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...