September 29, 2022
Before diving into the Undercurrent newsletter, we would be remiss not to remind readers to take necessary precautions as Hurricane Ian bears down on the Southeast.
Sign up for your county’s emergency management text alerts. Follow the instructions of local authorities.
Public safety update: The Savannah River Bridge in Savannah and Sidney Lanier Bridge in Glynn County will close at 9 a.m. Thursday until the storm has passed and each bridge has passed an inspection, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. Savannah traffic may use the Houlihan Bridge in Port Wentworth or I-95 to cross the Savannah River.
The Current compiled a list of links, phone numbers, guides, and evacuation maps for all of Coastal Georgia.
Stay safe out there.
‘Filling city and government coffers’
Chatham County’s district attorney called a recent marijuana penalty put in place by Pooler “unconstitutional and unjust” in a speech.
In late May, DA Shalena Cook Jones’ office said it would not prosecute crimes involving less than one ounce of marijuana, following the lead of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which said it would no longer test that low of an amount.
But earlier this month, Pooler’s city council unanimously voted to put in place its own ordinance criminalizing marijuana possession of one ounce or less within its city limits. The fine is $400 and a misdemeanor, according to the Savannah Morning News.
Jones, who spoke Sunday at a NAACP Savannah branch meeting, said the measure was a means for the city of Pooler to nickel-and-dime its own citizens.
“I know I’m going to catch flack for this but that is about filling city and government coffers and collecting funds,” Jones said. “I find it unjust and unconstitutional.”
She said Pooler officials are skirting her agency’s decision because they know they wouldn’t be able to bring the charge through the courts system. Jones said municipalities who do this are essentially “stealing” from its residents.
Savannah has its own marijuana ordinance too, passed in 2018, and the fine is $150.
In Chatham County, we have different ordinances and a DA’s decision not to prosecute. What we don’t know is how many citations are actually being issued, whether police are citing and/or arresting (they have discretion to do so), and whether these ordinances are deterring young people from entering the pipeline into criminality.
The Current will keep asking these questions.
Exonerations in Coastal Georgia
A new report this week on exonerations finds some progress amid large racial disparities among those who have been wrongfully convicted in the country.
Black people make up 13.6% of the American population but are 53% of the more than 3,200 exonerations since 1989 listed by the National Registry of Exonerations, according to the report Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States 2022. That disparity is consistent with wrongful convictions for murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes.
One improvement over time has been DNA testing. Exonerations of misidentified rape defendants have dropped “because DNA testing is now routinely used to determine the identity of rapists before trial,” the report finds.
Sorting the list by state finds that there were 47 reported exonerations in Georgia, with 21% of those cases originating from Coastal Georgia.
The majority of the 10 cases were from Chatham County with one from Glynn County and one from Camden County.
The most recent exoneration in the region, according to the registry, was in 2021 with Dennis Perry, a white construction worker convicted in the killing of two Black parishioners in their church in Waverly in 1985.
There were several issues with the case including a mistaken identification from a witness, a false confession, tunnel vision from Camden County Sheriff’s investigators who excluded other potential suspects, and a violation of Brunswick Judicial Circuit prosecutors not turning over evidence to Perry’s defense team during trial, according to the registry.
The Georgia Innocence Project got involved in Perry’s case and used unearthed DNA evidence to request a new trial.
On July 17, 2020, Chief Judge Stephen Scarlett of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit vacated Perry’s conviction.
Thanks for reading! Have a question, comment, or story idea? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones spoke out in Savannah on her agency’s approach to criminal justice in Chatham County, jointly prosecuting violent crime and reducing mass incarceration.
Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers were free for 74 days after his death. The former Brunswick DA accused of delaying their arrests says biased police — not her — are to blame.
Support non-partisan, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.