Thursday, March 23, 2023

A Savannah police car parked outside the department’s headquarters on Habersham Street on Aug. 17, 2022.

Lawsuit contends problematic police culture

A lawsuit filed by the family of a man who hanged himself while left unsupervised in a Savannah Police interrogation room blames rule failures and negligence leading to the man’s death.

But the complaint also points to a culture of what it alleges as racial bias among some police supervisors and officers who were with the department.

William Harvey, 60, died on April 2, 2021. He had been arrested with a knife after a fight with an intoxicated man. Detained in a Savannah Police interrogation room, he made comments to officers about his mental health and how he couldn’t return to jail, according to the lawsuit. Officers left him handcuffed in the room with no video camera watching him and body cameras turned off, the complaint says.

Harvey committed suicide while left alone. Three officers involved in the incident were later fired.

Four days after Harvey’s death, former Officer David Curtis circulated a meme of a Black man hanging to a group chat of officers, the suit states. He wrote, “Is this too early to send this to Greene?” who is a Black officer. Citing Internal Affairs unit documents, which investigated the incident, the lawsuit claims the meme and the non-reaction by superiors were indicative of treatment of fellow officers who are Black and Black suspects.

One officer interviewed by the Internal Affairs unit said he believed Curtis “had sent the hanging GIF/meme to the wrong chat group and had instead intended to send it to another chat group composed of white officers only,” according to the lawsuit.

A supervisor who was later fired told Internal Affairs that “there was a separate chat group created [that included white officers only] where they ‘essentially vented or expressed their concerns about Officer Greene’ (a black officer),” the suit stated. She and another supervisor, both fired, “participated in police chat groups for their watch that excluded Black officers and included only white officers,” the lawsuit stated.

The City of Savannah, former Police Chief Roy Minter, and three other officers have not had a chance to respond to the lawsuit, according to court documents. Minter is awaiting a nomination vote to serve as U.S. Marshal of the Southern District of Georgia.

In June 2021, Minter expressed regret for what the Harvey family had to go through: “I hope and pray that they find some type of comfort knowing that the Savannah Police Department did what we had to do to hold members of our organization accountable.”

Truck carrying logs of timber Credit: U.S. Forest Service

Timber trucks safety concerns

It’s a sight that drivers from Savannah on down to Brunswick are familiar with: large commercial trucks carrying timber rolling down the highway. 

With more jobs and development coming to the coast and increased activity in both cities’ ports, Georgia lawmakers are close to passing a bill that lets trucks carrying timber and other products take on heavier loads to meet demand. It would allow for up to 4,000 more pounds, which is as heavy as an average pickup truck. Commercial timber trucks can already carry up to 80,000 pounds with up to 5% of variance, or wiggle room, on the weight. 

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported on the controversy around the legislation and how it has some public safety advocates worried. 

Allowing commercial trucks to take heavier loads makes it harder for trucks to stop and could increase the likelihood of a crash, advocacy groups like Road Safe America say. Speed of delivery is an economic motivator for drivers, and braking is already hard to do in heavy vehicles.

Agribusiness advocates tell the newspaper that their business is already precarious post-pandemic. Increased truck loads and fewer trips allow companies to invest in newer, safer trucks. 

But 14% of all traffic fatalities in 2020 involved a large truck, according to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. Deadly crashes involving commercial vehicles are also on the rise in Georgia, the AJC reports, noting an increase of 36% between 2018 and 2022. 

The bill, HB 189, passed a narrow vote in the Georgia House on Mar. 6 and awaits a full vote in the Senate.

Georgia Department of Community Supervision officer. Georgia has the most people under probation or parole in the entire country. Credit: Department of Community Supervision

Problem with probation?

Judges sentence people who have committed crimes to probation as an alternative to prison — one where people can remain in their communities, but the courts supervise and keep them on the straight and narrow. So the theory goes.

But according to a Mar. 14 report from Pew Charitable Trusts, the conditions of probation can often prove overly burdensome for those serving under it. Pew finds that random drug screenings and searches by probation officers, weekly in-person check-ins, work requirements and court fees can overwhelm people serving under probation and upend their lives.

It’s especially pertinent in Georgia, where 1 in 23 adults are under probation or parole. Georgia has the most people under supervision in the entire country, totaling 191,739 Georgians as of Jan. 1, according to the Department of Community Supervision.

Pew points out that people under probation are 66% more likely to make under $20,000 a year, requiring them to seek government benefits that have long wait times and complex applications.

People under probation may be trying to get custody of their children back after family court revoked it during their time in jail. Family court may impose more sanctions like weekly parenting classes in addition to their required meetings and treatment from probation. If a person’s license is restricted as a result of their crime or they live in an area without public transportation, attending parole officer meetings or going to work can be a daily challenge, according to Pew.

The point isn’t that these programs are bad or unhelpful, Pew says, but that all of them at once can trip people up more than help them.

In Chatham County, residents on probation reached its highest point in the last five years in 2020, with 5,624 people, the data shows. But Chatham’s numbers have since declined by 16%, amounting to 4,672 people on probation at the beginning of 2023.

The potential cause of the decline is a Georgia law passed in 2021 allowing early termination of probation for those who are succeeding — a legislative attempt to reduce the bloated probation system.

Have a question, comment or story idea? Email me at

Embattled former Savannah police chief’s nomination for U.S. Marshal moves forward

in 2020, 77 Savannah police officers filed a complaint with the city’s human resources office, alleging that Minter made threats to officers, espoused favoritism, and failed to adequately equip the force, among 19 other complaints.

Continue reading…

Legislative committee OKs heavier trucks in Georgia after lengthy hearing

DOT commissioner projected growth of freight traffic in Georgia will more than offset any reduction in the number of trucks on the highways that would be possible with heavier trucks.

Continue reading…

Criminal justice reform efforts in Georgia Legislature collide with back-the-blue mood

Efforts expand the opportunity for people to expunge conviction records, reduce the number of people whose driver’s licenses have been suspended, and remove hurdles to obtaining occupational licenses.

Continue reading…

Support non-partisan, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.

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 as a senior writer for the...