Tom Barton: Mayor Eddie DeLoach on the hot seat over crime

Mayor Eddie DeLoach should be thankful that he has two more years to keep his campaign promise to make Savannah a safer community. In 2015, as a mayoral candidate, he put incumbent Mayor Edna Jackson on the hot seat over crime. Now, after Tuesday night’s horrific Independence Day crime spree in the heart of the city, DeLoach is finding his own boxer shorts heating up over the same issue he used to burn Jackson.

 

But for now, time is on DeLoach’s side. The next mayoral election isn’t until 2019. If the next mayor’s race was this November or even November of 2018, those hundreds of grim-faced y protesters who streamed into City Hall last Thursday to show their anger and disgust over this city’s maddening crime problem likely would be streaming to the polls to vote DeLoach — and possibly a few council members – out of office.

As Harley Krinsky, owner of Sorry Charlie’s restaurant and one of the hundreds who marched on City Hall, said, the goal was change, not chaos.

Change. That’s what Savannahians do with mayors that they believe are ineffective.They get rid of them.

Krinsky and others, including the 100 or so people who gathered in Pulaski Square Friday to honor the life of 30-year-old Scott Waldrup, who was killed during the crime spree, are more than just people who are momentarily outraged. They are a movement that is demanding change.

Voters are beyond sick of violent crime that seems to have this city by the throat, they are even sicker of politicians who are better at holding press conferences than kicking behinds and actually doing things that make people feel safer. They booted two of this city’s last five incumbent mayors out of office – John P. Rousakis and Edna Jackson — largely because they failed the test on public safety.

DeLoach, who successfully hammered Jackson over the head with the crime issue in 2015, could find himself as the nail instead of the hammer if he and his administration fail to keep its promise to make Savannah a safer city.

And it’s not just the mayor and City Council whose shorts are heating up. Other elected officials are on the hot seat because of crime, too, and should watch their own behinds.

 

No more ‘catch and release’

For example, according to Recorder’s Court records, the driver of the car that killed Waldrup, a 17-year-old gang member named Jerry Chambers, was in police custody a year ago. Then just 16, he was being held in connection with an alleged robbery and shooting of a 63-year-old woman in the parking lot at the Savannah Mall.

Unfortunately, it appears prosecutors fouled up the charges. Court records show that Thomas Cerbone, a chief deputy of Meg Heap’s, moved for administrative dismissal of the armed robbery and aggravated assault charges against Chambers on June 29, 2016.

Ms. Heap, a two-term D.A., is up for re-election again in 2020. If voters think that she and her staff are dropping too many balls, Heap could be in trouble. Any elected judge who has a record of being soft on crime probably should be advised to take their black robes to a consignment store. Fortunately for them, the public hasn’t been paying much attention to courts or D.A. That must change.

Savannah must stop playing catch-and-release with its criminals. When Lumpkin and his officers do their jobs and arrest the bad guys, others in the criminal justice system must do their jobs and keep these creeps locked up. It should be noted that in a different case, Heap is seeking the death penalty against four alleged gang members who allegedly were involved in a gang revenge slaying last September. This is Heap’s first death penalty prosecution.

The thought of executing violent gang members may make some people cringe. But so should the deaths of more innocent victims like Scott Waldrup or the thought of knuckleheaded gang members rolling through the middle of a packed City Market and firing guns into the crowd.

Many of the angry people who marched on City Hall last week and who attended Friday’s memorial service were Waldrup’s peers in the city’s hospitality industry, barkeeps, servers, bartenders and others who typically aren’t politically active.

 

A sucker punch to the city’s gut

But as John Morisano, founding partner of The Grey restaurant, said, citizens must demand change in the way the city deals with violence:

“We need to confront it. We can no longer stick our heads in the ground or accept the paralysis because of social, racial and class divides. It has to end.”

Amen. What happened last Tuesday night in the City Market area was a sucker punch to Savannah’s gut. On the evening of July 4, a night reserved for patriotic fun, food and fireworks, the heart of the city of all places was the scene of a real-life horror show. Three people were wounded in a gang-related drive-by shooting in City Market. Minutes later there was a second shooting on Broughton Street. The shooter in the first drive-by shooting and others in that vehicle sped away, prompting a police chase that ended in a horrific crash that killed three people — two occupants in the getaway vehicle, and a pedestrian, Scott Waldrup.

Waldrup died a hero and a martyr. According to witnesses, the bearded and bearish Waldrup bravely sacrificed his own life to save others as he pushed several people out of the way of an out-of-control SUV careening toward the Five Guys Restaurant at Bay and Barnard streets. Waldrup took the full brunt of several tons of metal himself. If there’s such a thing as a “Citizen’s Medal of Honor,” Scott Waldrup earned it.

I’m told that veteran cops were left speechless and horrified by the carnage on that corner. Two people in the SUV, alleged gang members Gabriel Magulias, 20, and Spencer Stuckey, 27, were killed as well. The 17-year-old driver, Jerry Chambers Jr., somehow survived. But the gang member, who beat the rap last year with the help of his defense attorney, former D.A. Larry Chisolm, will face a tougher legal slog this time as Heap will birddog this case as if her political career depended on it.

Police said Chambers, Magulias and Stuckey were members of the Only the Mob gang.

DeLoach and Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin have stressed the deadly connection between gangs and violence, which is old news. What citizens want to know is that their mayor and police chief have answers and good ideas about what to do about it, and that these things are making a difference. Lumpkin and DeLoach claimed they were making a difference. But the brazen drive-by shooting in a crowded City Market and the death of Scott Waldrup suggest that those efforts are either failing or aren’t nearly enough.

 

A declaration of war

DeLoach had to know his britches were burning as he gazed out over the large tense crowd inside City Hall. He shucked the “Easy Eddie” approach and struck a tough-guy pose: “Make no mistake: we are at war with gangs in our community,” he said. During tough times, citizens want a stand-up, no-nonsense mayor and a stand-up, no-nonsense police chief.

Yes, citizens are at war with the criminals. And, as Karen Guinn, president of the Savannah Downtown Business Association, correctly said, all citizens must put aside their differences and join this fight.

Here’s one idea: enlist Kevin Grogan. In fact, if it was up to me, I’d commission him a general and put a whole division at his disposal.

 

Who’s Kevin Grogan?

Grogan is a former Metro street cop and homicide detective and the author of a blockbuster new book, “Black sheep, white cop,” about the realities of policing Savannah’s streets and what really is going on. It is disturbing and fascinating. It should be required reading by the mayor and City Council and anyone who is concerned about Savannah’s future and is looking for solutions to the crime problem.

Grogan was a highly regarded cop who fouled up in a big way in his personal life and resigned from the police force in 2014. His book is a splendid memoir about his years on the force.

Grogan credits disgraced former Metro Police Chief Willie Lovett for putting together what the author calls “the most effective crime suppression unit the city has ever seen” – the Expanded Patrol Operations unit, made up of highly aggressive and motivated police officers. Some police captains who preferred a more softer approach were horrified. But the chief was unmoved.

 

Time to kick a**

One of Lovett’s cronies, Greg Capers, was picked to run EXPO. He explained the job to Grogan and other EXPO members this way: “He (Capers) said we had been chosen to take the fight to enemy territory, to jump corners and to kick ass.”

They did. Arrests soared, drug dealers skittled into the remotest of corners of the inner city. Grogan makes a convincing argument that the increase in murders and violence is related to the drop in arrests and decrease in police aggressiveness. He writes at length about the city’s gang problem and how to attack it.

Lumpkin is doing a good job as Metro police chief. He just needs more help in the trenches. So the mayor should find a way to put Grogan back on the city payroll.

It’s not that unusual. For example, DeLoach hired Martin Sullivan, who is a good guy, as his chief of staff in 2016 at a $65,000 salary.

Perhaps he could name Grogan as Savannah’s drug czar or some sort of special assistant to the mayor for gang and crime-busting.

If we’re going to have a war, the city needs more veteran soldiers like Grogan in the fight. And if the mayor wants a second term, that’s a war he must win.

 

Tom Barton is the editorial page editor of the Savannah Morning News. tom.barton@savannahnow.com

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