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Friday, May 1, 2015

What happened in the death of Alexia Christian?

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2015 at 5:52 PM

Atlanta Police Department Chief George Turner discusses with reporters what happened in the death of Alexia Christian
  • Joeff Davis
  • Atlanta Police Department Chief George Turner discusses with reporters what happened in the death of Alexia Christian
Alexia Christian, a 26-year-old African-American woman who was suspected of stealing an automobile, died yesterday in the custody of the Atlanta Police Department. That much we know. But questions remains as to what happened leading up to her death. How did she escape her handcuffs? Why did she have a gun in the back of a squad car? Were police justified to use deadly force?

APD Chief George Turner provided some additional details about the events surrounding Christian's death, the second APD officer-involved shooting of 2015, at a press conference this afternoon. Investigators are continuing to collect information and have yet to interview the officers involved.

Around 4:30 p.m. yesterday, Turner said, APD officers Jeffery Cook and Omar Thyme, who are both black, responded to the suspected location of a stolen white Ford F-150 near Underground Atlanta. Fulton County Police Department had asked APD to check the area for the vehicle stolen from Fulton Industrial Parkway and driven to Downtown.

After approximately 20 minutes, the officers had located the truck in a parking deck near Pryor Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Christian was found in the back of the vehicle. According to Turner, the two officers arrested Christian, handcuffed her behind her back, and placed the suspect in the back of their squad car.

Turner said Christian, who had somehow slipped one hand out of a handcuff, fired a Taurus .380 pistol three times at the officers sitting in the front seat. Deputy Chief Darryl Tolleson said two of the three bullets penetrated the plexiglass inside the squad car and narrowly missed the officers.

APD Deputy Chief Darryl Tolleson explains how the bullets nearly missed the heads of Officers Jeffery Cook and Omar Thyme
  • Joeff Davis
  • APD Deputy Chief Darryl Tolleson explains how the bullets nearly missed the heads of Officers Jeffery Cook and Omar Thyme
"Both of these officers missed being killed by an inch on both sides," Tolleson said. "One [bullet] hit a piece of metal right behind the officer where the plexiglass is mounted. The other one went through the plexiglass out the left front windshield. It's a miracle both officers are alive."

The officers then exited the vehicle and fired a total of 10 shots at Christian. The female suspect later died at Grady Memorial Hospital. How Christian got one hand out of her restraint remains unclear. Turner provided little details to clarify that part of the shooting. But he noted that Christian has managed to escape handcuffs at least one previous time while in APD custody.

Turner said the gun that Christian used likely came from the stolen pickup truck. Officers did not find the weapon prior to handcuffing Christian and placing her in the squad car.

"It was clear to us that the officer did not search her prior to putting her in the back of the car," Turner said. "That's part of our internal investigation on if our polices were actually violated."

APD policy requires male officers to pat women suspects "with the back of their hand" in the presence of other witnesses. Turner says that extensive body searches of women suspects are supposed to be conducted by an on-duty female police officer before the suspect is transported to jail. A female officer was unable to respond to yesterday's scene given how quickly the shooting happened, Sgt. Gregory Lyon said.

Fulton County Jail records show that Christian had been arrested nine times before being apprehended on May 1. Three of those arrests were related to stealing vehicles. She had been taken into custody twice this year. APD arrested her for shoplifting in January and East Point Police charged her with selling marijuana in March.

APD Chief George Turner discusses the departments second officer-involved shooting of the year, with the support of some civil rights leaders by his side.
  • Joeff Davis
  • APD Chief George Turner discusses the department's second officer-involved shooting of the year, with the support of some civil rights leaders by his side.
Lyon said the incident remains under investigation and could take "days, weeks, or months" to complete. He added that investigators would seek out additional footage from the area. A surveillance camera attached to the adjacent parking deck is located directly above the police car.

According to APD policy, the department does not have to release related documents or surveillance footage until they're finished with the investigation. Turner does have the authority to release any video footage from the front dashboard camera or other surveillance cameras in the area, Lyon said.

"There is [surveillance footage]," Turner told reporters. "It will not be made public as we are continuing to investigate this as a criminal matter.'

Turner said only the APD squad car's front dashboard camera was switched on during the incident. The front dash cam, which faces outward toward the hood of the car and street, would not show Christian. It would, however, provide audio of the shooting — and potentially the officers' actions once they left the vehicle. The rear dashboard camera only turns on while police vehicles are in motion.

According to Lyon, Cook, 53, and Thyme, 33, have been placed on routine administrative leave pending the investigation's outcome. Cook has served as an APD officer for 18 years, while Thyme joined the police force 10 months ago. Both officers are expected to speak with investigators early next week. APD says it will release more details as the investigation continues.

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Farewell, funky 1996 Olympic Games mural at Atlanta Airport?

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2015 at 12:30 PM

A Porsche advertisement now covers the Spirit of Atlanta mural.
  • Courtesy Hartsfield Jackson International Airport
  • A Porsche advertisement now covers the "Spirit of Atlanta" mural.
Sad news, Atlanta. The city might be losing one of its most beloved gems: the weird and majestic 1996 Olympic Games mural at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Airport officials have covered up artist Deborah Whitehouse's “Spirit of Atlanta,” a massive 70-foot-wide mural that has greeted arriving passengers getting off the escalators before picking up their bags for more than decade. No more Centennial Olympic Park fountains at night. No more tunic-wearing girl with her hands raised in the air, welcoming people to our little hamlet. No more crouching baby wearing a diaper who truly embodies the spirit of Atlanta.

What now covers up the mural? Yep, you guessed it, an advertisement:

Atlanta Airport spokesman Reese McCranie tells CL a giant ad for Porsche, the German luxury car maker whose new North American headquarters will soon open near the airport, will occupy the space until the middle of June. Once the Porsche ad campaign ends, the airport is expected to hook up a new digital ad display in the mural's longtime home.

Many Atlantans collectively sighed upon hearing the news about the mural. Here's some of the initial reaction:

This isn't the first time that an ad has covered up the mural. Back in 2013, Coca-Cola slapped a Final Four ad over the work during the NCAA Men's College Basketball Tournament. Here's a time-lapse video of that ad:

We reached out to airport officials about the cost of the current ad, what will happen with the mural, and other details. We've also sent a line to Whitehouse seeking comment. Be on guard, folks, the ceiling ants could be next.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Preservationists turn attention to saving Emory's Briarcliff Mansion

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 12:50 PM

Charlie Paine fell in love with the historic mansion after his family moved nearby.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Preservation advocate Charlie Paine fell in love with the historic mansion after his family moved nearby.
If there’s any silver lining to the recent razing of Sandy Springs’ Glenridge Hall, it’s the burst of attention to other endangered mansions in a region known for destroying its historic landmarks. One such historic home is the boarded-up Briarcliff Mansion at Emory University. And Druid Hills high school student Charlie Paine, its current lead defender, could sure use the help.

“Now that Glenridge Hall’s gone, there’s been talk of getting preservationists together to prevent Emory from gaining the upper hand and [destroying Briarcliff by] demolition by neglect,” says Paine, who created the increasingly popular Save Briarcliff/Candler Mansion group on Facebook. But he laments that there’s “only so much a high schooler can do.”

“Now’s the time to get busy for Briarcliff,” says Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the historic preservation nonprofit Georgia Trust. In recent months, McDonald has met with Paine and other preservationists, and cheers their effort to be proactive about the mansion’s future.

Continue reading »

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First Slice 4/29/15: Buckhead residents have longer life spans than Vine City residents, report says

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 9:00 AM

The average Buckhead resident lives more than a decade longer than average residents of the city's western neighborhoods. Why does that happen? Income and education levels. "Your social circumstances help determine your life expectancy,” Karen Minyard, Georgia Health Policy Center director at Georgia State University, tells the New York Times.

Why are officers doling out tickets to UberX drivers picking up passengers at the Atlanta Airport?

Omni Hotels have announced plans to build a 16-story hotel as part of the mixed-use development adjacent to the Atlanta Braves' new stadium in Cobb County.

On a surprise $47,000 water bill: “It’s almost a 700% increase in water consumption."

The Transportation Security Administration's Instagram account has developed a cult following due to the photos posted of brass knuckles, drugs, and other contraband seized at the Atlanta Airport.

Congrats, Georgia! You have a new top ethics official: Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter.

Georgia nonprofits trying to send relief supplies to Nepal have struggled to get their goods to the earthquake-ravaged country.

Drugs.com, the authoritative source for all things lethal injections.

Welcome to the 2016 presidential race, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont. He plans to seek the Democratic nomination against former U.S. Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Does Atlanta’s leaderless social movement need a leader?

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 12:30 PM

Rev. Markel Hutchins at the MovementForward launch event on April 9.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Rev. Markel Hutchins at the MovementForward launch event on April 9.
A new wave of civil rights activism has taken shape following the continued string of officer-involved shootings throughout the nation. In Atlanta, that's resulted in protests blocking traffic on the Downtown Connector to using social media to draw attention to injustices. Rooted in nonviolent civil obedience, the activists have largely subscribed to a leaderless organization model that relies less on a visible leader and more on a collective approach. Sure, there are some organizers. But the movement has largely focused on hashtags than personalities.

The grassroots activists' efforts have pushed excessive police force, criminal justice problems, and other social injustices to the forefront of the national spotlight. But not all activists agree with the recent approach of a crowd-led movement. Rev. Markel Hutchins, an established local activist, has chosen to designate himself as one of the heads of the movement with a new organization that he says will work to replenish Civil Rights Movement leadership, enact policy change, and shift public consciousness on some issues.

Sporting his finest light blue suit and a red-striped tie, Hutchins formally launched his new advocacy group, MovementForward, Inc., from the Commerce Club's 49th floor space in the 191 Peachtree Tower earlier this month. More than 50 people pastors including business execs, lawyers, and lawmakers participated in a brainstorming session on April 9 to find a better way to collaboratively address problems of police violence, mass incarceration, and other civil rights issues.

The group wants to bridge a disconnect between older civil rights leaders and younger activists. Hutchins says the new generation of activists haven't necessarily had the same mentorship opportunities afforded to his generation. For example, they could shadow Congressman John Lewis, Rev. Joseph Lowery, and Coretta Scott King. According to Hutchins, those kinds of relationships have helped him develop a better sense of how movements can inspire lasting change.

"There are lessons to be learned from those who have gone before you," Hutchins told CL in a recent interview. "We don't want to make the same mistakes as the generation that has gone before us. ... Here we are, as a generation with all of these tools, and we can't seem to do anything beyond a demonstration. Some of these demonstrations are massive. But the difference was that past demonstrations led to not just public policy, but to public culture changes."

The community activist sees himself somewhere between iconic civil rights leaders with streets now bearing their names and the leaderless collectives that march in those same streets today. He's helped organized major protests that demanded the U.S. Department of Justice investigate George Zimmerman's role in Trayvon Martin's death, helped Kathryn Johnston family reach a $4.9 million settlement following the 92-year-old English Avenue resident's death during an illegal drug raid (and later sued the estate and then its lawyers), and unsuccessfully ran for Congressman John Lewis' seat in 2008.

How will Hutchins bridge that gap between generations? MovementForward plans to harness some of the energy from recent mass demonstrations to bring about change. He says that protesters shouldn't simply make noise that grab headlines, but make sure that their actions produce meaningful results. His group intends to "build bridges" among the protesters, business execs, and other influential groups by aligning their causes where it makes sense on a wide variety of civil rights issues. He says the organization will also try to tap into technology to connect the old and new guards of the city's social justice movement.

Hutchins explains: "Until the corporate entities of Atlanta are marching for police officers to be equipped with body cameras; and until labor leaders are marching for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender in Georgia to have the right to marry the person of their choosing; until Jewish Rabbis are marching so that women have equal pay for equal work in Atlanta, in Georgia, and across America; we're just standing still at worst and taking baby steps at best."

To bring those groups together, Hutchins says more experienced and responsible leaders need to step up to the front of the movement. MovementForward's organizers haven't shied away from critiquing the new generation of activists. Rev. Barrett Johnson, a former officer with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and one of MovementForward's co-founders, recently blasted the leaderless protests in a statement as "ineffective, profane and in contravention to the spirit of reverence and peace that permeated the Civil Rights Movement."

Without the right kind of leadership, Hutchins says that groups more interested in "anarchy than activism" have undermined the potential for lasting change. When protesters blocked the Downtown Connector twice last year, he says the groups didn't have a specific agenda or demand "beyond creating chaos." According to Hutchins, those efforts might have had major negative consequences like stopping Grady Memorial Hospital employees from reaching work.

"Why so much focus has been lent to this leaderless movement without accountability, without definition, is because there's been this void," he says. "There's been a lack of leadership in this space. The very provision of MovementForward is an effort and an olive branch to give people something to plug into."

Despite Hutchins' assessment about the protests, activists involved say their efforts have played a major role beyond simply marching. Rallies supporting the recent victims of local officer-involved shootings — including Anthony Hill, Kevin Davis, and Nicholas Thomas — have sparked a broader discussion about excessive police force. Their work has also placed some pressure on local police departments to both hand off cases to third-party investigators and take some steps to equip police officers with body cameras.

Continue reading »

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First Slice 4/28/15: Metro Atlanta company refuses to print wedding invitations for gay couple

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 8:30 AM

The owner of a AlphaGraphics franchise in Suwanee refused to print wedding invitations for a lesbian couple. The company's corporate officials quickly issued an apology and promised to print the cards.

Does Georgia have a gerrymandering problem? The Washington Post says there's no question.

Despite threats of a potential protest, embattled comic Bill Cosby, who has faced accusations of sexual assault in recent months, plans to move forward with his May 2 performance at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

The family of Bounkham Phonesavanh, the toddler who last year nearly died during a botched drug raid in Habersham County, has received a $964,000 settlement.

Officials are taking steps to approve a giant 1,900-acre site near Savannah that could become the home of Volvo's first-ever American car plant. The Chinese auto company is considering building a manufacturing plant in either Georgia or South Carolina.

The construction of a new $108 million judicial building is now on hold after state lawmakers nixed funding for the site in the upcoming budget.

Maryland's governor has called upon the National Guard to restore peace in Baltimore's streets after a day that included Freddie Gray's funeral, riots, and clashes between demonstrators and police.

Note: This story's been updated to correct an error. Volvo Car Corp., originally a Swedish car manufacturer, is now owned by a Chinese company.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

First Slice 4/27/15: Go north, MARTA. Hell, go everywhere.

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 9:01 AM

MARTA has selected the route its north line expansion should take. Now where to find the money to build the line...

An Atlanta Police detective says she faced retaliation after blowing the whistle about fellow officers allegedly stealing from a crime scene.

A DeKalb County teacher was killed over the weekend after her car crashed into a vehicle carrying two students. Both cars were heading to a prom event.

Hospitality executives and lobbyists are getting ready to put on the pressure — and dump money into elected officials' campaigns — to try and soften the blow of a $5 fee on hotel and motel rooms that lawmakers created to help fund transportation.

Get better, Home Grown. The Reynoldstown restaurant was struck by a driver early Sunday morning.

A photographer says Baltimore police beat him at a large protest over the death of Freddie Gray. Another photographer says he was arrested when taking pictures of the incident.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

First Slice 4/26/15: Judge lifts Fulton jail consent decree but concerns remain

Posted By on Sun, Apr 26, 2015 at 9:55 AM

A federal judge lifted the long-running consent decree that required Fulton County to improve its unsafe and overcrowded jail on Rice Street in northwest Atlanta. But the legal group that brought the issues to attention — and Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson — say the jail is still understaffed.

DeKalb Interim CEO Lee May says that's not his signature on a $4,000 check at the heart of latest investigation facing the embattled county.

After years of inaction on the development front in Midtown, John Dewberry says he plans to add six floors to the Campanile building — and finally do something with his firm's other high-profile properties in the fast-growing neighborhood. Wait and see.

The man who allegedly held up four stores in DeKalb and Rockdale counties with a note claiming he had a gun — and apologizing for his actions — has been arrested.

Who shot at Li'l Wayne's tour bus as it traveled on I-285 early Sunday morning?

Drones have many friends in Congress.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

First Slice 4/22/15: The battle to become Georgia's next House Majority Leader is now underway

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 9:15 AM

Gov. Nathan Deal has appointed House Majority Leader Larry O'Neal, R-Bonaire, to become a Georgia Tax Tribunal judge. With O'Neal leaving the Gold Dome, a fight among GOP state Reps. Jon Burns of Newington, Chuck Martin of Alpharetta, and Allen Peake of Macon for the leadership position has officially begun.

The governor has signed into law a bill that will give voters the chance to decide whether the state should create an Opportunity School District. An expensive campaign to get supporters to the polls is likely to follow.

Furious 7, a film that was made in Georgia, is now the fastest film ever to make $1 billion.

Atlanta Public Schools and Atlanta Police are looking into whether two Carver School of Technology students were beat up because they were gay.

The city of Decatur, a trendsetting city where "Mayberry meets Berkeley"(!)

Should Norcross demolish a popular Buford Highway market for a parking deck and a library?

R.I.P. Pete Wheeler, who headed Georgia's Department of Veterans Service since 1954. He was 92.

ICYMI: Atlanta rapper (and U.S. Sen. David Perdue supporter) Waka Flocka Flame says he'll run for president. "First thing I would fuckin' stop as president is dogs coming into restaurants," he says. "I don't wanna see no fuckin' animal in the restaurant — ever again."

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

City takes on $13 million financial risk to keep Fort McPherson deal alive

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Tyler Perry's efforts to buy the bulk of Fort McPherson and build a massive movie studio have not gone smoothly. The Atlanta filmmaker's deal to buy hundreds of acres of the former military base has faced some public backlash, a negotiation process complicated by the U.S. Army, and other issues. But with a closing date now in sight, the film mogul received the city's financial backing to help stabilize the deal enough to move forward.

At a lengthy meeting on Monday night, the Atlanta City Council voted 11-1 to co-sign on a future $13 million payment needed to finalize the Fort McPherson sale. Brian Hooker, executive director of the state-established McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority, tells CL the Tyler Perry Studios deal could be finalized later this month.

How would the complex deal work? Perry would pay $30 million to MILRA for approximately 330 acres of land. MILRA would then pay the Army $26 million for Fort McPherson, which would give the authority another 144 acres facing Lee Street and Campbellton Road that it would redevelop into a commercial mixed-used development with retail, restaurants, and a hotel. Perry has agreed to give MILRA $20 million at closing but won't pay the remaining $10 million until the Army finishes environmental cleanup work on 22 acres of contaminated land — a project that could take at least one year to complete.

According to Hooker, MILRA would pay the Army half of the full sale price upon closing the deal. The Army wants the city to extend what's essentially a $13 million line of credit to back the second payment that's due in approximately three years, he says. No public cash would be spent if Perry makes his second payment.

"The Army is much more comfortable with Atlanta being on the hook for making this happen," Hooker tells CL, adding that the Army doesn't directly enter into these kinds of deals with commercial entities. "The city is stepping in to address this unlikely scenario."

With the clock ticking, Mayor Kasim Reed, Hooker, and MILRA Board Chair Felker Ward asked for Council's approval on a key financial component of the Fort McPherson deal. Standing before councilmembers, Reed urged the legislative body to approve a measure that he said would help a fragile deal get closer to completion. He said a $13 million letter of credit from the city would help fix a "timing issue" with the deal.

If the deal goes through, Reed said, it would place the site on the property tax rolls, eventually generate more than 600 new jobs, boost southwest Atlanta's sluggish economy, and give the city 144 acres at no cost to taxpayers. Should the transaction fall apart, Reed said, the city would potentially be faced with buying the entire Fort McPherson site, plus pay for the base's annual costs that run upwards of $3.6 million. Reed said TPS now has other options in metro Atlanta such as his 1,000-acre site in Douglas County or a former General Motors plant in Doraville that developers want to include a studio complex.

"We're no longer the only suitor in town," Reed said. "...If you sense some urgency, that's because there's urgency."

Prior to the Council meeting, Councilwomen Mary Norwood and Felicia Moore had called for a special-called meeting to give officials time to properly understand the measure's importance to the complex transaction. The mayor insisted they make an immediate decision to send the right signal to the involved parties.

"It's unusual to get something like that doesn't go through the Finance Committee, isn't vetted at the Finance Committee, or with a work session," Norwood told CL prior to Council's meeting. "This is a very big redevelopment project for the city. We're all anxious for this part of southwest Atlanta to have wonderful revitalization and the renaissance that they deserve. We want to make sure that we, as stewards of the city's funds, are making the right decisions in the way that these transactions are handled."

Council eventually went into executive session to further discuss the deal. When they came back, Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd pushed for an immediate vote. Eleven councilmembers voted in favor of the line of credit. Moore was the lone dissenting vote due to the rushed process.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, who spoke against the deal during public remarks at Council's meeting, tells CL the rushed measure should have received the vetting of Council, nearby community residents, and taxpayers, rather than behind closed doors. He said the letter of credit was the latest in a long line of decisions lacking transparency with the Fort McPherson sale.

"This is a corrupt bargain," Fort says. "This is a corrupt way of doing things. If Council signs off on this today, it's proof positive that they are a nod squad. What they might as well just let the mayor come down on [Council's] floor and push their buttons. To do this in this way is unconscionable."

With Council's approval of the measure, Hooker says MILRA can now move forward toward closing the Fort McPherson deal by a target date on April 30. MILRA also agreed to provide an update at an upcoming Council Community Development/Human Resources committee.

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