A Few Notes From The Edge

More than a postcard.

I’m not going to lie to you. Everything has gotten away from me this week. I’m pounding on a dozen different stories, but none of them are fully baked yet. So I’m going to spatter you with some paint and show you the full picture later.

Let’s start with the Gwinnett County Solicitor’s Office, which is at war with the Recorder’s Court. Late this afternoon, Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor found that the solicitor can take DUI cases out of recorder’s court and try them in state court, regardless of what the recorder’s court judges think about it.

It’s a fairly direct attack on the power of recorder’s court judges there, not that Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside is unused to war with authority. Whiteside got into a pissing match with former district attorney Danny Porter over funding, and has been fighting with recorder’s court Judge Wesley Person.

Whiteside filed a motion to have Person pulled off of every solicitor’s case, after Person was caught talking smack about his office in the back hallway of the courthouse. In response, Person issued an order barring solicitor’s staff from using the back hallways at all.

Yes. It’s that dumb.

This matters because low-grade DUI and drug crimes are misdemeanor charges handled by the solicitor’s office. If you want to see where the rubber meets the road on criminal justice reform, you look here. Who tries these cases matters, and who hears them matters.

Whiteside is complaining that too many DUI cases are skating.

“For the last few months, they have held trials … and let alleged intoxicated individuals walk free on cases,” Whiteside wrote in a statement. “Probable cause existed to bring suspects before a jury of Gwinnett citizens to enact a verdict. These parties may be driving vehicles in Gwinnett now. Evidence was gathered that the accused were high on drugs or intoxicated by alcohol. The Judges in Recorder’s Court endangered the community in their actions. The Judges in Recorder’s Court did this in a deliberate attempt to circumvent clearly established law. It was done without regard of the hard work the Gwinnett Police Department took to ensure the drivers of Gwinnett would be safe from alleged drunk drivers.”

I sense there’s more to this story, but it’s Friday after hours and no one is picking up their phone or responding to email, probably because they’re at the bar where I should be. More on this later.

I’m working on a serious, long look at the backlog at Georgia’s crime lab. Prosecutors across the state have been complaining about the amount of time it takes to get evidence tested, which they say leads to dangerous suspects being released on pre-trial bond instead of convicted.

I’ve got some statistical data from the lab now, but I need to pull it together into a coherent story. There are 32,459 pieces of evidence that require testing right now at the GBI crime labs. Of that, about two-thirds — 22,142 — require chemical analysis, likely because it’s a drug test.

What kind of tests take how long?

Here. Have some raw numbers. You may find this interesting.

Type of Test: Turn-Around Time In Days

Assorted Material-Drug Identification: 191.3
Blood Examination: 104.9
Blood Examination - No Suspect: 83.6
Clandestine Laboratory Analysis: 125.0
CODIS (DNA) Match: 18.2
DNA Typing: 309.6
DNA Typing - Convicted Offenders: 18.9
DNA Typing - No Suspect: 433.3
DNA Typing - Parentage: 37.5
Drug Identification: 178.0
Drug Quantitation: 26.0
Firearms: 278.8
Leafy Material - Drug Identification: 153.9
Male DNA Screening: 122.6
Male DNA Screening - No Suspect: 158.5
NIBIN (Ballistics): 47.2
Offender HIT Confirmation: 115.9
Saliva Analysis 77.7
Saliva Analysis - No Suspect: 78.7
Semen Identification: 65.2
Semen Identification - No Suspect: 76.1
Solid Material - Drug Identification: 134.1

The infamous “Yellow Store” in what we used to call the Bluff and now call the center of Atlanta’s gentrification got it’s last shout-out in court today with the conviction of Lewis Mobley, the last defendant in the long-running Gangster Disciples case that broke in 2016.

Mobley was a Gangster Disciples enforcer, who shot a teenager who threw a Bloods shout-out at a group filming a music video in front of the Yellow Store, an iconic local shop that had become a locus for drug activity in the English Avenue neighborhood.

Here’s the video: Tell The Truth, featuring KK, T-Man and Dirt. KK was identified in court as Kevin Clayton, who was convicted earlier in the RICO case.

From 2012 to 2017, Atlanta police officers wrote up more than 100 incident reports. Nearly a quarter of those were for drug possession, assaults, and robberies near the Yellow Store. In 2018, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation made arrests inside the store for alleged illegal use of gaming machines.

The Westside Future Foundation bought the property from Larry Cantrell in 2019 for $600,000.

There’s more to say about this conviction and the legacy of the Gangster Disciples in Atlanta, given the increasingly obvious connection between the local music industry and criminal organizations. A story for later.

The thing that’s held me up this week is a story I’ve been working on for about a month: an examination of the breakdown in social services for people experiencing homelessness and mental illness in Atlanta. Some fairly dramatic things happened to a woman I’ve been watching on the corner of Peachtree Street and Decatur Street, at Five Points downtown.

A 1,200-word story has become a 6,000-word book chapter, and the Intercept means to run it as a major feature piece. I’m also working through a video editorial about the deteriorating condition of the state’s prison system. and expect to publish a roundup of city council candidates’ position on public safety and criminal justice reform.

I say that to remind you all that this quality of journalism is a product of your support. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be able to spend a month chasing a story like this. You won’t be disappointed.