Should a Savannah police informant be fired? DA and city discuss at civic board meeting
On Friday morning, City of Savannah Civil Service Board They weighed whether they should uphold the firing of former Savannah Police Department (SPD) homicide detective Ashley Wood, who was terminated after… Internal investigation She revealed that she had Fake information In multiple search warrant applications related to the 2021 murder of Charles Vinson.
At the two-hour meeting held in the second floor conference room of the Floyd Adams Complex, Civil Service Board members and attorneys were questioned Chatham County District Attorney (da) Shaleena Cook Jones and Chatham DA investigator Alan Sammons about their recollection of prosecuting cases investigated by Wood, especially when prosecutors realized that Wood’s investigations lacked evidence.
Jones explained that false details in a police officer’s investigation can lead to community distrust in law enforcement as well as lack of justice for the victims’ families. It is also possible for people to be wrongly imprisoned – and for long periods of time – as a result of police investigations with inconsistent evidence.
“He poses a significant risk to the community,” Jones said. “Because when people don’t believe law enforcement or prosecutors are taking their cases seriously, it leads to retaliatory shootings in the streets.”
Testimony of the Chatham District Attorney
During her testimony, Jones said Wood’s investigation came on her radar when her staff was preparing for a hearing in the Marquis Parrish case.
“As we were reviewing the file, investigators brought to my attention that there were some anomalies in the investigation and inconsistencies that gave them room to pause and also raised questions about the feasibility of moving forward with the case,” Jones said.
Jones then said she issued a subpoena for Wood. “We don’t normally have to issue subpoenas to PIs or homicide cases, they understand that this is a priority. So, I remember that was an anomaly.”
In addition to the subpoena, Jones said she also sent an email to SPD Chairman Lenny Gunther. In the email, Jones said she told Gunter she wanted Wood to be in the district attorney’s office by 9 a.m., one hour before the hearing began, to discuss her investigation. Jones said she was told that Wood was working an ATF assignment and that Wood was “busy,” though Jones did not clarify who told her that information.
Meanwhile, Jones said the defense attorney was “looking to attack discovery.” Search warrants were “initiated,” but that information was not provided to her office. There was also “personal information” that Wood stored on her phone and computer that the District Attorney’s Office did not receive at the time.
“This puts us in a position because we are legally supposed to know everything law enforcement knows Judge [John] Morse code He wanted an answer. This information should have been turned over to my office long ago and should have long ago been turned over to the defense attorney as part of the discovery process.
Wood did not attend the 9 a.m. hearing nor the 10 a.m. hearing, testified Jones, who claimed the subpoena was issued 24 hours before the hearing, according to Jones. Georgia laws — a point with which Wood’s attorney later disagreed.
“I was less bothered by the fact that she did not come to the office at nine to explain these discrepancies because the case could have been dismissed. I was not suspicious of her behavior at that time in any way. I just wanted to know what was going on.”
At the hearing, Jones said, Morse gave prosecutors 10 days to meet with defense attorneys and share any discovery that came from Wood.
Jones said Chatham DA investigator Alan Sammons and Ada Brian DeBlasis Wood met. During that meeting, they reviewed the file to “review inconsistencies” in the report, including a search warrant that was later determined to incorrectly state that Parrish was seen on Walmart surveillance video.
Afterward, the district attorney’s office had a “very intense meeting” with Parrish’s defense attorney about Wood’s investigation, Jones said. “The defense attorney was pressuring us, and more importantly, they were planning to file a punitive motion against me for withholding information about Giglio, a punitive motion against me for withholding information.”
As dictated by federal law, Giglio Information is material that could cast doubt on the character or testimony of a prosecution witness in a criminal trial.
“My biggest concern as district attorney is that our office has a commitment to discovery,” Jones said. “My team and I have put a lot of effort into making sure we keep up with the backlog of cases. The law for us is that if there’s a discovery request that’s been filed with the state, which is in Law enforcement has it, we don’t, and we could be subject to penalties for it. It’s a shame I didn’t have that information. I should have done so.”
She added that Jones bore some of the blame. “I felt it was a responsibility we failed to fulfill, due to the shortcomings and inconsistencies in the investigation.”
Research note discrepancies
Sammons testified that the day before the case was to be heard, he began reviewing the case file. 34 search warrants were found, which were not returned to court. On March 27, Sammons met with Wood for six to seven hours, he said. During that meeting, Sammons retrieved all of the materials Wood had in his possession that the district attorney’s office did not have.
“I knew this was a problem,” Sammons said, referring to the search warrant findings.
Wood’s defense attorney, Chris Schneider Schneider Lerch Montgomery SPD homicide investigator Jacob Hildebrand and Chief Gunter said they view the search warrant policy differently than SPD Assistant Chief Devon Adams.
“Detective Hildebrand testified here that part of the policy at that point was not to submit proceeds with search warrants, because he did not want defense attorneys to have early access to that material,” Schneider said. “Assistant Chief Adams disagreed with that. We believe that Chief Gunther from the conversations that Miss Wood was privy to during the process of this review would in fact agree with Detective Hildebrand regarding that.”
Gunter did not attend the civil service session.
“That part interests me,” Schneider said. There is another point that worries Schneider: that other SPD officers who were deemed “insincere” kept their jobs.
The Savannah Morning News sent questions to Savannah police to clarify its search warrant policy and filed an open records request for the policy.
The basis of the prosecutor’s quality control plan
During the Civil Service Board meeting, Jones noted that she had implemented a quality control plan to improve prosecutions.
Previous SMN reports I outlined this plan, which includes more stringent requirements for filing charges in criminal and homicide cases, specifically more detailed case files, faster case file completion times, additional assistance with police investigations and coordination between the District Attorney’s Office and police departments during the prosecution phases of a case.
“I will say that Detective Wood is not an anomaly,” Jones said at the Civil Service Board meeting. “And we found that many, many homicides, shootings, gang cases and aggravated assaults were not adequately investigated.”
“Sometimes, these challenges come together to make us stronger, and I think if there’s anything good to come out of this with Detective Wood, it’s to strengthen our operations in my office, as well as with the police department,” Jones added.
Testified on Friday third day From Wood’s constant call. During closing arguments, Schneider argued for “an alternative to termination,” and Savannah City Attorney Dennis Cooper called for the board to confirm Wood’s firing.
Schneider acknowledged that Wood made mistakes but said they were not intentional. “It would have been stressful,” Schneider said, citing Jones’ testimony.
Schneider also argued that contrary to Jones’ claim, Wood did not receive the subpoena to appear in court soon enough in the Parrish case. Chatham DA paralegal Susan Klein sent the subpoena to Wood at 4:26 p.m. on March 21, according to evidence presented by Schneider at the board meeting.
“This can be corrected with proper training,” Schneider said. “That’s what Mrs. Jones said. And we all know who.” [a prior civil service hearing] That Detective Wood was never trained to be a homicide detective. She is there filing cases without training. The training she had received was canceled so she could file another murder case.
“She’s not there in court because she works with the ATF on a task force,” Schneider said. “These are federal matters that you can’t leave because you get a subpoena at 4:26 the night before.”
Cooper argued that Wood was not truthful in the search warrant proceeds. “It was still a laundry list of inconsistencies. That can’t be overlooked. Officers don’t have the luxury of presenting 34 inconsistencies and then saying, ‘Oh, let’s give them a slap on the wrist and get back out there.’
“If training was such a real problem and deeply concerning to Detective Wood, why was she getting promotion after promotion? She was clearly relieved to move on to the next steps,” Cooper added.
“This may not be the job for you,” Cooper said. “And that’s good. There are other professions. Disengage. But in the Savannah Police Department, we have a standard that we must adhere to when we know about it. No one excuses the possibility of mistakes, things happen. But when we know, we must do something about it.”
In a phone call after the hearing, Christina Chandler, senior administrative assistant in the city of Savannah’s human resources office, said there would not be another civil service hearing in the case.
At the meeting, Civil Service Board Chairman Joe Stephan said he would schedule an online meeting with other board members to deliberate on whether to uphold or reject Wood’s termination.
“Our issues are limited to whether or not this was a politically motivated decision and the details of this case,” Stefan said.
Drew Vavace is a public safety and courts reporter for the Savannah Morning News. You can contact him at AFavakeh@savannahnow.com.
This article originally appeared in the Savannah Morning News: Closing arguments have been made in the Savannah Detective firing case