Georgia Today: Leonard Cure wrongful death lawsuit; Free rent for a year contest; Columbus audit
On the Wednesday, Dec. 6 edition of Georgia Today: The family of a man killed by a Camden County Sheriff's deputy files a wrongful death lawsuit; residents around Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium have a chance for free rent for a year; and did the city of Columbus miss opportunities to collect a total of $45 million?
Peter Biello Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Wednesday, Dec. 6. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, the family of a man killed by a Camden County sheriff's deputy files a wrongful death lawsuit. Residents around Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium have a chance for free rent for a year. And did the City of Columbus miss opportunities to collect a total of $45 million? These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.
Peter Biello: A wrongful death lawsuit was announced yesterday in the case of Leonard Cure. He's the exonerated Black man from Atlanta who was released from a Florida prison in 2020, only to be shot and killed a few months ago by a sheriff's deputy in Southeast Georgia's Camden County. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports.
Benjamin Payne: Leonard Cure's family says he was starting to get his life back together after serving 16 years for an armed robbery he didn't commit. The 53-year-old was killed in October by Camden County Sheriff's Deputy Buck Aldridge. Authorities say Cure became noncompliant after being arrested for speeding. But civil rights attorney Ben Crump says Aldridge escalated the situation, triggering Cure's PTSD. Crump says the family plans to sue Aldridge and Camden County for $16 million.
Ben Crump: That number is significant to the family because it represents a million dollars for every year that he was wrongfully convicted.
Benjamin Payne: Crump says Aldridge had a history of excessive force, which the sheriff's office should have known about before hiring him. For GPB News, I'm Benjamin Payne.
Peter Biello: Former city council member John Park has been elected mayor of Brookhaven in yesterday's runoff election. Park is the first Asian-American mayor in Georgia. He succeeds John Ernst, who reached his eight-year term limit. And Alfred "Shivy" Brooks beat incumbent Tamara Jones for a seat on the Atlanta school board. That's according to unofficial results. Brooks teaches economics and government at Clayton County's Charles Drew High School. He's believed to be the first active teacher elected to the Atlanta school board.
Peter Biello: A panel of lawmakers in the state House advanced a congressional map proposed by Senate Republicans in a party-line vote today. GPB's Sarah Kallis has more.
Sarah Kallis: The committee passed the maps that maintain a Republican majority in Georgia's congressional delegation. House Minority Leader James Beverly said the proposed maps could lead to the judge appointing a special master to redraw the map.
James Beverly: Please accept the Georgia House Democratic and Georgia Senate Democratic proposed congressional map so we can avoid a special master.
Sarah Kallis: The map now heads to the House floor where it will be voted on. Gov. Kemp must sign the new maps into law before Friday. For GPB News, I'm Sarah Kallis at the state Capitol.
Peter Biello: The Georgia House has passed a resolution in support of the construction of the Public Safety Training Center in Southeast Atlanta that opponents call Cop City. The symbolic resolution received bipartisan support and the 144 to 5 vote. Supporters say a new $90 million facility will help recruit new police officers. Representative Ruwa Romman, a Democrat, voted against the resolution.
Ruwa Romman: My opposition here has nothing to do with public safety. Right? As we know and I've worked professionally on management issues in order to retain employees, it's not just building them fancy facilities. You got to pay them better. You got to take care of them. You've got to make sure their equipment is upgraded. You got to make sure that the cars they send, for example, have working air conditioning. That's stuff you can do with $90 million that isn't a fancy facility.
Peter Biello: Romman also says she objected to the resolution's failure to distinguish between those who had destroyed construction equipment as part of their protests of the facility and those who followed the legal process of collecting signatures for a referendum against the project. The Senate passed a similar resolution last week. It, too, received bipartisan support. Opponents of the center say it will perpetuate racist police practices and harm the environment.
Peter Biello: A Gainesville high school baseball player seriously injured in a batting cage accident has been pronounced brain dead. 18-year-old Jeremy Medina was struck in the head with a baseball bat during practice on campus on November 20th. He was in a coma at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, where his family and doctors say that he is now brain dead. As an organ donor, he was expected to be kept alive until organ donation procedures were complete and he could be laid to rest. The accident rallied the community and baseball teams across the region.
Peter Biello: An Atlanta investment group is highlighting the rising cost of housing in the city through a contest offering free rent for a year. GPB's Amanda Andrews has more.
Amanda Andrews: Wilkes Real estate investment rolled out their free Rent ATL campaign in November. It ends Dec. 8. Online applications are open to anyone living within 20 miles of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, to nominate themselves or friend, it's just like nine finalists and allow the public to vote on the three winners. Co-founder Scott Jacobson says he noticed some alarming trends and one of the company to make a difference.
Scott Jacobson: You know, a large chunk of people's paycheck is going towards rent, making it harder for people to kind of grow financially, build wealth and, you know, move upwards in certain areas of their life.
Amanda Andrews: Finalists will be announced Dec. 16 and a winner will be chosen New Year's Eve. For GPB News, I'm Amanda Andrews.
Peter Biello: An apartment complex developer has withdrawn plans for a 700-unit project in metro Atlanta's Gwinnett County. A pair of state lawmakers today announced the change of plans by Brand Properties. The project in the Hamilton Mill area drew criticism over high-density development. Local officials planned for the new apartments, saying they were needed to address a housing shortage.
Peter Biello: The finance director for the city of Columbus is disputing an audit that says over the past five years, the city has failed to collect more than $45 million worth of business license fees. Angelica Alexander says the city's backlog and processing fees for business licenses is only about $2.5 million. She says the city hired an external auditor to look into the process.
Angelica Alexander: And they have reaffirmed that the revenue is properly recorded through our lockbox process.
Peter Biello: But the city's internal auditor, Donna McGinness, says the city failed to cash checks received through the mail and many of those checks expired. She says any checks sent from businesses that moved away or closed are lost.
Donna McGinness: So that could have been revenue. That could have been revenue, that could have been cash in the bank.
Peter Biello: Both sides agree that short staffing in the city's finance department hampered the city's ability to serve the city's businesses.
Peter Biello: If you live in a drought-stricken county, you've got more company. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is adding a dozen Georgia counties to a federal drought disaster area. Nine counties were already on the list. Being on the list extends emergency credit to affected farmers. Overall, about a fifth of the state is in severe or extreme drought. Most of that is in North Georgia. The monitor was released six days ago before this past weekend's rains.
Peter Biello: With the holidays upon us, many of you are probably spending some time online shopping or braving the malls looking for holiday gifts. However, you bring in the holiday cheer. Georgia officials want to remind you of some of the scams they're seeing this year and how to avoid falling for them. GPB's Devon Zwald spoke with Jenna Sellitto and Tony Thomas with FBI Atlanta about how to protect yourself against them.
Devon Zwald: So, Jenna, what are some of the top scams you're seeing this year?
Jenna Sellitto: So the top scams we're seeing are the typical ones where: Nonpayment non-delivery — you're buying something online and you don't receive it. You're not buying from secure websites, so you're not getting the product that you thought you were. The pop-up ads that are asking you to click on them to get a certain discount and then put in your information? They're actually stealing your identity sometimes. So we're seeing a lot of that stuff as we typically do year-round, but it ramps up around the holidays, too, with people doing a lot more shopping.
Devon Zwald: And are there any scams that are more prevalent in Georgia, specifically?
Tony Thomas: Well, there's one that our cyber squad has notified of us. It's probably it's happening everywhere, I'm sure, but they've noticed it here in Atlanta. And it's a rather a new one, they've noticed. You go to any of your retailers to buy a gift card. What the criminals are now doing — or we've noticed — is they're going in and they're basically shoplifting those cards, taking them out of the retail establishment. And they're scratching off the back of them to get to that code, writing the code down and then they're using foil and going back over the cards. And then they actually go to the extent of taking those cards back into that retailer that they shoplifted it from and returning them, basically. So when you go and get a card off the shelf and you go and put money on it, you put a hundred bucks on it for your family member, they're alerted that that card has money on it now. They go spend that money before your relative may even open their present.
Devon Zwald: Wow.
Tony Thomas: Our agents are saying they're noticing that. When you go in to buy a gift card, look closely at the front and the back. If you notice any discoloration or the foil seems manipulated at all, hand that over to the store and grab a different one, because that's on the rise.
Devon Zwald: Generally speaking, who's targeted by these scams?
Jenna Sellitto: Everybody. Anybody and everybody that uses a credit card and shops online.
Devon Zwald: So all ages, all genders, every — everyone?
Tony Thomas: It does not matter, if you have Internet access, a cellphone or you shop online, you're targeted.
Devon Zwald: When someone does fall victim to a scam, how does it impact them personally or financially?
Tony Thomas: Well, financially, just through Oct. 15 of this year — and these are national stats — our Internet Crimes Complaint Center, ic3.gov, received 40,000 complaints nationwide. That's just this year. A quarter of a billion dollars' worth of loss to the victims. Last year in '22, $281 million. And the Georgia numbers in '22, more than 1,400 Georgians filed complaints. We believe the numbers are actually a lot higher than that. 1,400 actually filed complaints for $7.1 million. So that's just in Georgia.
Devon Zwald: That's a big impact. What are some steps that we can take to protect ourselves from scammers?
Jenna Sellitto: Everything that we're doing online, you need to be vigilant. Check to make sure that the site that you're looking at buying something on is secure and reputable. Just do a quick Google search to see where this company is located, what their reviews are, what people are saying about it. You know, check your credit card statements regularly. Set up alerts to see when your credit card has withdrawals from it so you can know immediately if you've had an unauthorized purchase on there. All — all sorts of things like this. Don't — don't click on unsolicited emails, links that are sent to you. Instead, you know, if you get an unsolicited email from Best Buy or something like that and they're asking to do something or provide information instead, you know, maybe go to the website and call the actual store and see what the situation is rather than clicking these — these links that are randomly getting sent to you.
Tony Thomas: You know, when you're young and in school, it was stranger danger? This is basically stranger danger for cyber. Don't trust anybody just to who they say they are.
Devon Zwald: So let's say someone does fall for a scam. What should they do next?
Jenna Sellitto: So we want them to do three things. The first and foremost thing is to call your bank. If you had money stolen, calling your bank is the first step to try to get your money back. The second thing is to report it to your local law enforcement, so there's a record of this happening. And third, we want them to visit ic3.gov. That's our Internet Crime Complaint Center: I, C and the number "3" dot gov. And report that so we can have a record of the crime that occurred and maybe we can compile the information and look at a trend to see who's actually behind some of these larger scams.
Devon Zwald: Jenna Sellitto and Tony Thomas are with FBI Atlanta. Thank you so much for your time.
Tony Thomas: Thank you.
Jenna Sellitto: Thank you.
Peter Biello: And finally, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been named North America's best airport for a second consecutive year. The selection by Business Traveler magazine cites the airport's partnership with passenger favorite Delta Air Lines, as well as its food selection. Only two other American airports were featured in this year's selections.
Peter Biello: And that's it for this edition of Georgia Today. Thanks so much for tuning in. If you want to learn more about any of these stories, visit gpb.org/news. And don't forget to subscribe. We'll be back in your podcast feed tomorrow afternoon. If you've got feedback, send us an email. The address is GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.
For more on these stories and more, go to GPB.org/news