Day one of Commissioner Shabazz's trial concludes, victim gives testimony

Day one of Commissioner Shabazz's trial concludes, victim gives testimony

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Monday is day one of the trial for a Chatham County Commissioner facing three misdemeanor traffic charges stemming from an incident last summer.

District 5 Commissioner Yusuf Shabazz pleaded not guilty in his arraignment, and his attorney waived the case to state court.

The day actually began with a few motions by both the prosecution and defense, in this case against Commissioner Shabazz, before the jury was even selected.

Savannah-Chatham Metro Police charged Shabazz with leaving the scene of an accident with injuries, driving on the wrong side of the road and reckless driving after they say he clipped a road worker and left, before returning and leaving again before police arrived.

The state introduced a motion to have body camera video of Shabazz in a prior traffic incident submitted, which was denied at the time by the visiting judge from Long County, Judge Jeffery Arnold.

Shabazz's attorney had a few motions as well, including one asking that the Chatham District Attorney's office be recused from the case.

"While the defense has been focusing on principles of law, and concentrating on building and presenting a strong defense in my case, the State has tried this case in the media. Everything about this case has been done in the media. I could have let that go, until all of my emails made it to the media, which I know is not public record," said Stephanie Burgess, Shabazz's attorney.

Burgess is referring to correspondence between her and the defense. Judge Arnold ultimately said he didn't see any political motivation from the state.

The State called several city of Savannah workers, including the woman who says she was injured by Commissioner Shabazz.

All of the workers were on Holland Drive June 1st of 2015, and were directing traffic around a piece of equipment blocking one lane.  While directing traffic, one of those city employees, Beverly Ferguson, says she tried to stop Chatham County Commissioner Yusuf Shabazz from driving through the open lane.

As he passed, Ferguson says the side view mirror of Shabazz's vehicle hit her traffic flag and bent her finger back.

"You say you're a commissioner, you show by example, you're a leader of people. You show an example of pulling over to stop to see if she's alright," said Benjamin Smith, called to testify.

The State questioned several workers, who recalled the events, and presented police body camera video following the incident.

"And on the way back I started to say, 'Sir, we need to load this machine, we got to have plenty of road.' And he said, 'You tell them I'm Commissioner Shabazz,' and then he drove off. I didn't say nothing to him. I didn't get a chance to say nothing," said Timothy Creech, supervisor on scene the day of the incident.

Shabazz's attorney, Burgess, questioned the victims' co-workers about their proximity to the incident, asking what they really saw.

"The officer asked you, did you see the impact? Did you see Mr. Yusuf Shabazz hit the accuser Beverly Ferguson? You told them you did not see," said Burgess.

When Ferguson took the stand, Burgess questioned her about the extent of her injury.

"You saw on the video, you go through your phone, you go through your wallet, you're smoking a cigarette, you holding your flag, but you're in a pain of eight?" asked Burgess.

"Ma'am, it was my finger, not my hand. And if you look back at the video, you see my hand. So my finger does not have anything to do with me smoking a cigarette," replied Ferguson.

The investigator assigned to the case in the days following, took the stand, and a recording of the phone call he made to Commissioner Shabazz as he was following up was played in court as well:

"I am investigating an incident that occurred and I need to go ahead and schedule a time when you can come into my office and give me..."

"Come into your office for what?" asked Shabazz.

"An interview."

"An interview for what?" asked Shabazz.

"For an incident, a hit-and-run that occurred..."

"A hit-and-run where?" replied Shabazz.

"On Holland Drive, sir."

"I didn't hit anyone and run on no Holland Drive," said Shabazz.

Shabazz did not take the stand in his own defense.

Judge Arnold sent to jury home for the night, and they will be back here early Tuesday to begin deliberations at some point.

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