No criminal wrongdoing found in investigation of Savannah alderman involved with gun buyback program

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The results of a GBI investigation into a Savannah gun buyback program involving a Savannah alderman have been released.

Last August, Chatham County Manager Lee Smith said there were some concerns brought to him regarding the security of the firearms collected by Savannah Youth City and Alderman Van Johnson.

The county manager went to District Attorney Meg Heap when the issues first came up, and her office asked the GBI to look into the concerns, ultimately finding that Alderman Johnson had done nothing wrong with either collecting or storing the weapons.

In a memo sent this week to the GBI's special agent in charge of the Statesboro office and Alderman Van Johnson, the District Attorney said: "Upon review of the GBI investigative report in this matter, I concur with the GBI's assessment that there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Mr. Johnson."

"They found no evidence of wrongdoing on my part, which I knew all of the time, and certainly that just, you know, it relieves me. But in the end, the fact of the matter is we still have too many illegal guns in our community. We still have too many guns being carried by young people who should not have them," Alderman Van Johnson said in an interview Tuesday.

Alderman Johnson announced his partnership with local non-profit Savannah Youth City, Inc in 2016, and up until last summer the effort had collected around 30 guns in exchange for cash. Once the request for the investigation was announced, the effort halted.

"We see a need to still have a gun buyback, to still let young people know that we care as a community. That we want them to live, we don't want them shooting each other or other people," said Beverlee Trotter, CEO/Director of Savannah Youth City, Inc.

Trotter said she would absolutely be on board with starting the initiative back up if Alderman Johnson asked.

In an interview Tuesday, the alderman gave no impression that he plans to let at least the spirit of the program die.

"If you're a young person in this community, you have a gun that you're not supposed to have, that you're not supposed to carry, give it up. Give me a call and I will still come get that gun. We're losing too many lives," Johnson said.

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