Savannah mayor responds to DA’s criticism of police investigations

Published: Dec. 22, 2022 at 4:01 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A WTOC investigation found there have been more plea deals this year than the past five years combined. Most of those deals included reduced charges and lighter sentences, including probation in several cases.

In a previous WTOC report, Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones criticized Savannah Police Department investigators for a lack of evidence in a case.

“We found that perhaps there was more evidence that could have been obtained early on in the investigation, like the triangulation of phone records and that kind of information, and unfortunately that wasn’t done. That’s not the fault of the DA’s Office - that has to do with the investigators,” Jones said.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said he’s not interested in Jones’ excuses because she has the resources and support of the city. He also said it’s a topic he has already addressed with her.

“I need her to win because if she loses, we lose as a community, and I think I’ve done everything I can possibly do,” he said.

That includes sending a letter back in May to address any issues with Jones.

“Telling her if there are any of our officers impeding you from doing what you need to do. Let me know. I’ve never heard from her regarding that, so the fact that you’re telling me that is news to me,” Johnson said.

Jones blamed the Savannah Police Department for not providing more evidence in the murder case against Derek Gallop Jr. It’s one of the reasons she said her office cut a plea deal for manslaughter that allowed him to get out of jail and go home to serve the rest of his 20-year sentence on probation, despite his violent past.

Johnson, who is a former Chatham County police officer and certified police instructor, said the way the system works is the police department does the preliminary investigation. And from there, hands over the case to the District Attorney’s office who has a team of investigators to assist. She can also ask the police department to do the work she needs done.

He said he sent the letter to Jones after he heard about issues with that process.

“To make sure that they were clear about our willingness to be a part of the solution, our willingness to help and my insistence that the city of Savannah wasn’t going to be a part of the problem. And if there was a problem, that I was going to go ahead and deal with it,” Johnson said. “I want to see people prosecuted that pull triggers in Savannah.”

The city’s recent hiring of a federal prosecutor is something the mayor hopes will add to the local prosecution of violent criminals.