Avondale confirms shooting investigation, mayoral candidate Clai Brown alleges cover up
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This story has been updated.
In a Nov. 1 Facebook post, Avondale Estates mayoral candidate and former city manager Clai Brown alleged that the city was covering up a shooting at the Willis Apartments on East College Avenue.
The city says it is investigating a shooting that allegedly occurred at this location, but says it has not confirmed to a certainty that this is where the shooting took place. The location of the shooting would affect which police department has jurisdiction over the crime.
City Manager Patrick Bryant said the shooting was reported to Decatur Police, who received the report on Oct. 21. The victim told police that the shooting occurred at the Willis Apartments.
Bryant said police are still looking into the incident.
“We are still gathering evidence and trying to corroborate the story that was told by the potential victim,” Bryant said. “And we have to do so in careful manner because that story has changed several times and it’s not our policy to speak on a potential incident while an investigation is ongoing, and the reason being is we don’t want to potentially jeopardize the investigation by releasing information we haven’t corroborated to be true.”
A Decatur Police spokesperson, Lt. Jennifer Ross, provided the following summary of the report the Police Department received and how officers responded to it.
“On Monday, Oct. 21, 2019 at approximately 3:27 a.m., Decatur Police responded to Emory Decatur Hospital on North Decatur Road in reference to a person shot,” Ross said. “Officers met with hospital staff and security who advised at approximately 3:13 a.m., the patient drove up to the emergency department with three gunshot wounds, one in the right arm, one in the left shoulder and one in the left ear lobe. The victim stated he pulled into the parking deck of an apartment complex and shortly thereafter had a gun in his face and was told to get out of his vehicle. He struggled with the suspect and that is when he was shot.”
The victim told Decatur Police he wasn’t sure where the shooting had occurred. He gave the officers the directions he used to get to the complex and the directions he used to get to the hospital after the shooting. Notably, the Decatur Police were unable to find a crime scene when they assisted Avondale Estates police in searching parking decks.
“Based on the information provided, it was determined the incident occurred in the 2700 block of East College Avenue in Avondale Estates,” Ross said. “The Avondale Estates Police Department was notified and an officer responded to the hospital. The case was turned over to the Avondale Estates officer. Decatur officers assisted in canvassing parking decks in the surrounding area attempting to locate a crime scene with negative results.”
Brown alleges the shooting was the third major incident in six weeks where the city failed to alert residents.
Bryant said this is not accurate.
“To the best of my knowledge that’s not true and I don’t know where he’s getting information to make that statement,” he said.
Bryant said the police have logged about 30 reports from the Willis since November 2018.
“Most of them have been very minor,” Bryant said. “I think it’s important to stress that just because an incident has been reported, doesn’t mean a crime has been committed.”
Crime reports and police staffing have been a central issue of Brown’s campaign to unseat incumbent Mayor Jonathan Elmore. The Police Department has requested additional officers but concluded that crime statistics don’t support the need for additional officers.
Avondale Estates Police Chief Lynn Thomas said even though current crime statistics don’t support the need for additional officers, he is trying to think ahead about the officers the city may need as more people move to Avondale.
The city says it currently has 14 police officers on staff. In 2000, the police department had six officers on staff.
Crime statistics from 2009 through 2018 provided by the city show violent crime in Avondale is on a downward trend.
There hasn’t been a murder reported in Avondale Estates since 2010. There were two robberies in 2018 and two the year before that. There were four reported in 2016. Burglary reports appear to have peaked in 2012, with 25 burglaries reported. In 2018, there were 13 burglaries reported. There were no aggravated assaults reported in 2018, compared to three reported in 2017.
One crime category that increased from 2017 to 2018, according to the stats, was larceny, also known as “theft by taking.” There were 44 reports of larceny in 2017 and 58 in 2018.
According to the state criminal code, “A person commits the offense of theft by taking (larceny) when he unlawfully takes or, being in lawful possession thereof, unlawfully appropriates any property of another with the intention of depriving him of the property, regardless of the manner in which the property is taken or appropriated.”
The city didn’t log any reports of rape from 2009 through 2018, records show. It did record four reports of “other sex offenses” last year, up from two in 2017, and the most reports since 2009. Other sexual offenses include crimes like child molestation, prostitution and public indecency.
Reports of entering autos were up in 2018, with 17 reports compared to 14 reports in 2017. That’s still down from prior years. There were 35 entering auto reports in 2010, the most on record from 2009 to 2018.
Here’s a table showing crime statistics from 2009 to 2018:
Brown’s allegations comes at the conclusion of a particularly bitter battle for the mayor’s seat. The election is Nov. 5. Brown has accused of Elmore of raising taxes, something the city disputes because the millage rate is lower than it was in 2015, and failing to improve the city’s public works building, a project that Elmore said isn’t economically feasible.
For much of Elmore’s tenure as mayor Brown served as the city manager. During the election, Brown’s actions as city manager have received renewed scrutiny.
As a mayoral candidate, Brown has declined to answer questions from Decaturish about a severance provision added to his contract in 2015 that would’ve paid him more than $300,000 for resigning and allowed him to retire at age 55, 10 years earlier than other city employees. The contract amendment was not discussed in a public meeting where it was apparently approved and was not in the agenda packet published prior to the meeting.
The severance became public knowledge after Brown announced his resignation in December 2017. Brown says he resigned because because City Commissioners meddled in the management of city government, something he says was prohibited by the city’s charter.
Brown, who eventually settled his dispute with the city for $135,000, says the severance in his contract was common knowledge or should have been. But Mayor Elmore says he wasn’t told about this when he was first elected in 2015. Later that year, the city elected two new commissioners: Brian Fisher, who is also running for reelection, and Adela Yelton. They said they also were not told about the contract until Brown resigned. Ken Turner, who was finance and personnel director at the time Brown’s contract amendment was approved, didn’t know about it and said it wasn’t in Brown’s personnel file. To read our previous investigation of Brown’s severance agreement, click here.
Here is Brown’s full press release about the shooting incident: