JONESBORO While the Top 10 stories of 2012 made big headlines, they were not the only major stories of the year.
In compiling its list of top new stories, Clayton News Daily reporters came up with another list of 10 major stories which merited mention in the look back at the last year. These stories ranged from the continued fall of a disgraced ex-police chief, to the opening of a new international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport which bring promise of economic revival in northern Clayton County.
The Clayton County Board of Education fell one vote short of being able to sanction one of its members for allegedly having pornography on her district-issued computer. Meanwhile, the City of Forest Park finalized the purchase of Fort Gillem which will significantly increase the size of the city. A Riverdale man was also charged in the fatal shooting which took place at a College Park megachurch.
Baker pleads guilty to DUI
In January, former Morrow police Chief Jeff Baker pleaded guilty in State Court to DUI and running a red light. Baker, 45, was sentenced to 12 months on probation and was ordered to pay a $700 fine. He was to serve 150 hours of community service, undergo alcohol and drug treatment and random substance testing. He cannot be employed by a city or county government while on probation.
Baker, who spent nearly half his life in law enforcement, has lost his certification from Georgia Peace Officers and Standards Council. He can re-apply in two years. He had already resigned from his position as Morrow’s top cop in December 2011 following a city investigation into his arrest.
He was arrested in November 2011, when one of his own officers discovered him passed out behind the wheel of his city vehicle at a red light. Baker refused field-sobriety tests — an action which by state law mandates his license be suspended a year — so no one knows how intoxicated Baker was that night. He was charged as being DUI as a less safe driver.
BOE member on trial for downloaded porn
School board member Trinia Garrett found herself put on trial by her colleagues in January, when she was accused of violating the board’s ethics code by allegedly downloading pornographic materials from more than 60 websites onto a district-issued computer.
In 2011, investigators searched computers the district issued to board members in an attempt to find out if any of them had started rumors that former Superintendent Edmond Heatley was allegedly having an extramarital affair with a female Clayton County Public Schools employee. It was during that search that the pornographic materials on Garrett’s computer were found. She denied downloading the items and suggested her teenage son may have been responsible without outright accusing him of downloading the materials.
Investigators confirmed during the hearing in January that the materials found on Garrett’s computer were not child pornography. Rap music was also found to have been downloaded onto the computer, one investigator told the board during Garrett’s hearing.
The board voted 5-2 in favor of finding Garrett guilty of violating the ethics code, but board policy states at least six guilty votes must be cast to sanction a board member for an ethics violation.
T-SPLOST goes down in flames
A controversial transportation sales tax would have restored local bus service back to Clayton County and paved the way for a future commuter rail line. Instead, voters across the county and across the 10-county metro Atlanta region rejected it during the state primary in July.
The so-called T-SPLOST was the brainchild of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, who envisioned it as a way to pay for new transportation projects across 12 transportation districts in the state. More than a year of planning a $6 billion project list and marketing were put into the effort to get the special purpose local option sales tax approved by voters.
In addition to bus service and commuter rail pre-planning, Clayton County also would have seen a long list of projects, including the conversion of part of Tara Boulevard into a super arterial highway and a new south Jonesboro connector road.
The T-SPLOST was narrowly defeated in Clayton County, with 53.5 percent of voters against it. Across the Atlanta region, 62.3 percent of voters were against the tax.
Forest Park buys Fort Gillem
Forest Park city officials finalized a $30 million deal in January to buy Fort Gillem, a project that has been more than five years in the making.
There are a couple of bureaucratic hurdles that have to be cleared before the 1,170 acres are conveyed to the city but the deal is essentially completed. City Manager John Parker said he is glad the long process has reached an end.
“It has been a rather arduous task that is now coming to fruition,” he said. “The Implementation Local Redevelopment Authority will be taking ownership and we can initiate the redevelopment of the majority of the property known as Fort Gillem.”
The U.S. Army retains a 250-acre enclave that includes its Criminal Investigations Division Crime Lab, a state-of-the-art facility.
“They are also going to use part of the property as a clearinghouse for soldiers going overseas,” said Parker. “Then the soldiers stop back by for debriefing before going back to their home bases.”
Fort Gillem was annexed into Forest Park in 1973, and was once a thriving satellite base to Fort McPherson in East Point. However, it was recommended for closure in May 2005. Fred Bryant, executive director for Forest Park/Fort Gillem Implementation Local Redevelopment Authority, known as ILRA, said officials began working on the transfer of property in June 2006.
Three cities get new chiefs
Three Clayton County cities saw new mayors come to power in 2012. The new mayors of Jonesboro and Morrow came into office in January on the heels of the 2011 municipal elections. A third one officially came to power in Lovejoy in March after the city went months without an official mayor.
Former Mayor Joy Day returned to the top elected position in Jonesboro after the four-year term of Luther Maddox — who had defeated Day in her 2007 re-election bid. During her first tenure as mayor, Day had served for 12 continuous years as mayor, from January 1996 until December 2007.
Morrow welcomed its first new mayor in 16 years, when Joseph “J.B.” Burke came to office. He succeeded long-time mayor Jim Millirons, who decided to not run for re-election after four terms, and immediately had to deal with the hiring of a new police chief and the ongoing battle with the county over a service delivery strategy and Local Option Sales Tax agreement.
Lovejoy residents chose City Councilman Bobby Cartwright to be their new mayor in March, succeeding disgraced former Mayor Joe Murphy, who had resigned in late 2011 under the threat of facing criminal charges stemming from the construction of Lovejoy City Hall. Cartwright had served as the de facto mayor in the interim because he was Lovejoy’s mayor pro tempore when Murphy resigned.
Riverdale man accused of fatal shooting at World Changers Church
Witnesses told police Riverdale resident Floyd Palmer calmly walked into World Changers Church International in College Park, and began shooting during a prayer service. Palmer, 51, is accused of killing Gregory McDowell, 39, of Union City. McDowell was gunned down while leading at least 20 worshippers in prayer at World Changers Oct. 24.
Fulton County Police and Clayton County Police searched Palmer’s apartment at 1116 Garden Walk Lake Drive in Riverdale hours after the shooting .The Clayton County Bomb Squad was called to the apartment, just in case it had been booby-trapped.
“We were looking for anything that might be related to the shooting, that would give us some idea of the motive,” Fulton County Police Cpl. Kay Lester said. “We did not locate a weapon at his home.” Investigators attended McDowell’s autopsy Thursday to determine how many times he’d been shot, but declined to release that information. They found a dozen .38-caliber shell casings in the mega church chapel. Palmer is a former employee of the church, and functioned as a “Vision keeper,” part of a group whose duties are to organize the chapel, according to police. He resigned in August for “personal reasons,” according to Lester.
“McDowell was shot when multiple shots were fired inside the chapel but it is unconfirmed on how many times he was struck,” Lester said.
International Terminal opens new airport access
After years of construction and anticipation, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport officials opened a new entrance to the airport with the completion of the Maynard H. Jackson Atlanta International Terminal.
The new terminal’s opening in May meant that for the first time, the airport had an entrance on Interstate 75.
The new entrance was also the first to face the interior of Clayton County, which county economic development officials hailed as a new boost to the local economy. All travelers taking international flights in and out of Atlanta must go through the new terminal.
Plans are already under way to build a permanent home for the National Museum of Commercial Aviation across the interstate from the new terminal. Long-term plans are also in the works to attract major hotels and traveler-friendly retail along Charles W. Grant Parkway, which leads into the international terminal.
Southwest Airlines lands at Hartsfield-Jackson
Texas-based Southwest Airlines began offering flights out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as part of its merger with Florida-based AirTran Airways in February. Atlanta had been one of AirTran’s biggest hub cities for years.
The budget airline’s service in Atlanta began with 15 nonstop flights to five cities, which included Baltimore and Chicago, but more routes and flights were added as the year went on. Eventually, routes to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville and Norfolk, Va., were added.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a single operating certificate for Southwest and AirTran in March, but officials expect the long process of merging the two airlines to take at least another couple of years to complete.
Gunman found guilty in murder trial
Patrick Ramon Moore was convicted of murder and was sentenced to life in prison, without parole, plus five years. A Clayton County Superior Court jury convicted Moore of killing Tracy Burton Jr., 20, of Riverdale, and of wounding Jervod Jarvis, Fabian Ellis, and Erica Peterson during a Jan. 3, 2011, shooting at the Regal Pointe apartments. Moore was convicted of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, four counts of aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated battery, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and four counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime.
“We didn’t expect nothing like this to happen,” said Peterson. She contradicted the defense’s claim that the shooting was self-defense, saying that none of the four victims had weapons.
Clayton County Police said Moore 25, was the gunman and is a Vice Lords gang member. Moore, of Morrow, did not testify during the murder trial. His attorney, Agis Bray, a Clayton County Assistant Public Defender, didn’t call any witnesses.
Lead prosecutor Katie Powers told the jury in her closing argument that the physical evidence did not support self-defense.
“You can’t pick and choose the evidence in this case,” said Powers. “Use your common sense. In his own words, you heard the defendant say he was aiming at all their heads. We know he was mad at Erica Peterson. ‘You sleeping with my girl, you going in my house, oh hell no.’ Someone once told me the three most important words in the English language were truth, justice and peace. Tracy’s family wants justice so they can find a little peace. Find the defendant guilty.”
CCPD canvas neighborhood for Roxbury killer
Demba Balde was shot and killed in front of his Roxbury Drive home Sept. 25. Thirty-three Clayton police officers and detectives combed the Roxbury Drive neighborhood for two days. The officers distributed flyers about the case as they spoke with residents during “foot patrol,” said Danielle White, Clayton County Police spokesperson. White said Balde was confronted by the gunman and perhaps accomplices as he unloaded groceries from his car. “The victim attempted to flee but was shot,” White said. Balde died at the scene.
A candlelight vigil was held for Balde at his Atlanta convenience store on Metropolitan Avenue. Clayton County Police went to the Atlanta store to continue their investigation and distribute flyers.
“We are just canvassing the neighborhood to see if anyone knows anything,” said Clayton Police Lt. Chris Windley at the time.
Witnesses told police three suspects, believed to be teenagers, were seen fleeing the scene. The suspects are believed to live in the Roxbury Drive neighborhood, according to the lookout alert released by police.
— Compiled by Clayton News Daily Senior Reporter Curt Yeomans with Henry Daily Herald Senior Reporter Kathy Jefcoats and staff writer Elaine Rackley