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Latest from Judd Hickinbotham

    The Falcons' president and CEO says Atlanta fans may know the name of the team's new home any day now.   Rich McKay updated the stadium project for the Cobb Chamber of Commerce Monday, saying you can expect a name announcement sooner rather than later.   McKay praised the Braves' choice of SunTrust Bank as its naming sponsor for their new ballpark in the Cumberland area. He says the Falcons would love to have a similar partner to make a long-term commitment.   As for the structure itself, McKay says the construction on the stadium next door to the Georgia Dome is 30 to 35% complete.   He says the pouring of concrete is about 90% complete, and work on the steel structure is set to begin by the end of August.   According to McKay, the construction is on schedule to be completed in time for the beginning of the Major League Soccer season in March 2017.
  • Another major addition could be coming to rejuvenate the old GM plant site in Doraville.   Amtrak is in talks with both MARTA and Norfolk Southern to put a new train stop at the Assembly project near I-285 and Buford Highway, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.   It would make the area a major transportation hub.   It would be in addition to the millions of square feet of shops, offices and residential areas planned for the site of the former GM plant. Demolition was expected to be finished this year.   The project may also include a movie and sound studio.   Amtrak reportedly tried a couple years ago to move out of its historic station in the Brookwood area on Peachtree Street.
  • Cobb County may have hit another speed bump as it prepares for the opening of Suntrust Park.  A document obtained by the AJC says the 1,100-foot long pedestrian bridge spanning I-285 to the new ballpark may not be ready for Opening Day 2017. In fact, it says it may be not ready until September of that year, when most of the season is already over.  The AJC has already reported the estimated cost to build the bridge may go much higher than the current figure of $9 million.  The Atlanta Regional Commission has said the bridge and a planned circulator bus system to and from the ballpark are critical factors. Otherwise, thousands of Braves fans will try to cross busy Cobb Parkway (Hwy. 41) on game days.  An estimated 25,000 additional cars are expected to flood the area around I-75 and I-285 for sold out Braves games at Suntrust Park.  A Braves spokeswoman tells the AJC the team remains hopeful the bridge will be ready by April 2017, but the team is making contingency plans just in case.
  • A new study finds taking the keys from elderly drivers may keep them physically safe, but it may come at the cost of their mental health.  The report from Triple-A and Columbia University found a senior who loses the freedom to drive suffers serious cognitive decay.  A person over the age of 65 whose driving privileges are taken away sees his or her chance of depression nearly double.  Triple-A's Garrett Townsend says they can suffer other issues, as well.  'They're more likely to suffer from depression,' said Townsend. 'And nearly five times as likely to enter into long-term facilities as those that remain behind the wheel.'  They're social circle closes in, which can affect their brain and attitude.  But at some point, to keep them safe, they need to get out from behind the wheel.  The study found families who take the keys away from an elderly loved one need to have a game plan to keep his or her brain functioning properly.  'To strategically put something in place so that they can still maintain their mobility and independence once they retire from driving,' said Townsend.  The study finds eight out of every ten Americans over the age of 65 are still on the road.
  • As Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Hawks new owner Tony Ressler kick around the idea of a new arena for the team, WSB listeners have some strong opinions. The comments from the Open Mic feature on the WSB Radio App all had a similar tone. 'Renovating Philips Arena is a big waste of money for the city,' said one user. 'My message to greedy Kasim Reed is, 'No Way,'' said another. One person had an interesting idea, with the Braves planning to move to Cobb County after the 2016 season: 'Kasim Reed, you can have Turner Field, turn it into a basketball arena if you want to.' Among the dozens of comments on the WSB Radio Facebook page, most struck a similar tone, with several calling renovating or replacing Philips Arena a waste of taxpayer money. While some comments say giving the Hawks a new home is rewarding mediocrity, others said the team deserves an upgrade after an impressive 2014-2015 season. A few comments suggested the Hawks move to Cobb County, like the Braves, to boost attendance, while another sarcastically suggested moving the team to Arkansas. Reed said he would be open to moving the Hawks somewhere within the city limits, mentioning the current site of the Atlanta Civic Center, or a possible second unnamed location. His comments come after Ressler said he would like to see the 16-year-old Philips Arena either renovated or replaced.
  • An Atlanta lawyer is the latest to file suit against several airlines, accusing them of colluding to keep ticket prices sky high.   The class-action suit filed by attorney David Bain lists Delta, American, Southwest, and United Airlines as defendants. He filed it on behalf of a Massachusetts traveler.   The suit, filed in the Northern District of Georgia, says the airlines conspired to fix, raise and maintain ticket prices.   A Delta spokesman, once again, denied the claims in a statement released Tuesday.   The Department of Justice is looking into the accusations.   Lawyers in other states have filed similar suits, with the goal of a class-action case that would include millions of fliers. They could consolidate the suits.
  • Team USA's World Cup victory can be felt beyond the soccer field. Local stores are seeing a big bump, as well.  Nick Johnson, store manager at Dick's Sporting Goods in Buckhead, says sales of the women's jerseys were doing well before the World Cup, but once the tournament started, and as the team kept winning, it was tough to keep those jerseys on the shelves.  'It's number one,' Johnson says of jerseys sales at his stores. 'Team USA is outpacing Braves sales. The Women's World Cup is actually leading the way for us.'  He says Atlanta fans love their soccer.  'The soccer interest is definitely here,' Johnson tells WSB.  He says he was watching the games with excitement, both as a fan and as the manager of a busy store.  'Winning cures all, certainly for us in terms of sales. So we've had great success with it.'  Now that the Atlanta United FC has unveiled its logo, he expects to get MLS jerseys as soon as possible.
  • A new report on retirement in the country gives Georgia mixed results. The report from LPL Research gives our state an overall grade of C, although the state's rankings vary depending on several factors. From a holistic standpoint, though, Georgia does not do particularly well, scoring D's in both health-related categories. The report finds Georgia doesn't have enough doctors, especially gerontologists, dentists, and mental health specialists. The AJC says the state ranks 38th in the country in overall wellness. Georgia also ranks among the lowest in the country in uninsured residents. The numbers aren't all bad for the state, though. Georgia ranks eighth in the country for financial benefits. Those benefits include a low cost of living, high median household income, and low tax burden. Costs are also low in Georgia for home health aides. The state gets a ‘B’ for nursing home costs.
  • A fake Delta Facebook page fools thousands of followers looking for freebies. In broken English, the page claimed the Atlanta-based airline was celebrating 100 million customers by giving away prize packages. Those packages were said to include gift bags with $5,000 cash, as well as free plane tickets. It said it would pick lucky followers who shared and 'liked' the page. A reporter with BuzzFeed spotted the page. It was later taken down by Facebook, but not before users shared it more than 64,000 times. It also garnered more than 37,000 likes. Similar fake pages targeting airlines, including Delta and American Airlines, have popped up on Instagram in the past few years. The scams do not ask for money, but only want followers. They become a big headache for airlines trying to clean up the mess. 
  • Independence Day may not be until Saturday, but you can expect to see the roads getting heavy starting Wednesday.   'It's going to be a busy, busy summer travel holiday,' AAA's Garrett Townsend tells WSB Radio.   The official start of the travel period began Wednesday and will run through Sunday.   Townsend hopes having the actual holiday fall on a weekend will help commuters.   'It could spread it out a little bit,' said Townsend. 'Everyone won't be in such a rush to get back on Sunday. Hopefully that will ease out some of the traffic getting back into the Atlanta area.' Overall, AAA projects 41.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for the holiday weekend. It projects about 1.1 million Georgians will do the same.   It should be the busiest Independence Day weekend on the roads since 2007 for a couple reasons.   'We see there's rising income driven by a strong employment market,' said Townsend. 'And then also the gas prices remain well below last year's level.'   As always, he reminds everyone in a car to be safe by wearing a seatbelt and avoid distracted driving. He says anyone who plans to drink should get a designated driver.
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  • Antonio Arnelo Smith was walking along a Georgia roadway in February when the first Valdosta police officer approached him. As Officer Dominic Henry questioned Smith about panhandling reported outside a nearby Walgreens, a second officer, Sgt. Billy Wheeler, came up behind Smith and, without warning, placed him in a bear hug. Moments later, Wheeler slammed Smith to the ground. “Oh my God, you broke my wrist!” Smith, 46, cried out as two more officers arrived and helped Wheeler hold down Smith. As Smith cried and screamed in pain, Wheeler advised him he was under arrest for outstanding felony warrants. The only problem: Wheeler had the wrong man. The entire interaction was captured on body camera footage. The allegations against Wheeler and the other officers are laid out in a federal lawsuit Smith’s attorney filed last month. “When you see that video, you can’t help but say this is a travesty,” Nathaniel Haugabrook, one of Smith’s attorneys, told The Associated Press. “Nobody should be done that way.” The civil rights lawsuit names as defendants the four officers involved in the stop, the police chief, the mayor, city council members, the city itself and the police department. Haugabrook said he believes his client was stopped simply because he is Black. Though Henry is Black, Wheeler and the other two officers named in the suit are white. “Obviously it has some racial tones to it,” he told the AP. Valdosta police Chief Leslie Manahan argued in a statement last month that officers did their jobs and, despite no charges being filed against Smith, that they had the right person regarding the panhandling. “We did have the right guy stopped that was causing the problem at Walgreens,” Manahan told WALB in Albany. “It’s just unfortunate he was not the one with the felony warrants.” She cited miscommunications in radio traffic as the cause of the problem. “Those are things that yes, we can work on that as an agency, and work to continue training our officers better and better communication skills with each other,” the chief said. A Black man in a hoodie Smith’s violent encounter with police stayed below the public radar until Haugabrook filed the federal lawsuit June 19. Valdosta police officials issued a lengthy statement a few days later, along with one officer’s body camera footage. That footage, taken from Wheeler’s camera, fails to show the actual takedown of Smith because when Wheeler placed him in a bear hug, Smith’s back was pressed against the lens. The AP reported that additional body camera footage was not released until after the Valdosta Daily Times published footage obtained from Haugabrook. See the initial body camera footage released by Valdosta police officials below.  Read the Valdosta Police Department’s entire statement here.  Smith was at Walgreens around noon Feb. 8 awaiting some money his sister was sending him via Western Union, according to a March 20 letter, called an ante litem notice, Haugabrook sent to Valdosta city officials warning of the impending lawsuit. Both Henry and Officer Rachel Hinton had gone to the pharmacy in response to the call about a panhandler bothering customers. Each would encounter a man fitting the description given by employees: a Black man wearing a brown hoodie, according to police. Court documents state that Hinton stopped a man for questioning on the north side of the pharmacy. She asked Henry to check the west side of the building for anyone else who could be the alleged panhandler. En route to the side of the building, Henry encountered a customer who told him the man had walked south out of the parking lot. Read attorney Nathaniel Haugabrook’s ante litem notice to Valdosta city and police officials below.  “While (Hinton) was running the identification provided by the (first) subject, it was learned that he had active felony arrest warrants,” Valdosta police officials said. “This police band communication between the first officer and dispatch was overheard by other officers arriving at the location. “At approximately same time, (Henry), on the opposite side of the store, located (Smith) walking in a southern direction away from Walgreens. The officer made contact with the subject, explaining to him that he was investigating a report of a suspicious person at Walgreens.” Smith gave Henry his identification and explained why he was in the area, according to the letter submitted with the federal lawsuit. In the video, Smith questions why he was stopped and appears upset but does not appear to pose a threat to the officer. “I’m waiting for the Western Union,” Smith tells Henry. “Call my sister right now in Florida. You have a cellphone. Call her.” “Call who?” Henry asks. “Call my sister in Florida,” Smith responds. He pleads with Henry: “Don’t do this.” ‘Oh my God, what are you doing?’ At that point, Wheeler, who had quietly come up behind Smith, grabs him by both arms from behind and puts him in a bear hug. Wheeler never announced his presence to Smith. “What are you doing?” a startled Smith says. “Oh my God, what are you doing?” Wheeler tells him to put his hands behind his back, a command he cannot follow because his arms are pinned at his sides. “Put your hands behind your back like you’re told,” Wheeler says, his face resting on Smith’s back as he holds him in place. A bewildered Smith again asks what Wheeler is doing, crying out as the officer picks him up and slams him onto the ground. Moments later, as the other two officers, identified in the lawsuit as Patrick Barrett and Hudson Durden, try to help get Smith into handcuffs, Smith cries out that Wheeler has broken his wrist. “Yeah, he might be broke,” Wheeler is heard saying. Watch the body camera footage obtained by The Associated Press below.  About a minute later, the officers remove the handcuffs and call for an ambulance. Smith questions why he is being arrested. “We have a warrant for your arrest,” one officer tells him. Henry corrected the officer, indicating that the man with active warrants had been taken into custody by Hinton. “The other guy is over there,” Henry says, pointing toward the pharmacy. “They pointed out two different people. They got the guy with a warrant.” He points down at Smith. “This guy, I just got contact with him,” he says. The video shows that the officers let Smith up off the ground. According to court documents, he left before the ambulance arrived. “As the video clearly demonstrates, each of the officers’ facial expressions and comments confirm that a grave and serious error had taken place when Sgt. Wheeler arrested and slammed Mr. Smith to the ground,” Haugabrook’s letter to Valdosta officials read. “Although an ambulance was called to the scene, Mr. Smith, scared and wanting to get away from the officers, refused treatment and walked away from the scene holding his arm.” He later went on his own to South Georgia Medical Center, where doctors confirmed that both his radius and ulna, the long bones of the forearm, were fractured at the wrist, court records show. According to Haugabrook, the fractures did not heal properly because Smith was unable to find transportation to the specialist he was referred to. Inconsistencies Smith’s lawsuit accuses Wheeler and Henry of falsifying their reports on the incident. Wheeler’s report stated that Henry asked Smith to put his hands behind his back, which the video proves was not the case. The statement from Valdosta police officials also contains inconsistencies with the video footage that paint Smith’s encounter with the officers in a false light. “The responding officer (Wheeler) approached the subject and advised him to place his hands behind his back,” the statement read. “The subject did not and began to resist by pulling his arms forward and tensing his body.” The video shows that while Smith questioned what Wheeler was doing, he did not try to resist or pull away. The city’s statement also stated that officials there are “fully committed to transparency,” though at that time, they released only a portion of the existing body camera footage. The lawsuit argues that neither Henry nor Wheeler had justification for physically restraining Smith because they had not determined whether he had committed a crime or if he had outstanding warrants. At one point in the footage, Wheeler asks Henry whether Walgreens wanted to obtain a criminal trespass warrant against Smith, the lawsuit states. “I don’t know. I had, I hadn’t even asked them,” Henry responds, according to the document. Manahan defended Wheeler’s actions to WALB last month. “He still thinks the subject has felony warrants. When you are dealing with someone with felony warrants, you kinda want to move quick, really for the safety of everyone involved,” Manahan told the news station. Read Antonio Arnelo Smith’s federal lawsuit below.  Wheeler has been on the Valdosta police force for nearly 23 years, the lawsuit states. In that time, he has taken “use of force” courses annually. “Since 2017, Defendant Wheeler has also received training in the Governor’s Initiative – De-Escalation Options for Gaining Compliance,” the document states. Haugabrook is arguing that the Valdosta Police Department routinely receives calls about suspicious people, many of whom have committed no crime. In those situations, officers’ actions are restricted by constitutional rules. “Here, Defendant Wheeler violated those rules whereas Mr. Smith had committed no crime that would justify his arrest. Defendant Henry, the lead investigating officer on the scene was simply checking Mr. Smith’s identification and questioning him to determine if he was the suspicious person complained about at Walgreens,” the lawsuit states. “Even if Mr. Smith had been the suspicious person, the consequences would have been a criminal trespass warning to stay off Walgreens’ premises.” The lawsuit claims illegal seizure, unlawful detention, excessive force, assault and battery by excessive force, false arrest/false imprisonment, negligent hiring and training on the part of the department, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy to violate Smith’s rights. Smith also accuses Henry of failure to intervene. “Defendant Henry had a realistic opportunity to prevent Defendant Wheeler from grabbing and slamming Mr. Smith to the ground. It would have been as simple as holding out his hand or saying, ‘Stop,’ the lawsuit states. “Defendant Henry did neither.” The lawsuit does not specify the monetary damages being sought. In the March letter to Valdosta officials, however, Haugabrook presented a settlement demand of $700,000. Haugabrook is seeking more than money for his client, however. According to the AP, the attorney wants to see meaningful change in the Valdosta Police Department. “We will cross the next bridge as it comes and hopefully we get this matter solved in a manner that prevents these sorts of mistakes, this sort of conduct from happening in the future,” the attorney told WALB.
  • Monday evening was a “peaceful” experience for the Georgia National Guardsmen who have been dispatched in response to last weekend’s surge of violence in Atlanta and the ransacking of the Georgia State Patrol’s headquarters, according to their commander. So far, they have not made any arrests and no Guardsmen have been injured.  Riding in Humvees, the troops — who are armed — will be out on duty again Tuesday evening in keeping with the emergency declaration Gov. Brian Kemp issued following the fatal shootings that left four dead in Atlanta, including an 8-year-old girl. Set to expire July 13, Kemp’s order empowers the Guardsmen to apprehend lawbreakers.  Related: Kemp to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops after violent weekend On Monday evening, the Guardsmen stood watch at the state Capitol in downtown Atlanta, the Governor’s Mansion in Buckhead and the recently vandalized Department of Public Safety building in southeast Atlanta. The troops are seeking to free up police for other law enforcement duties, said Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden Jr., Georgia’s adjutant general. Citing security concerns, Carden declined to say precisely how many Guardsmen have been deployed, though Kemp’s order calls for up to 1,000.  “At the end of the day,” Carden said, “we are primarily staffed, trained and equipped to protect our nation – our citizens – against foreign adversaries. It is disappointing to me that once again we are having to use our personnel, equipment and training to protect Americans and their property from other Americans.”  At least 93 people were shot in Atlanta between May 31 and June 27, roughly double the number from the same span a year ago. On Sunday, a crowd of at least 60 busted out the windows of the Georgia State Patrol headquarters, and someone threw a homemade grenade into a supervisor’s office in the building, authorities said.  >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • An 80-year-old golfer was accidentally struck by a bullet intended for a groundhog in Lomira, Wisconsin Monday. Law enforcement officials are describing the event as an accidental shooting. When a 50-year-old man was shooting at a groundhog on his property, one of several rounds that he fired hit a tree and then struck the golfer while he was on the course at.The Golf Club at Camelot, according to WITI. The golfer was taken to a nearby hospital and his injuries are not considered life-threatening. The Dodge County Sheriff, Dale Schmidt, urged people to be cautious when using firearms. “When shooting firearms, it is always very important to know your target and beyond. Firearms are capable of shooting long distances and it is always necessary to have a backstop that can sufficiently stop a bullet from traveling beyond that which is desired,” Schmidt told WITI. Police are still investigating the incident.
  • You may be seeing social media posts promoting #BlackOutDay2020, but what is Black Out Day? Here are five things to know. 1. Blackout Day is persuading Black Americans to not spend money today, to show their economic power. If something needs to be purchased, the movement urges spending money at Black-owned businesses, CNN reported. It’s called a “day of solidarity in America where not one Black person in America spends a dollar,” unless it is spent at a Black-owned business, USA Today reported. Nielsen reports that Black Americans spent more than $1 trillion in 2018, according to CNN. 2. The day was promoted by Calvin Martyr, a social media personality/activist, for about two months. 3. Martyr and those taking part are hoping the day helps to end institutional racism that they have said lead to the deaths of Black Americans, CNN reported. It started after the death of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, but before the death of George Floyd. 4. Martyr likened to the spending boycott to the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott when the Black community refused to ride buses until they were allowed to sit wherever they wanted. 5. My Black Receipt is a related movement that urges for people to upload receipts of money spent at minority-owned businesses, USA Today reported.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department on Monday released loan-level data on each of the more than 4.9 million loans made under the government’s Paycheck Protection Program. The program was established in March by the CARES Act, aimed at shoring up small businesses struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic. Authorities said the funds were meant to give business owners incentive to keep their employees on payrolls. Data released Monday includes the names of more than 660,000 businesses that received loans of $150,000 or more. A majority of the program’s beneficiaries -- about 80% -- asked for loans under that amount, with most seeking about $100,000, according to officials. >> See the full data released by SBA and the Treasury Department In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the program has helped to support 'more than 51 million jobs and over 80 percent of all small business employees.' Under the program, the government is backing $659 billion in low-interest business loans that will be forgiven if employers use the money on payroll, rent and similar expenses. Companies typically must have fewer than 500 workers to qualify. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Atlanta’s fire chief has opted to self-quarantine pending the results of a COVID-19 test, one day after the city’s mayor announced that she tested positive for the virus.  Randall Slaughter is being tested for the coronavirus “out of an abundance of caution,” Atlanta Fire and Rescue spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford confirmed to AJC.com on Tuesday.  “He will also be in quarantine until his results return and will move forward based on those results,” Stafford said.  Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Monday announced that she tested positive for the virus.  “COVID-19 has literally hit home,” Bottoms wrote. “I have had NO symptoms and have tested positive.” — Please read more on AJC.com for updates.