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Local Politics

    A protest outside the DeKalb County jail turned violent on Wednesday evening after some demonstrators refused to stop blocking traffic along Memorial Drive. Several people were taken to the ground, restrained in plastic handcuffs and loaded into a DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office van. It appears that a Taser was used on at least one person. The Atlanta chapter of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, an inmate-rights group, organized the protest that began at the Kensington MARTA station. The group, along with anarchist and anti-police-brutality organizations have complained for weeks about what they say are poor and unsafe conditions inside the jail. They claim that inmates are being denied access to healthcare and live in unsanitary conditions, including an ongoing problem with black mold. According to the protesters, inmates who complain face retaliation and abuse. DeKalb Sheriff Jeffrey Mann refutes claims that of human rights violations are occurring at the jail, but he said mold is an issue he is working to address. He offered last week to meet with IWOC representatives, but they declined and said he should hold a forum with current inmates instead. Related |DeKalb Sheriff Mann rebuts claims of unsafe, dirty jail Related | Protests continue over mold, conditions at DeKalb County jail Law enforcement officers initially closed Memorial Drive to allow about 100 protesters to march from the MARTA station to the jail. But the standoff grew intense when demonstrators refused to move to the sidewalk in order to restore the flow of traffic after about 30 minutes. Over 100 law enforcement officers were on scene, including the Georgia State Patrol and DeKalb County Police Department. The arrests happened around 7:35 p.m. After several people were detained, the protest continued without incident for another 90 minutes. Inmates inside the jail could be heard banging on windows to acknowledge the protest, and some drivers of cars stuck in traffic because of the protest honked their horns in support. A similar protest at the jail in April also resulted in arrests after demonstrators pushed their way inside the jail lobby. The Sheriff’s Office said one officer was injured and demonstrators threw firecrackers and smoke bombs. Organizers said they will protest again at the jail on Thursday.
  • California developer CIM Group is putting the finishing touches on its master plan for downtown Atlanta’s Gulch, an up to $5 billion mix of apartments, offices, retail and hotels that the company is calling Centennial Yards. In an exclusive interview Tuesday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News, CIM executive Devon McCorkle unveiled the Centennial Yards branding, a timeline for construction, and some attractions the company is considering for the 40-acre mini-city. CIM plans to meet major retailers at the International Council of Shopping Centers annual convention in Las Vegas next week. The trade show is among the highest-profile locations for developers to pitch would-be tenants, and many top Atlanta developers will be on hand. “Now is a really prudent time for us to launch Centennial Yards,” McCorkle said. The name draws upon Centennial Olympic Park and Atlanta’s Olympic legacy, as well as the property’s history as a crucial rail hub where Atlanta was founded as Terminus. “We wanted a name that was authentic, one that would make clear where the project was located but also honor the history of the site,” McCorkle said. McCorkle said the first two former Southern Railway/Norfolk Southern buildings currently being remodeled along Ted Turner Drive will open next year, with hundreds of new loft apartments and new retail space. And 2020 also should mark the start of constructing a vital steel and concrete platform that will raise the site to the level of surrounding streets, creating 12 to 15 new downtown blocks. The Centennial Yards site is among the most challenging in the Southeast. The property is crisscrossed by rail lines and parking lots that sit about 40 feet below surrounding viaducts, which include the bridges for Ted Turner, Martin Luther King Jr. and Centennial Olympic Park drives. The complicated project will rely on the $500 million platform to span the active freight and MARTA tracks. The platform itself is expected to take two to four years to finish. A.J. Robinson, president and CEO of downtown business coalition Central Atlanta Progress, said the platform creates new roads, sidewalks, bike paths and other links to neighborhoods and two MARTA stations disconnected by the sunken parking lots. “It’s critical. You’re creating land,” he said. CIM has proposed a development that could create office space equivalent to seven Bank of America Plazas, 1,000 residences, 1,500 hotel rooms and a regional mall’s worth of retail space. Full development of the site is expected to take five to 15 years, McCorkle said. Some development in the site’s interior must wait for the platform, but some of the project could rise as that infrastructure is being developed. The timeline reflects the complexity of the project. “Doing it right is more important than doing it quickly,” Robinson said. The CIM renderings show taller office towers near the Five Points MARTA station. Mid-rise and high-rise residential, hotel and creative office buildings will round out the remaining space and sit atop of street-level retail. The site also will feature a central pedestrian plaza and green space connecting Mercedes-Benz Stadium and State Farm Arena to Five Points. McCorkle said CIM is seeking flagship retail stores for major apparel and technology companies, museums and smaller concert halls as potential anchor tenants. CIM also will seek grocers, hair salons and barbershops and other service retail for residents. Like the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park, retailers, bars and restaurants catering to concertgoers and sports fans will be located near the arenas. Ultimately, tailgating in the Gulch parking lots will end. But McCorkle said Centennial Yards will offer dining and entertainment that “more than makes up for any disruption in the tailgating experience.” Legal Challenge The CIM project has the potential to revitalize a 40-acre dead zone in the center of downtown. But it isn’t without controversy. In November after months of debate, the City Council approved an incentive package of up to $1.9 billion in future tax dollars to help fund the project. The first-of-its-kind public financing package allows the developer to recoup 20 years of future property taxes created within the development site and 30 years of future sales taxes on the property to help fund infrastructure and vertical construction. In return, CIM committed to developing at least 200 workforce housing units, a donation of $28 million toward a citywide affordable housing trust fund, $12 million to a citywide economic development fund, and an additional $12 million to fund a new fire station. CIM also will donate $2 million to a worker training program and agreed to 38 percent minority and women-owned business participation in the construction of the complex. Critics said the city got too little for so much public support. The financing package also triggered a battle between the city and Atlanta Public Schools over the use of school property taxes to fund development. In January, the two sides came to a compromise that ended the dispute, but APS said the city hasn't fulfilled all its commitments. But a citizens group known as Redlight the Gulch filed a legal challenge to bonds needed to help fund the Gulch project. The case is pending. McCorkle declined to comment on the case citing ongoing litigation. Construction Questions  Kyle Kessler, an architect and downtown resident and advocate, said he is looking forward to the opening next year of the two former railroad buildings and learning more about the planned reconstruction of the Nelson Street bridge. CIM committed to rebuilding the bridge as a pedestrian connection to the Castleberry Hill neighborhood. “The more this blends into the rest of downtown and Castleberry Hill and the rest of the city, the more successful the project will be,” he said. “If it’s seen as something separate from the city, that will be to its detriment.” Carrie Sagel Burns, who lives in Castleberry Hill and is active in the neighborhood association, said her group wants to know more about the timing of construction and the rebuilding of the Nelson Street bridge. CIM started some bridge demolition, and reconstruction is expected to start next year. Burns runs a movie tour company. She and others who do business downtown want to see better connectivity between neighborhoods. They also rely on communication between the city, developers, businesses and neighborhoods to know how construction might affect their lives and livelihoods. “People live and work here and it’s exciting, but working together is a lot of what Atlanta is about,” she said.
  • Railroad giant CSX is shifting its freight operations out of a sprawling depot known as Hulsey Yard, a swath of prime land long seen as critical to the future of the Atlanta Beltline. Some observers suspect the move is a precursor by CSX to putting up for sale the 70-acre site along DeKalb Avenue east of downtown. CSX did not detail future plans. The land sits between two MARTA stations and bisects the Beltline, making it an enticing future redevelopment site that could help better-connect the bustling eastside Beltline trail with segments under development to the south. “It is the essential link of the eastside Beltline,” said Ryan Gravel, an urban planner whose master’s thesis formed the basis of the 22-mile loop of trails and future transit. Hulsey Yard created what more than one observer described as a “chokepoint” for Beltline pedestrians and stands as a costly obstacle for future transit. Light rail along the eastside trail of the Beltline is part of the $2.5 billion-plus MARTA expansion plan approved by Atlanta voters in 2016. A sale of the Hulsey Yard site could unlock room for future development along one of the city’s most popular amenities. It could also create flexibility for planned future light rail and improved connections to MARTA where the Beltline and the heavy transit line intersect. In a written statement, MARTA pledged “to be nimble and smart to leverage opportunities as they present themselves. The operational changes at CSX are a clear example of this.” “It is an important parcel, and MARTA absolutely recognizes its significance to the future of transit in Atlanta,” said Robbie Ashe, who represents Atlanta on the MARTA board. CSX neither confirmed nor denied plans to sell the land, but in a statement the company said it is shifting the freight traffic from Hulsey Yard to a facility in Fairburn, southwest of Atlanta. “Our immediate plans are to safely secure the Hulsey terminal as we determine the best use for the property,” the statement said. CSX will continue to operate the east-west freight rail line that borders DeKalb Avenue. For years, neighborhood groups in Cabbagetown, Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward and Reynoldstown dreamed of what the yard might become if CSX were to ever sell it. About two years ago, the community groups laid the groundwork for a master planning process, which formally launched in recent months. The Hulsey Yard Study Committee hired Lord Aeck Sargent to form the plan. On Wednesday, Lord Aeck Sargent planners will start a four day “pop-up studio” at Lang Carson Community Center on Flat Shoals Avenue to take community feedback and inform residents about the property. The four neighborhoods have raised nearly $40,000 to fund the master plan and want to raise another $10,000 to help formalize it for submission to City Council. Nicole Seekely, who chairs the Hulsey Yard Study Committee and is an architect at Smith Dalia in Atlanta, said the timing couldn’t be better. The community recognized it wanted to be prepared in case CSX ever decided it wanted to sell, Seekely said. Though it’s not clear if a sale will happen, neighborhood leaders want to know “what the community would support on these 70 acres,” she said. “The goal is for us to be proactive and have a unified voice from all the neighborhoods,” Seekely said. The committee launched a website to survey residents and in the past week received about 300 responses. Park space and an aversion to big box retail are two of the prevailing themes so far, Seekely said. The “intermodal” rail yard, where CSX transfers cargo between trucks and trains, cut off neighborhoods north and south of DeKalb Avenue for decades. The incessant chug of locomotives, the beep of reversing tractor trailers and clanking of metal boxes and coupling railroad cars have long proved an inescapable nuisance, residents said. But the din faded in recent months as less traffic seemed to flow through the site, said Seekely, who lives about 100 feet from the yard in Cabbagetown. Over the weekend, Twitter and Facebook lit up with posts from residents and Beltline enthusiasts that showed the yard mostly empty. Some internet sleuths also found a letter from shipping giant Maersk to customers informing them that CSX had shifted freight traffic. The letter said effective April 15 international rail freight would be processed through the CSX Fairburn facility and not Hulsey Yard for cargo moving to or from the ports of Savannah, Charleston, or North Charleston. In its statement, CSX said “the change will greatly increase the efficiency of CSX’s intermodal operations in the region and support further improvements in the company’s service to intermodal customers.” On Saturday, Gravel, the Beltline visionary, went by Hulsey Yard to see it virtually empty. He said he had heard informally 15 years ago that CSX eventually would sell Hulsey Yard. CSX officials reportedly said last year the company didn’t intend to vacate it. The company also is selling the much larger Tilford Yard transfer station on Atlanta’s westside. “Hulsey is a small yard relative to other intermodal yards,” Gravel said. “It’s in the city, it’s in the middle of traffic and the value of Hulsey Yard is high.” In a statement, Beltline officials said they are “in communication with CSX and we will continue to work together on potential future Beltline alignments as CSX’s plans develop.” Mark Toro, managing partner in Atlanta for North American Properties, said Hulsey Yard has “tremendous potential” if CSX chooses to sell. Toro’s firm recently opened the $90 million Edge, which includes apartments, office space and restaurants across DeKalb Avenue from Hulsey Yard. Toro, who is also a member of the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority board, which oversees transit in metro Atlanta, said he’d like to see the Beltline, MARTA, the neighborhoods and developers join to form a master plan for the site. Sam Shenbaga, manager of the community development at the Atlanta Regional Commission, said the neighborhoods are wise to launch their plans. He encouraged the groups to have all stakeholders at the table. That means residents but also economic development and real estate experts with insight into what the market will bear. “There’s a fine line between visioning and hallucinating,” he said.
  • Fulton County District 6 Commissioner Emma I. Darnell passed away peacefully at her Atlanta home on Sunday, the county confirmed in a news release. Funeral arrangements are pending.  She was 84.      Darnell had served on the Board of Commissioners since 1992 and was currently serving her eighth term.  An Atlanta native, Darnell served with the city of Atlanta in the 1970’s, and is credited as having written the city’s first minority business plan. The county says once she was elected to the Board of Commissioners via special election in 1992, she became a fierce advocate for senior citizens.   Darnell was a former college professor, and a graduate of Fisk University.  Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued the following statement.  “Commissioner Emma Darnell was a fierce advocate and her passion and concern for our communities will be greatly missed. She cultivated her leadership during a time when both her race and gender could have been a hinderance. But Commissioner Darnell challenged the status quo with a fierce determination to achieve equality for the people of Atlanta and Fulton County. Derek and I are thankful for the personal encouragement she has given us for many years and on behalf of the people of Atlanta, we are forever grateful for her courageous leadership.”
  • Vehicle registrations in Georgia will be shut down for days at the end of May as the state installs new computer software. When it’s finished, the new system will allow county tag offices to process registrations faster and offer more services online. But the installation will require the state Department of Revenue to shut down all vehicle registrations and related services statewide from May 24 to 27. And services at some county tag offices will be on hold for longer as they prepare for the transition and make sure the bugs are worked out before relaunching services. The outage will not affect driver’s license renewals, which are handled by the state Department of Driver Services. Still, hundreds of thousands of state residents whose car tags expire in May and June won’t be able to renew them while the system is offline. State and local officials are urging customers to renew their tags by May 20 to avoid delays. “If they want to avoid lines, they need to come in sooner, rather than later,” said Nicole Golden, the chief deputy tax commissioner for DeKalb County. The state Department of Revenue oversees registration for more than 10 million vehicles each year. But much of the work is carried out by county tax commissioners across the state. The software system they use now is almost 20 years old. State and local officials say the new system — the Georgia Driver Record and Integrated Vehicle Enterprise System (DRIVES) — will make the process more efficient and reduce costs for handling registrations. “It’s kind of like going from a flip phone to a smartphone,” said Susan McLeod, the communications director for the Gwinnett County Tax Commissioner’s Office. It also will enhance data integrity and allow more self-service options. For example, someone buying a car will be able to pre-apply for a title online, then take his or her documentation to a local tag office to complete the transaction. And though many counties already offer online tag renewal, more counties are signing up because of the new system, said Georgia Steele, the director of the Department of Revenue’s Motor Vehicle Division. The shift to the new system will come Memorial Day weekend. From May 24 to 27, county tag offices statewide will not be able to process transactions. Online motor vehicle services and self-service kiosks will be offline from May 21 to 27. But some counties are taking extra time to ensure all the bugs are worked out before they resume service. Gwinnett County tag offices, for example, won’t process registrations from May 23 to 27. And DeKalb County offices won’t process registrations from May 23 to 28. Though DeKalb tag offices usually aren’t open on Saturdays, they’ll be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday May 4 and May 18. Golden said it’s an effort to accommodate a rush of customers trying to renew vehicle tags before the service goes offline. “We’re expecting a rush. We’re hoping for a rush,” she said. “We’ve done everything we know to publicize what’s going on.” Steele said it may take time for local offices to get accustomed to the new software, so customers may experience delays for a while when service resumes. “There’s a big difference using the old system versus a new system,” she said. “If it took three minutes in the old system, it’s probably going to take a couple more (minutes) until they get accustomed to the new tools.”
  • To longtime Atlanta residents, the decline of North DeKalb Mall can seem like the plot of a tragic movie.  But as more stores leave the shopping center, it has found a cinematic way to cash in on all that empty space.  Like other metro malls, North DeKalb has fallen victim to changing retail tastes as many tenants left behind dark storefronts. But now the struggling mall has become a hot filming location — a blank canvas where vacant stores temporarily set the scene as fictional businesses, county officials said.  According to the DeKalb Entertainment Commission, seven movies and TV shows have filmed at the mall over the last year, the latest of which transformed the space just last week.  “It’s such a large space and it has a lot of open space in it, with some of the storefronts being empty,” said Shelbia Jackson, executive director of the DeKalb Entertainment Commission. “The productions like to have that. … They can have the space all to themselves.”  » READ MORE: RL Stine’s ‘Fear Street’ turning North DeKalb Mall into a 1990’s era mall with Musicland, B. Dalton, Gadzooks Thirty of the mall’s 74 stores are vacant, making up about half of the former retail behemoth’s 622,300 square feet, according to a March 2019 report compiled by its owner, Sterling Organization.  Months after a massive redevelopment plan fell through, the film industry has breathed new life into the mall and provided serious revenue.  North DeKalb’s popularity as a retail destination has declined since its heyday in the 1970s and 80s, with stores and restaurants slowly departing. Macy’s closed there in 2016, and the mall is now anchored by an AMC theater, Burlington and Marshalls.  The mall, which opened in 1965, also has a large, sparsely populated parking lot that can serve as an ideal spot for storing equipment and trailers. Its location at the interchange between North Druid Hills Road, U.S. 29 (Lawrenceville Highway) and U.S. 78 also allows for large truck access from several directions. READ MORE: No Costco as North DeKalb Mall demolition plan is nixed From Atlanta to Shadyside    The mall was close to being demolished after Sterling Organization announced last April they wanted to tear it down and build a huge development, including a Costco, more retail and restaurants, as well as housing and a hotel. However, that dream was abandoned after the developer and DeKalb County could not agree on a plan due to budget constraints, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last December. A property manager for the mall did not respond to requests for comment.   While the mall is not full, Jackson said the mall’s owners were surprised by the money the property is now making as a malleable film set.   Just last week, a production believed to be an adaptation of the R.L. Stine book series “Fear Street” transformed several vacant North DeKalb Mall stores and outdoor signage into a fictional mall.   “Frankly, it was a little hard to tell what were the faux storefronts, the legitimate business and the defunct vacant ones,” said local photographer Chris Hunt, who lives near the mall.   Jackson would not say what is currently filming at the mall, but Hunt said staff told him it was the R.L. Stine adaptation. He saw several defunct stores turned into temporary businesses used for filming, including “The Tick Tock Tavern” and “B Dalton Bookseller.” Outside, crews installed fake mall signage on top of the former Macy’s entrance.   Fox is producing a three-film adaptation of the “Fear Street” young adult horror fiction book series, according to several media reports. Gillian Jacobs from the Netflix comedy “Love” is set to star in the films, the first of which reportedly is set in 1994 in the town of Shadyside, Ohio. DeKalb on the big screen    Over the past year, movies and shows including “Cobra Kai,” “The Mule” starring Clint Eastwood, “MacGyver” and “Zombieland 2” have also shot at North DeKalb Mall, said Jackson, whose office manages the film permitting process in the county and helps productions find shooting locations.   As Georgia has grown into one of the nation’s top locations for filming — thanks largely to its generous film tax credit — DeKalb is also on the rise as a destination. Jackson easily listed about a dozen movies, TV shows and commercials that are currently filming in the county. DeKalb is also home to three production studios: Blackhall, Third Rail and Eagle Rock studios.   The entertainment industry in DeKalb had an economic impact worth $1.98 billion in 2016, the commission said.   Productions also shoot at Northlake Mall, which also has some vacant stores, Jackson said. Otherwise, the DeKalb County Police Department’s south precinct and Arabia Mountain are popular areas for shooting, she said.   “We have a lot going on right now,” she said.   The county also gets money from the productions when they apply for film permits, totaling $300,000 since October 2017.   Elsewhere in metro Atlanta, Gwinnett Place Mall has also turned its vacant shops into 80s-era movie sets, transforming into Starcourt Mall for the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” last year. Follow DeKalb County News on Facebook and Twitter  In other news:
  • As former Mayor Kasim Reed’s city attorney, Cathy Hampton hired dozens of outside law firms that were paid millions in public funds. In 2017, Hampton used her consulting company to bill one of those firms, Paul Hastings LLP, $90,000 — while she was a city employee, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has found. The firm then invoiced the city for Hampton’s fees without naming her or her company, describing them only as “outside professional services.”  VIDEO: Previous coverage of Atlanta City Hall Federal prosecutors in the City Hall corruption investigation earlier this year requested documents from the city and Paul Hastings, and are now reviewing those payments. The 1,344 pages turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office do not detail what work, if any, Hampton did for the firm in her consulting role, according to records the AJC reviewed. “I can see there being a significant criminal problem if she’s not really a consultant to Paul Hastings,” said Bret Williams, a former federal prosecutor who is now in private practice. At a minimum, the payments violated city ethics rules and those involved should have known better, said City Council President Felicia Moore. “All of them are attorneys, every single one of them,” Moore said. City code limits when employees can work for outside vendors and when the earnings must be disclosed to prevent even the appearance of a conflict between their official duties and private interests. Caren Morrison, a professor of law at Georgia State University and former assistant U.S. Attorney, said the vagueness in Paul Hastings’ bills is unusual. She said there should be a record of Paul Hastings’ attorneys speaking with Hampton, or evidence of phone calls and emails. “If none of that exists, then clearly the services were not legal consulting services,” Morrison said. “Effectively, she’s being paid by the city, but Paul Hastings is acting as a conduit.” Hampton, a Harvard-educated lawyer who earned $274,000 a year at the city, declined to comment when asked if anyone else at the city knew of or approved her arrangement with the firm. Paul Hastings also declined comment. The firm reimbursed the city after receiving a demand letter from current City Attorney Nina Hickson last September. “After our discussion and an additional review of the invoices, we have determined they should not have been approved by our office,” Hickson wrote to William K. Whitner, an Atlanta-based partner at Paul Hastings. Federal prosecutors summoned Whitner for an interview and requested records associated with Hampton’s company and the work she performed for Paul Hastings when they learned about the payments. Close ties between city, firm Whitner, Paul Hastings’ point man for City Hall relations, has deep ties to Reed and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. As a young lawyer, Reed worked with Whitner in Paul Hastings’ Atlanta office. Once elected, Reed appointed Whitner to serve on the search committee that led to Hampton becoming city attorney in 2010. Hampton, in turn, hired Paul Hastings for legal work and approved millions of dollars of the firm’s bills that Whitner submitted. The AJC has previously reported that the firm billed $2.2 million in vague, flat-fee invoices that contain no description of the work performed. Reed also appointed Whitner to the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority. As chair of the authority in 2015, Whitner supported hiring then-Councilwoman Bottoms, one of Reed’s allies, as the authority’s executive director. The position provided her a $135,000 annual salary on top the yearly $60,000 pay she earned as a council member. Reed also appointed Hampton to the authority in September 2017, and she now serves alongside Whitner. Neither Reed nor Whitner responded to interview requests. Mayor Bottoms, who was sworn into office in January, 2018, declined to be interviewed for this story. Payments wired to a bank account Hampton, one of Reed’s closest advisers during his two terms in office, made a tearful farewell to City Council on May 15, 2017, and stepped down as city attorney four days later. The following Monday, she began billing Paul Hastings for “transition services” through her consulting company. But unbeknownst to most at City Hall, Hampton was still on the city payroll as an employee in an “extra help” position. She continued in that role, collecting vacation and sick pay, for another five months. Hampton sent Paul Hastings two $45,000 bills covering May to August 2017 from a company called HCG Consulting Group LLC. The bills were delivered to Whitner’s attention at Paul Hastings’ Atlanta office with instructions to wire the money to a Wells Fargo bank account. A review of corporate filings at the Georgia Secretary of State website shows that no company operating as HCG Consulting Group exists in Georgia. However, the tax identification number on the invoices submitted to Paul Hastings matches Hampton’s company: Hampton Consulting Group LLC. Paul Hastings billed the city for Hampton’s expenses in September and November 2017 and addressed the invoices to then-City Attorney Jeremy Berry, Hampton’s successor. In a statement, Berry told the AJC that he was not aware of Hampton’s financial relationship with Paul Hastings. “Had I been aware of any such arrangement, I would not have approved any work or payments that could have been deemed improper,” Berry said. No one informed City Council that Hampton remained on the city payroll after her resignation, or that she was a consultant for Paul Hastings, said Yolanda Adrean, a former councilmember who chaired the finance/executive committee in 2017. City code required Hampton to report her consulting work to the city on an ethics disclosure form. In March 2018, Hampton listed earnings from Hampton Consulting Group without mentioning its work for Paul Hastings. Under penalty of perjury, the same disclosure asked Hampton if her firm “engaged in business with the City of Atlanta since January 1, 2017?” Hampton responded: “No.”
  • A DeKalb County home was vacated after a large sinkhole opened up just feet behind it this week. Work crews responded to the home on Wellborn Trail near Lithonia on Tuesday after homeowner Kimberly Mahoney saw the house’s master bedroom at risk of falling into the hole, Channel 2 Action News reported. The one beam that supports the corner of the home is especially close to the sinkhole. “I had no clue that it was anything like this. When I got here yesterday, I fainted,” Mahoney told the new station. MORE DEKALB NEWS: » 9-year-old crash victim calls hit-and-run suspects ‘cowardly’ » Murder charge dropped after DeKalb man’s girlfriend, 63, falls from window  The sinkhole is located near a stormwater pipe, DeKalb County said in a statement to Channel 2. “The property was inspected and placed at the top of an emergency repair list,” the statement said. Repairs are scheduled to begin next week, weather permitting. But Mahoney is worried rain over the weekend could worsen the situation. “I just want it fixed. I just want it safe,” she said. Her tenants are currently staying in a hotel. The home is in the same neighborhood as another large sinkhole that opened up in January. A storm drainage pipe was also to blame for that sinkhole. Follow DeKalb County News on Facebook and Twitter  In other news:
  • Atlanta-based Southern Company disclosed it is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice over a power plant that already has caused the company years of heartburn and billions of dollars.  Southern said it learned of the probe by the DOJ’s Civil Division on Monday and that it involved the Kemper County plant owned by the utility’s Mississippi Power subsidiary. Southern, which is also the parent of Georgia Power, reported in a quarterly filing that it could not determine the outcome of the investigation but that it ultimately might prove significant enough to materially affect the parent company’s financial disclosures to investors. A Southern spokesman emailed The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday that, “As this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot comment beyond what we provided in our filing.” A DOJ spokesperson emailed that the department “does not confirm, deny, or comment on investigations.” The utility envisioned Kemper as a national showcase for how to turn coal into gas, ultimately generating power while also capturing carbon believed to affect climate change. But costs quickly soared, Southern repeatedly revised its projections and the plant took far longer to build than predicted. Kemper’s pricetag eventually hit $7.5 billion. Mississippi utility regulators put protections in place up front to limit overruns that could be passed on to Mississippi Power customers.  The company eventually lost $6.4 billion on the project, according to the Associated Press. The stinging blow to Southern shareholders fueled lawsuits and years of turmoil. Kemper started producing power using natural gas in 2014, but it doesn’t use coal or related technology to pipe CO2 for reuse. Start-up activities on the gasification portion of the plant were halted in 2017. Southern said it learned of the federal probe while Mississippi Power was in talks with the U.S. Department of Energy about $387 million in federal grants already provided to the project.  The company said it may be required to pay DOE for a portion of property that will be retained by Mississippi Power.  Kemper has attracted attention from federal investigators before. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Southern and Mississippi Power related to the project's estimated costs and timeline. The probe ended in 2017 with no recommended enforcement action, according to a company filing.
  • The National Rifle Association elected Carolyn Meadows of Marietta as its new president this week. Here are some key things to know about the new leader in the gun-rights group. She grew up in what was then rural Cobb County, where she and her siblings learned early to shoot guns. An 8th grade teacher assigned her to write a paper on Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom her father did not like. She asked for a different assignment, which ended up being a classroom debate with the teacher on FDR . “I cleaned his clock,” Meadows said. The 80-year-old is retired from Lockheed-Martin, where she was a buyer for the employee store. She was an early Republican operative, volunteering for former Congressman Bo Callaway’s gubernatorial campaign in 1966 by knocking on doors. State Republicans elected Meadows to a number of local and state party seats, including service as Georgia’s National Chairwoman for 12 years. She has been an NRA board member and officer since 2003. Meadows is the second vice chairman of American Conservative Union, a grassroots organizing and lobbying organization. She chairs the board of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the agency charged with overseeing the park. Meadows is a member of the National Council for Policy, an influential conservative think tank. She says she is “lucky” in that she doesn’t need much sleep. Read our story about her election earlier this week.

News

  • An Arizona man is accused of animal cruelty after police found his dog strangled in the front yard of his Phoenix home, KNXV reported. >> Read more trending news  Ruben Ezekiel Garcia, 38, was arrested Sunday and is being held without bond in the Maricopa County Jail for animal cruelty and possession of drug paraphernalia. When police arrived at Garcia’s residence, they found a 1-year-old German shepherd tethered to a pole in Garcia’s front yard, KNXV reported. Police said the dog’s leash was connected to a chain collar at one end of the pole and was caught between two wooden slats. According to police, the dog struggled to free itself and died of strangulation from his collar. When he was arrested, Garcia asked police to allow his son to bring him a pair of pants. Police allegedly found a meth pipe inside one of the pockets, KNXV reported.
  • An truck driver based in Euclid, Ohio, is accused of causing the deaths of four people lastThursday afternoon in a fiery interstate crash in McDonough, Georgia. On Monday, authorities announced charges against the driver, 39-year-old Mohabe McCoy, since all four victims had been identified. He is facing charges of second-degree homicide by vehicle, a misdemeanor, improper turn and driving too fast for conditions. >> Read more trending news  The victim’s bodies were badly burned when McCoy’s tractor-trailer slammed into the back of their Chevrolet pickup truck on I-75, according to officials with the Henry County Police Department. The pickup truck, which was hauling pine straw, was pushed into the back of another tractor-trailer and went up in flames.  The victims were identified as Jose Ibarra Yanez, 42, Jaime Sanchez, 26, Fermin Sanchez, 20, and Juana Adaliris Ortiz-Martinez, 31. The three men and woman were from Dublin, Georgia.  The crash happened around 12:15 p.m. Thursday. At the time, northbound traffic was lagging after another crash on I-75 shut down the interstate before the I-675 interchange. Video from a nearby car dealership obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows the first tractor-trailer slowed before an exit, and the pickup truck followed suit. McCoy’s tractor-trailer, which was hauling potatoes, did not appear to slow down before plowing into the back of the truck in the video. McCoy was arrested Thursday evening after he was checked out at Atlanta Medical Center. He is being held Monday in the Henry County Jail in lieu of a $10,000 bond. 
  • A married Georgia police officer appeared in court with black eyes last week for his first court appearance in the homicide of his girlfriend, a paramedic who was found shot to death May 11 in her home.  William Leonard Talley, 51, is charged with murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and a violation of his oath as a public officer, according to Muscogee County Jail records. A judge on Saturday ordered Talley, a sergeant with the Columbus Police Department, be held without bond on the murder charge.  Talley, a married father of two teenage daughters, is accused of shooting Kelly Susanne Levinsohn, 44, inside her home. He was arrested in neighboring Harris County after crashing Levinsohn’s truck on Interstate 185, The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported.  >> Read more trending news The longtime police officer, who was left in critical condition in the crash, was hospitalized at Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital for five days before being released Thursday and booked into the jail.  His attorney, Jennifer Curry, told the Ledger-Enquirer that Talley is being housed away from the general population while he continues to recover from his injuries. Curry said Talley, a police officer since 2002, would be at risk among fellow inmates he helped put behind bars.  Curry on Saturday waived her client’s preliminary hearing and entered a not guilty verdict on his behalf.  “Our goal today really was to protect families on both sides, especially Mr. Talley’s children,” Curry told the newspaper. “They didn’t ask for this, so I’m trying to respect their privacy.” Talley’s wife was among the scant number of people in the courtroom Saturday. Despite his marital status, Columbus police officials have characterized Levinsohn’s death as the result of a domestic situation. They have not confirmed a romantic relationship between her and her alleged killer, though some of Levinsohn’s neighbors told WTVM in Columbus that the pair had been dating for more than a year.  Curry declined to comment Saturday on the nature of her client’s relationship with Levinsohn, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.  “Again, my goal today was to protect his two daughters,” Curry said. “I’m hoping that both families have time to understand what happened and come to terms with where we’re at now.” Columbus police officials said officers were called to Levinsohn’s home around 8 p.m. Saturday by an unidentified caller who told 911 dispatchers someone had been injured or killed in the home. The caller identified the suspect in the slaying as an officer with the department.  The caller met officers at Levinsohn’s home and told them the suspect had been in a car crash in Harris County, the Ledger-Enquirer reported. Officers went inside the home, where they found Levinsohn dead of a single gunshot wound.  They also found the paramedic’s vehicle to be missing, the newspaper said.  Columbus police Chief Ricky Boren told the Ledger-Enquirer that investigators recovered a gun believed to be the murder weapon. It was not a department-issued weapon, Boren said.  Talley, a patrol sergeant and SWAT team member, is on leave without pay pending a resolution of the case, the newspaper said.  Clark Rowell, who lives across the street from the crime scene, told WTVM his neighbor’s relationship with Talley was not always a peaceful one.  “One time, they had a bad argument out there on the front porch,” Rowell told the news station. “He went to the door, she opened it up and she wouldn’t let him in.” Rowell said after Levinsohn slammed the door on him, Talley “stomped” to his patrol car and left.  Talley’s own personnel record shows that he was also handcuffed by colleagues called to Levinsohn’s home more than a year before her slaying. Records obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer show officers were called to the scene around 7:41 p.m. March 11, 2018. Talley had been drinking, according to the report obtained by the newspaper.  “Talley had to be placed in handcuffs due to a brief struggle while officers attempted to calm him down and speak with him about his personal issues,” the report stated.  Two on-duty supervisors had to be called to Levinsohn’s home to deal with the situation. According to the Ledger-Enquirer, Talley served a single day’s suspension in September related to the incident.  He was not arrested, the newspaper said. It was his first disciplinary action in nearly a decade and his previous disciplinary issues were minor ones.  A sergeant since November 2009, Talley briefly became a detective in 2015, but transferred back to the patrol division less than a year later. Aside from the handful of disciplinary actions against him, he was given “glowing” performance evaluations, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.  Supervisors in 2017 complimented his “initiative” and recommended he try for a promotion to lieutenant.  From all accounts, Levinsohn also excelled at her job as an advanced emergency medical technician with Care Ambulance, the Ledger-Enquirer reported. Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan told the newspaper Levinsohn had been with the service for 12 years.  Bryan said her slaying came as a shock to those she worked with. “She was very dedicated to her job. It’s a hard job, both physically and mentally hard. She took it in stride, never showed any kind of negative mood towards one of the patients that she was transporting,” Bryan said. “She was always there to ease the patient’s pain and suffering, and she was just the kind of person you would want to see come to the scene to be with you.” He said Levinsohn was also a friendly face for first responders, who were often exposed to horrific situations.  “In our line of business, me as a coroner and her as an EMT, we see a lot, car accident victims, gunshot victims, stabbing victims, sick people,” Bryan said. “(Levinsohn) was a very emotionally stable person. She kept a level head the whole time, and I praised her for that quite often.” The coroner said he was taking extra care that Levinsohn’s body was treated with respect as her mother, Wylma Levinsohn, traveled home from Israel to see about burying her daughter, who friends described as her best friend.  According to Kelly Levinsohn’s obituary, her funeral was Sunday in Columbus.  Longtime friend Staci Warman described Kelly Levinsohn as a loyal friend with a smile that was “the most contagious part about her.” “She was the best friend anybody really could ever have,” said Warman, who last spoke to Levinsohn in April, the day after Levinsohn’s birthday.  At the time, Levinsohn was on a trip to Aruba with her mother, Warman said.  Kay Witt, who had known Levinsohn since her childhood, also spoke about the tropical vacation, saying that Wylma Levinsohn will be left with a treasured memory.  “They spent a week in Aruba and had an absolute ball, snorkeling, driving around, laying on the beach, eating,” Witt told the Ledger-Enquirer. “All the things that you would do on your fantasy vacation, they did.” Witt said Kelly Levinsohn was also her mother’s “rock” as her father, Bill Levinsohn, battled cancer before his 2017 death.  Besides her mother, Levinsohn is also survived by an older brother, Gary Levinsohn, who “loved her from the minute she was born and was so proud of what she became,” her obituary said. 
  • A police officer died and two others were injured after they responded to a domestic violence call late Sunday at an Alabama mobile home park, according to multiple reports. >> Read more trending news  After an hours-long manhunt, authorities arrested Grady Wayne Wilkes, 29, on charges connected to the shooting. The slain officer was identified as William Buechner, WSFA reported. The news station reported the injured officers were identified as Webb Sistrunk and Evan Elliott. Here are the latest updates: Update 1:30 p.m. EDT May 20: Auburn police Chief Paul Register said early Monday that the two officers injured in Sunday’s shooting were expected to recover. 'This is probably the worst day of my time here,' Register said. 'Words cannot express the loss for this family, our family and this community.' One of the injured officers, identified as K-9 Officer Webb Sistrunk, was being treated Monday at a hospital in Columbus, Georgia, WMBA reported. The other officer, identified as Officer Evan Elliott, was treated for his injuries and released, according to the news network. Authorities on Monday arrested Grady Wayne Wilkes on charges including capital murder, WMBA reported. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey decried the violence. 'This is so tragic and so useless. I'm just heartbroken,' she said Monday during an appearance in Montgomery. Update 12:40 p.m. EDT May 20: Police on Monday identified the slain officer as William Buechner, a 13-year veteran of the Auburn Police Department, WBMA reported. Police Chief Paul Register identified the injured officers as Webb Sistrunk and Evan Elliott, AL.com reported. Authorities earlier Monday arrested Grady Wayne Wilkes, 29, the man suspected of shooting the officers. Officials continue to investigate. Update 8:32 a.m. EDT May 20: Police have apprehended the man accused of fatally shooting one police officer and injuring two others late Sunday at an Auburn mobile home park. According to WVTM reporter Sarah Killian, Grady Wayne Wilkes, 29, was captured Monday. >> See the tweet here Original report: According to the Opelika-Auburn News, a white man opened fire just after 10 p.m. Sunday as Auburn police officers responded to a domestic disturbance call at a mobile home park. “Responding officers were injured by gunfire and were transported to local hospitals,” Auburn police said in a news release. Although authorities have not release the officers’ names or conditions, the Opelika-Auburn News reported that one died and two more were seriously injured.  Police said the suspect, Grady Wayne Wilkes, 29, is on the run. He is described as a 6-foot-4, 215-pound white male with brown hair and hazel eyes. He was wearing body armor, camo clothing and a helmet. Wilkes is believed to be “armed and dangerous,” authorities said. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The parents of an 8-year-old California girl filed a claim against the Bakersfield City School District after a dog visiting the child’s classroom allegedly bit her, cutting open the right side of her face, KGET reported. >> Read more trending news  Leilani Rivera was bitten by the animal, who had been brought to a second-grade glass at Wayside Elementary School on May 9 by a guest reader, KBAK reported.  The reader, Ann Ardell, brought two dogs into the classroom and invited students to pet them, KGET reported. When Leilani went to hug one of the animals the dog bit her, cutting her face and splitting her lip, the television station reported. 'I was crying and it was painful,' Leilani said Thursday at the law office of Chain Cohn Stiles, which is filing the claim against the Bakersfield City School District and Kern County’s superintendent of schools.  Leilani was taken to a hospital, where she underwent two hours of facial reconstructive surgery, KBAK reported. Bakersfield police spokesman Sgt. Nathan McCauley said owner Ann Ardell’s dog, which was either a chow-chow or Akita, was quarantined by animal control and released May 11, KGET reported. The incident did not appear to be intentional on the part of Ardell, McCauley told the television station. The school district issued a written statement, saying school officials immediately sought medical attention for Leilani and began an investigation, KGET reported. Since then, the school district said that due to pending litigation, it had been advised by legal counsel not to comment further, the television station reported. The claim is designated as 'unlimited,' meaning exceeding $25,000, KGET reported.
  • A man who broke into a home in Houston early Sunday died after he was shot several times by the man who found him in his teenage daughter’s bedroom, according to police and multiple reports.  >> Read more trending news Police said they were called around 2:40 a.m. Sunday to respond to a shooting at a home on North Bellaire Estates Drive. The homeowner told police he found an armed man in his 13-year-old daughter’s upstairs bedroom after a break-in. The homeowner said he wrestled the gun away from the burglar before firing it multiple times, striking the intruder, according to authorities and the Houston Chronicle. Police said the burglar, who was not identified, broke into the home through a downstairs window and walked up the stairs to get to the girl’s bedroom. Four children between the ages of 4 13 and 4 were home at the time of the incident, officials said. Detective Blake Roberts told reporters a neighbor helped get the kids out of the home after the shooting. “They did observe the suspect downstairs in the residence, stabbing himself … (with) a kitchen knife,” Roberts said, according to KPRC-TV. Authorities took the injured intruder to Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said. It was not immediately clear why the home was targeted. 'This appears to be random,' Roberts said. “Of course, it's still under investigation. We still have a lot of research to do on the male that broke into the house as far as his criminal history, his mental history and anything we can find in order to determine what would be the motive for this.”