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Suspect in Lithia murder arrested
  • Updated

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a suspect in a murder that took place last week in Lithia Springs.

Nathanael Michael Searcy, 17, is suspected of killing 21-year-old Melvin Porter on March 16, according to Lt. Col. Tavarreus Pounds.

Searcy had been on the run. But the sheriff's office announced Monday night that he had been taken into custody.

Porter’s body was discovered March 16 in the Silver Creek Ranch Subdivision in Lithia Springs by deputies responding to a reported vehicle collision and shots fired call, Pounds said.

Investigators followed leads, canvassed the neighborhood and conducted interviews into the early morning hours, Pounds said.

“According to eyewitnesses and with the assistance of home surveillance videos, 17-year-old, Nathanael Michael Searcy, was identified as the individual who shot and killed Melvin Porter,” Pounds said.

Multiple search warrants have been executed and the case is still ongoing, Pounds said.

Two other arrests were previously made in this case with associates of Searcy who were at the scene of the crime, Pounds said.

Kyle Girard, 18, was charged with party to a crime, possession of drug related objects, tampering with evidence and possession of marijuana less than an ounce. Abdulmujeeb Raji, 17, was charged with party to a crime. Both men were denied bond and remained in the Douglas County jail Monday.

City to resume curbside recycling program in May
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Curbside recycling is returning to the city of Douglasville.

After an 11-month hiatus, the head of the city’s public services department announced at last week’s city council meeting that curbside recycling will begin May 3.

“I might be back on the truck, but starting May 3 recycling will return,” Public Services Director Greg Roberts said during the city council meeting. “I’m excited to get it back going.”

Douglasville Mayor Rochelle Robinson shared Roberts’ excitement about the program restarting.

“I know people are so excited about recycling,” she said during Roberts presentation to the city council.

The public services department emphasizes that city residents should only put the correct recyclable products in the container.

The city will be accepting plastics (1 & 2 only), newsprint, magazines, cardboard, paperboard, mail, office paper, tin cans and aluminum cans.

“We understand that items not on this list may be recyclable in other areas, however, these are the only items that are accepted in the City of Douglasville curbside recycling program,” said Melissa Dickinson, assistant director of Public Services. “By putting items in your recycle container that are not accepted in our program, the recycling that is collected becomes contaminated and can result in an entire load being sent to the landfill.”

There will be a spring recycling event on April 24 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church parking lot. The event, hosted by Keep Douglasville Beautiful, will be taking electronics and scrap metal recycling items.

Residents can go to the city’s website to see a full list of acceptable items for this event.

The city’s recycling event was suspended near the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dickinson said the city was in the process of making adjustments to the recycling program before the pandemic.

Dickinson said the upcoming changes are in response to the collapse in the recycling market that hit in 2019.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were actively making adjustments to our recycling program to address changes that stemmed from the collapse in the recycling market which began back in 2019,” she said. “Earlier in 2020, we were finalizing a new program roll-out when those efforts unfortunately were delayed as the recycling program was suspended due to COVID.

“During the 11-months since the suspension, our department has also experienced some pandemic-related, logistical issues that truly tested our ability to maintain our existing sanitation services without any service delays; however, at this time we believe we have addressed those constraints and are ready to restart the recycling program and move forward with providing full curbside services.”

The Spring Clean Up for city residents will be the week of April 26-29. According to Dickinson, one week during the spring and fall, the city picks up large items such as furniture and appliances at no charge.

Voting restriction debate reaches peak
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Two Democrats in Douglas County’s state delegation are among the critics of legislation in the General Assembly aimed at changing how elections are run in the state.

State Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, heads up the delegation and spoke by phone.

“This is voter suppression in 2021 ... these bills are strictly suppression because they didn’t like the outcome of the presidential race or the outcome for the Senate seats, so now they want to change the rules,” Bruce said. “All of the laws that they’re talking about changing are laws that Republicans put in place. Now that the other side has figured out how to use those laws and win, they want to change the rules and that’s really all it boils down to.”

State Rep. Kimberly Alexander, D-Douglasville said, “The minute the state flips and it turns blue, all these bills being created are to prevent people from voting. It’s going hurt anybody that can’t get to the polls on the weekend,” she said.

Alexander said both Democrats and Republicans need to be making the process easier for voters — not harder.

“It’s very concerning. I want to make sure that our voters have access — I don’t think we should be taking away the access and I don’t care if you’re African American or Caucasian, Democrat or Republican; I think we should have it open to vote as long as they are a citizen and they have the identification that’s required to vote, I think we should be making it more accessible for those individuals to vote,” Alexander said.

The battle over voting rights in Georgia appears headed for a showdown this week as the 2021 session winds down.

Two of the most contentious proposals — limiting weekend voting options and ending the no-excuse absentee law — no longer appear to be on the table with the session scheduled to wrap up on March 31.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, a Carrollton Republican whose district includes part of Douglas County, said he’s focusing on helping steer whichever set of proposals most lawmakers in the General Assembly want to see cross the finish line later this month, whether they come from Fleming’s bill or his own.

“My concern is really not the politics of it,” Dugan said. “My concern is actually having something that is beneficial for the state moving forward.”

GOP Rep. Barry Fleming’s Special Committee on Election Integrity was scheduled to consider Monday a new version of Senate Bill 202 that expands weekend early voting opportunities from one mandatory Saturday to two Saturdays and two optional Sundays.

Another modified proposal would allow absentee ballot drop boxes to be placed outside early voting locations during a public health emergency, but still require them to be kept inside absent a crisis.

A record 1.3 million Georgians voted absentee in the Nov. 3 election.

The Senate Ethics Committee was also expected to vote this week on Fleming’s 80-plus page bill. He said it will create election uniformity across Georgia’s 159 counties, which he said is needed to reassure voters the state’s elections are fair.

“If you’re trying to instill confidence in the election system, then you want the public to perceive that the election system is similar if not the same as much as it can be in those places,” Fleming said.

Lawmakers who support these measures are ignoring their impact on minorities and the evidence confirming the security of the election system, said Pichaya Poy Winichakul, an attorney for the SPLC Action Fund.

“(These bills) will erode their confidence in Georgia’s election system because it stands to roll back their voting rights,” she said.

Voting rights groups continue questioning the push to require an ID to vote by mail.

It’s a provision that stands a good chance of becoming law because of the support from top Republican officials who back a more objective way of verifying the voter’s identity than matching signatures on file with ones written on absentee ballot mailings.

Opposition to the ID requirement to vote absentee remains among some activists, with some saying it’s a hardship on hundreds of thousands of Georgians who don’t have a state-issued ID. But a voter ID card available to Georgians at no cost, said Carolyn Garcia, a lobbyist with the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“The idea of saying that having a photo ID is suppressing the vote, I don’t see the reasoning, or the argument in it when it’s easy to obtain one,” she said.

Public uproar over voting bills reached new peaks last week, as did demands for the business community to use its political muscle to halt efforts by state lawmakers to impose voting restrictions.

“Like many in our community, our interest in these issues began long ago and reflects our collective belief that every eligible Georgia voter — regardless of background or political views — should engage in the voting process,” Metro Atlanta Chamber President Katie Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “We will continue to use our voices to keep accessibility, convenience and security at the center of any discussions about changes to our election process.”

Potential of legal challenges loom if sweeping voting changes are approved and federal legislation that could override any new state voting laws, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

“This allows Republicans to go back to their constituents and say, you know, we heard your concerns,” Bullock said. “Polling numbers that I’ve seen say 75% of Republicans think that there was something amiss in Georgia’s election so they can go to their core constituents and say, ‘Yeah, we passed something to try to address that.’ ”

A report from Georgia Recorder was used in this article.

Judges, DA prepare to tackle jury trial backlog
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A bill in the General Assembly aimed at suspending the statutory speedy trial deadline during judicial emergencies would have very little impact in the county.

Douglas County Chief Superior Court Judge David Emerson said the county “has very few demands” now that jury trials are starting to take place again after being suspended for nearly a year because of the pandemic.

Last week, Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton asked members of the General Assembly to pass legislation aimed at curbing a serious backlog of jury trials resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill, which the Georgia Senate passed overwhelmingly earlier this month and is now before the state House of Representatives, would allow trial courts to continue suspending statutory speedy trial deadlines during judicial emergencies.

“That is not a big problem with us,” Emerson said.

Criminal jury trials are scheduled to resume on March 29 in Douglas County.

“We are excited and ready to get it done,” Emerson said. “As judges we hear cases, and that is what we are ready to get back to doing.”

Douglas County District Attorney Dalia Racine said many criminal cases have been resolved through other means rather than court trials.

“Under the current law, once the judicial emergency is lifted or that provision of the emergency order relating to criminal case deadlines is lifted, defendants could file demands for speedy trial and force the State to try the cases within a very narrow time frame, given our current backlog and much slower ability to try cases,” Racine wrote in an email to the Sentinel. “If the State were unable to try the cases within that time frame, the charges would be dropped against the defendants, and dangerous criminals facing serious charges would be released back into the community. It is a nightmare scenario for the entire State of Georgia, and needs to be addressed with legislation. Our lawmakers must act to prevent these criminals from playing games with our justice system.

“We don’t know when the threat from Covid 19 or the new variants that are spreading rapidly will diminish. We hope the vaccinations will reduce the spread and severity of Covid 19 in our community, but we need this legislation to give our courts flexibility when dealing with criminal cases in which speedy trial demands have been filed.”

Because of CDC social distancing guidelines, the county will use one courtroom to rotate cases because it is big enough to accommodate the new protocols.

During an address to the General Assembly last week, Melton praised judges and court staffs across the state for adjusting quickly to the new conditions the pandemic forced upon them, as in-person proceedings went virtual.

“This past year, I have witnessed first-hand that your judges and courts are remarkably resilient, flexible, creative, and committed in their mission to uphold the law and mete out justice fairly and equitably,” he said. “Justice and the rule of law cannot wait on a pandemic.”

Emerson said he is hoping more people get vaccinated and the CDC eases some of the social distancing restrictions.

“I do not think we are in nearly as bad a shape as some of the other counties,” Emerson said.

“Currently, our courts in Douglas County are planning to resume jury trials and hold them in a single courtroom, down from three courtrooms we usually could hold trials in, and judges will rotate in the courtroom to try cases that are assigned to them,” Racine said. “This will slow our ability to try cases, but it will give defendants the right to have their cases heard by juries, and will, hopefully, give our victims a chance at closure. We will be employing as many safeguards as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the courtroom. Plastic dividers are being placed between certain persons in the courtroom, and jurors will maintain social distancing for the duration of jury selection and trial.”

Last week was Melton’s last appearance before the General Assembly as he announced he was stepping down in July after 16 years on the state Supreme Court.