SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Religious leaders and others in Savannah, Georgia’s oldest city, called Wednesday for the police chief’s resignation and a federal investigation into local officer-involved shootings, including one last week that left a Black man dead.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said it is independently investigating Friday’s fatal shooting of a man who officers spotted walking around midday in the middle of a street. The man, Saudi Arai Lee, 31, of Savannah, lived in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred.
“Family after family are crying because of sons or their daughters shot down by this police department and it must stop,” Elder James Johnson, founder of the activist group Racial Justice Network, said at a news conference Wednesday.
“I don’t know if it’s the training or a fear of a Black man, but seems like they shoot and ask questions later, and we cannot and will not tolerate this,” he said.
Officers approached Lee to speak with him, the GBI said. The agency said Lee immediately showed them his wallet, saying it contained his weapons permit, and then lifted his shirt and removed a weapon from a holster.
Authorities said a short chase followed and that Lee was shot by Savannah Police Officer Ernest Ferguson, who is white. Officials said emergency medical aid was rendered but Lee was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
“This man had a legal concealed weapons permit and still was shot down. It should never be a death sentence (for) a Black man for carrying a weapon,” Johnson said.
The officer who shot Lee was placed on administrative leave, Savannah police spokeswoman Bianca Johnson said in an email, The Savannah Morning News reported. The paper said Ferguson has been with the department since March 2021.
GBI agents said a handgun and a holster were recovered from the scene. Results of the GBI’s investigation will be given to a local district attorney’s office for review, the agency said.
Lee’s killing was the fifth officer-involved death in Savannah this year, the newspaper said.
Elder James Johnson called for Police Chief Roy Minter’s resignation and said a federal probe should be opened into the officer-involved shootings in the city.
“There will be a series of protests in front of this police department to demand that this police chief step down,” he said, adding, “we don’t think that he’s doing a good job in training his officers.”
The police spokeswoman, in an email to The Associated Press, said the department would not comment on the community call for a federal probe and for the chief’s resignation. She reiterated the department’s previous statement, confirming it had contacted the GBI to conduct a “thorough and independent investigation” into Friday’s shooting.
She also said the department’s Internal Affairs Division had separately “launched an investigation into the actions that occurred that day.”
“Both investigations are ongoing independently of one another at this time. Once the GBI concludes its investigation, the case will be handed over to the DA’s Office to make a final determination,” the statement said.