Saying that evidence includes "more than 9,000 child pornography images," the Chatham County Police Department has charged a Wilmington Island man with child molestation and aggravated sexual battery against one juvenile victim.
Chatham County Police Department detectives say 38-year-old Ross Dersch turned himself in to authorities earlier today.
"The investigation began in December 2019 after a juvenile reported being molested by Dersch, who was previously known to the victim. During the course of the investigation, a search warrant was executed on Dersch’s residence which uncovered more than 9,000 child pornography images. Dersch was arrested in March 2020 on a sexual exploitation of children charge for being in possession of the images," police say.
Those images were seized by police, and the subsequent investigation revealed further evidence used to obtain arrest warrants against Dersch for child molestation and aggravated sexual battery.
Today, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson announced the city council narrowed a pool of 110 applicants for Savannah City Manager to three finalists.
“The City Council and I have selected three highly-qualified candidates as the finalists to be Savannah’s next city manager,” said Johnson.
“This is the most important decision we will make for the future of our city, and I am excited to welcome the finalists to Savannah in the coming weeks.”
The finalists are:
Caluha Barnes, Deputy City Manager of Modesto, Calif.
Caluha Barnes has served as deputy city manager of Modesto since January 2019. She is responsible for the city’s internal services, including budget, finance, human resources, information technology, innovation and performance management, which manages special projects like the city’s strategic planning initiative and homelessness. The City of Modesto serves a population of 215,000. She previously worked as the community engagement director for the City of Santa Rosa, Calif. for two years and as the director of the Department of Health Services and as an administrative analyst in Sonoma County for six years. She is a native Georgian who previously worked for the Georgia Secretary of State as the director of administration and as a manager with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). She earned a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma and her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University.
Odie Donald, II, City Manager of South Fulton, Ga.
Odie Donald, II, has served as city manager of South Fulton since March 2018. The City of South Fulton, created in May 2017, ranks as Georgia’s fifth-largest municipality, serving a population of 100,000. The city has 600 employees, a $69 million operating budget and a $40 million capital budget. South Fulton’s 11 departments include police, fire, community development, municipal courts, human resources, finance, public works, economic development, parks and recreation and IT. Donald previously served as the director of the Department of Employment Services for the District of Columbia and as executive director of the DC Workforce Investment Council. He also worked for the Georgia Department of Economic Development as the Workforce Services director and served as executive director of Coastal Workforce Services in Savannah from July 2013 to March 2015. He received his Master of Business Administration and his bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University.
John Pombier, Assistant City Manager of Mesa, Ariz.
John Pombier has served as assistant city manager of Mesa since January 2011. The city serves a population of 510,000. He is responsible for $300 million in operational budgets and more than 2,200 employees in police, fire, court, environmental management, innovation and technology, and human resources. An attorney by education, he is a former city prosecutor and served as deputy counsel to the Arizona Governor’s Office. He graduated from Arizona State University School of Law and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan School of Business.
The candidates will be in Savannah on Sept. 18 and 19 to participate in interview sessions with community panels.
SAFE SHELTER ANNOUNCES VIRTUAL FUNDRAISER WITH FABULOUS EQUINOX ORCHESTRA OCT 8 AT 7PM
(SAVANNAH, GA) SAFE Shelter Center for Domestic Violence Services is inviting the community to participate in a virtual party featuring the Fabulous Equinox Orchestra.
"Set to premiere Thursday, October 8th at 7pm the organizers hope to raise funds needed to serve the growing number of victims of domestic violence in the Chatham County area due to the COVID pandemic," a spokesperson for SAFE Shelter says.
The organization is currently facing a 15 percent reduction of funding from across-the-board cuts in state aid, coupled with the cancellation of its traditional fundraising event.
“While funding has dropped since March, domestic violence calls have risen nearly 20 percent due to the COVID-19 virus," said Cheryl Branch, executive director. “For victims of domestic violence, quarantine means there’s nowhere to go.”
Since SAFE Shelter’s annual giving gala had to be canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the organization reached out to the Fabulous Equinox Orchestra for a different kind of virtual fundraiser.
“This exciting band has a great following, they are exciting to watch and they play great music that all can enjoy,” said SPD MAJ Rob Gavin, president of Safe Shelter’s Board of Directors.
For those planning a watch party for the event, SAFE Shelter is also coordinating a special gourmet dinner package delivery through Cohen’s Retreat on Skidaway Road with a portion of the proceeds to be donated to SAFE Shelter.
The band is additionally offering its ticketing system to collect funds and donations towards this event. All donations are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by the law.
For more information, tickets and sponsorship details, visit
Massie Heritage Center, a museum of Savannah history and architecture administered by the local public school system, will be open to the public once again.
Hours of operation will be Monday-Friday 10 am-4 pm.
"All COVID-19 safety procedures will be adhered to and enforced. Tour groups will be capped at a maximum of 10 individuals," a spokesperson says.
"Historic interpreters will be on hand to ensure proper social distancing, traffic flow, and mask compliance. The Massie gift shop will be open for sales but all patrons who shop must wear gloves. Massie staff will work to ensure that all facilities are properly sanitized."
Part of the Savannah Chatham County Public School System, the Heritage Center is housed in the Massie Common School building that dates back to 1856.
The SCAD Savannah Film Festival returns in its 23rd year as an "all-virtual presentation Oct. 24–31," a university spokesperson says.
"Audiences can connect with cinephiles worldwide as they experience live film premieres and unique, interactive programming from the comfort and safety of their homes," the university says.
Aligning with the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "the 2020 virtual presentation will continue the festival’s legacy of excellence with plans for gala premiere screenings, spotlights, competitions, events, and forums, including the Docs to Watch and Wonder Women series, as well as exclusive video messages from filmmakers, live Q&A events, and other original content."
Ticket sales begin Thursday, Oct. 1, at 10 a.m. ET, when the full schedule of programming is released.
The Rock 'n' Roll Savannah Marathon & 1/2 Marathon will not happen this year, organizers say.
"With the health and safety of our community being an utmost priority, and based on the mandate from the State of Georgia in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon & ½ Marathon originally scheduled for November 7-8 cannot take place in 2020 and will return on November 6-7, 2021," a spokesperson said in a statement today.
"All registered participants of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon & ½ Marathon will be receiving an email with further information. We thank our participants for their commitment and look forward to providing them with an exceptional race experience in the future."
Crime Stoppers of Savannah-Chatham County is offering a cash reward up to $2,500 for information "leading to the arrest of the individual(s) who vandalized a Confederate monument in Savannah’s Laurel Grove Cemetery in early July," a spokesperson says.
“Silence- No More” was spray-painted on the Silence Memorial that was erected in 1878 to commemorate Confederate soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg.
"The Savannah Police Department is currently investigating the vandalism. While no arrests have been made at this time, a hidden security camera captured what appears to be two white suspects breaking and spray-painting the statue," Crime Stoppers says.
Information about this crime can be reported anonymously by calling the Crime Stoppers, 24/7 tip-line at 912.234.2020 or by going online to savannahcrimestoppers.org. Tipsters will not be asked for their name, phone number or any other identifiable information at any time.
Two veteran Savannah Police officers have been fired and now will face a grand jury for possible criminal charges stemming from a case of mistaken identity in April that reportedly turned violent.
Upon viewing bodycam footage of the incident, Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap said Wednesday afternoon that "I was sufficiently concerned to the point that I decided to immediately schedule a grand jury" to look into a possible criminal indictment of the officers.
Sgt. Octavio "Mike" Arango, a 15-year veteran of the force, sustained a total of seven Savannah Police Department violations, including use of force violations and violations of policy on use of body-worn cameras.
Corporal Daniel Kang, an 8-year veteran of SPD, is accused of three departmental violations.
They face a grand jury on Sept. 14, Heap said, to determine whether criminal charges will move forward.
"If you look around this country, people are demanding justice. The best way I can guarantee justice is to get this in front of a grand jury."
"During this investigation, two members of the squad reportedly violated several policies," and were immediately placed on leave, Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter said.
Minter says he quickly decided to move forward with firing the officers.
"My decision was appealed to the city manager who upheld my decision," Minter said.
The officers were formally terminated on July 30.
Sgt. Arango and Cpl. Kang lead a team that had a warrant for a violent offender's arrest. They responded to a Southside apartment complex on Abercorn Street seeking the offender.
The incident reportedly got out of control when they mistakenly detained a man who wasn't the alleged perpetrator.
"I believe that the conduct of two members of SPD during this particular incident was totally unacceptable and egregious behavior," Chief Minter said.
"I do not believe their behavior in this incident is in line with our core values in this department... I do not believe this behavior is what we expect of Savannah Police officers," Minter said.
Mayor Van Johnson said, "If you want to change culture you have to do things differently. I you want to do things differently, you have to do things intentionally."
"I was horrified," Johnson said of viewing the incident footage. "I felt personally that was absolutely inappropriate. The chief's actions were absolutely appropriate. I agree with the recommendation" to charge the officers, he said.
The bodycam footage is by law not required to be released during an active investigation, and was not displayed at the press conference Wednesday afternoon.
An expected battle on Savannah City Council over whether to keep property taxes the same or adopt a "rollback" millage rate seems to have been averted, at least for now, due to a last-minute infusion of federal dollars which would keep current funding intact — and help alleviate eviction pressures on residents.
Connect Savannah has obtained documents indicating that the City of Savannah has just received federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funds, passed through the state of Georgia, of over $2 million, with much more on the way.
The documents show Interim City Manager Pat Monahan informing Council that, "On Thursday, the City received $2,268,707 as the Phase 1 allocation (30%) of $7,562,356 from the State of Georgia’s share of the federal CARES Act Section 5001. The state distributed funds to local governments based on per capita population (except that local governments with population of 500,000 or more received direct allocation from federal government). Future distributions will be based on reimbursements."
While the City has waited several weeks for the first distribution, Monahan goes on, "funding can only be used for 'qualified purposes' and must be spent (by receipt or cashed check) by September 1, 2020."
Qualified purposes include community uses related to hardships from COVID-19 (eviction assistance, mortgage assistance, rent assistance, utility payment assistance and small business loans/grants) as well as reimbursement to local governments for COVID-19 related expenditures, such as PPE (personal protective equipment), testing, and dedicated staff time.
"The Sept. 1 deadline places pressure on the City to distribute the federal funding as quickly as practical," Monahan says.
With help from community agencies such as The United Way and the Small Business Assistance Program, Monahan will unveil a plan to rapidly distribute the funding, even before a full vote of Council.
"I plan to execute necessary agreements on Monday to begin the distribution and especially to assist with 50 pending eviction cases in Magistrate’s Court," Monahan says.
"With time pressing, waiting until after approval Thursday from Council would mean a loss of four days to begin the task of distributing needed relief funds to those in our community who need the money the most."
The funding likely halts — or at least postpones — an increasingly bitter battle on Council over whether to keep the City property tax millage rate the same — which would result in an increase in total payments on some residents due to an increase in assessed property values — or adopt a so-called "rollback" rate which would essentially keep citizen payments the same as they are now.
If the rollback rate had been adopted, the City would likely have to cut at least $600,000 in programs and services — cuts which are less likely now given the new infusion of funds.
The money clears the way for the City to adopt the rollback rate without cutting funds.
However, as one City official tells us, "this probably only delays that fight until next year," when the City budget is expected to really feel the toll of the pandemic-induced recession.
For the ninth straight year, Memorial Health has earned the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s (AHA) 'Get With The Guidelines' Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award.
This award recognizes the hospital’s commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines based on the latest scientific evidence.
Memorial also won the 2020 AHA Target: Stroke Elite Honor Roll and Target: Type 2 Diabetes Honor Roll awards.
Get With The Guidelines is the AHA’s hospital-based quality improvement program that provides hospitals with tools and resources to increase adherence to the latest research-based guidelines. Developed with the goal of saving lives and hastening recovery, Get With The Guidelines has touched the lives of more than 6 million patients since 2001.
“These awards demonstrate our team’s commitment to providing safe, high-quality care for stroke patients,” said Dr. Joseph Hogan, emergency room physician. “This quality initiative helps us measure our success in meeting clinical guidelines that improve outcomes for our stroke patients.”