Some people working for the Atlanta Municipal Court downtown are increasingly anxious about the large numbers of homeless people at a shelter and an encampment near the courthouse.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher found out employee anxiety worsened after an attack on an employee of the public defender’s office last week.
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The courthouse is on Pryor Street in lower downtown right across from APD headquarters.
Just down the street is a homeless shelter and a little farther south, across Memorial Drive near I-20, is a sizeable homeless encampment.
A senior court official is encouraging workers to be vigilant and report suspicious activity.
APD posted video on its Instagram page of a police detective breaking up an assault on an employee of the city’s public defender’s office along Pryor Street August 1. The department obviously intended to salute the officer’s quick response, but it also reminds the public that that part of lower downtown can be dicey.
Our whistleblower emailed Channel 2 Action News about their concerns.
“I am extremely concerned that someone is going to be seriously injured or worse. The homeless confront you or try to keep you from getting into your car. It’s horrible,” the email reads.
According to the whistleblower, who asked not to be identified, the August 1 assault is one of two recent incidents involving court personnel.
Court Administrator Rashida David texted Channel 2 Action News to confirm that court employees have complained about security concerns.
In a statement, Davis said the court is concerned for the safety of employees and anyone who comes and goes from the courthouse. She acknowledged “the transient foot traffic in the area has increased, particularly on the Pryor Street/Memorial Drive corridor.”
Davis said the court is working with law enforcement to step up security outside the court “and have encouraged employees to remain vigilant and call 911 to report any suspicious activity.”
A Channel 2 photographer drove through the area on Wednesday and didn’t witness any threatening behavior, but there were people on the sidewalk near the homeless shelter a one-minute walk from the court, and a little farther south near I-20, the homeless presence seems semi-permanent.
City Councilman Michael Julian Bond recognizes the risks.
“We’re adjacent to the jail, the Gateway Center and then there are other encampments, so there may be individuals who are not as stable as the average citizen. Just want to make sure that our employees have both eyes open,” Bond told Channel 2.
He said court officials are right to encourage employees to be vigilant because of “elements that can present a problem.” He also renewed his criticism of the city ordinance that allows most defendants to leave city court without having to post a cash bond or hire a bail bondsman to get out of jail.
“If there’s a person who has mental issues or other circumstances that warrant monitoring, you know, we’re not doing that monitoring,” he told Belcher.
The court employee who brought the problem to our attention emailed that the effect of the additional security so far is a “Band-Aid.” The tipster doesn’t believe it will ease the minds of many court employees.
Ken Days, the director of the public defender’s office said the employee who was attacked got checked out and returned to work the next day and APD did not provide a statement for our story.
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