SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Two former officers of the Savannah Police Department could soon end up behind bars for what they did on the job.
A special Chatham County Grand Jury will meet this week to discuss if criminal charges should be pressed in the case against Sgt. Mike Arango and Cpl. Daniel Kang. Both men were fired from their jobs as Savannah officers earlier this year.
Arango says he was following the law, not breaking it that day in April, which led to his firing from SPD. Now a special grand jury could indict him and Kang.
Arango’s lawyer calls the entire investigation all “political” and “unjust”.
“They weren’t treated fairly internally within the police department, and they are certainly not going to be treated fairly now by the State,” said Michael Schiavone.
“Do you believe what they did was in policy?” News 3 asked.
“Absolutely,” said Schiavone. “There is nothing in the video or anything they did that could rise to the level of being criminal.”
On April 14, Arango, Kang, and two others from the SIS Warrant Squad went to the Moss Pointe Apartments in search of a suspect, Khalil Kelly.
In the police report obtained by News 3, Arango says the squad was told Kelly was living inside one of those apartments. When the officers approached, Arango writes that he ran inside.
“His conduct seeing those officers and then running back into the apartment clearly sends a signal to the officers that this is the individual,” explains Schiavone, “that he is on notice they are looking for him and now they have to worry he has run in there and is armed and dangerous and have a weapon. And anyone else who is in there with them might have weapons and they have put those officers in danger.
“When the door was opened by the officers, Arango called the person’s name out that they were looking for and this individual, who turned out not to be the person, acknowledged he was the person and came at them. So at that point, they are thinking that’s the person from the warrant and he was armed and dangerous.
“They had every reason to believe that this individual was the person they were seeking for a violent offense. They had a warrant for his arrest for the person they were looking for, they did everything that they would normally do in an effort to find out if that was the individual.”
But it was not that individual. The person they found was Darryl Faitele, a man who was not wanted by police at the time but was later arrested after another assault charge.
Faitele was taken to the ground after Arango writes he “disregarded several commands” to get on the ground and later spit blood at Arango.
It’s what happened after that, all caught on body camera, that led to the officers firing-including verbal and physical abuse by the officers on Faitele.
“I was horrified,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson during a news conference last month. “As someone who served as a law enforcement officer and a member of this community, I felt, personally, that it was absolutely inappropriate,”
Schiavone says the officers were just doing their job, not crossing the line or doing anything criminal.
“There needs to be an explanation about the procedure that’s employed and why it reflects the way it does on the video,” said Schiavone. “What they did they had to do for safety purposes to protect not just themselves but the individual and everyone else in the apartment.
“This sends a signal to every officer who works in this department. Will they be thrown under the bus by the department itself but also thrown under the bus by the DA’s office.”
That body camera footage has not been made public, but the mayor and Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter have shown it to the Savannah CARES task force, a group of citizens empaneled to discuss racial issues and help build equality in the City.
That group said what they saw was wrong — a fireable offense and potentially criminal one.
“Would you be in this position if there wasn’t this video out there?” News 3 asked.
“Absolutely not,” said Schiavone.
The attorney calls the entire investigation “flawed” because it was all done internally.
Kang and Arango were the first two of more than 70 officers to put their names on the complaint filed against Minter back in early April.
Arango himself, two months earlier, had sent an email to his superiors discussing a lack of personnel, vehicles, and equipment, as well as an incomplete or non-existent set of policies for the SIS Warrant Squad, which he was leading.
“The police department did not follow their own policy and procedures in the way they terminated him,” explained Schiavone. “This was retribution in the form of the Police Chief and that’s what this was about in the terms of losing their jobs.”
“There was no due process given to these officers internally.,” he continued. “The recommendation of the investigators in internal affairs and chain of command my understanding was suspension.”
The disciplinary committee for SPD actually did recommend suspensions for both Kang and Arango after watching the body camera video themselves. Minter overrode that recommendation and fired the pair of longtime officers.
“He didn’t follow the recommendations as most chiefs normally do, and I think it was personal and a political vendetta against these officers and that’s why he fired them,” said Schiavone.
“They didn’t follow any of the policies and procedures with how they handled this internal investigation administratively. They violated every policy that should either be in existence, they followed a policy that didn’t exist.”
Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap says the special grand jury she empaneled to discuss possible criminal charges is not looking at the past, they are just looking at this incident, and this body camera footage.
“When I saw it, I said, ‘this is troubling,'” said Heap.
News 3 asked why the GBI wasn’t called in to investigate.
“You’d have to ask the chief that question,” said Heap, adding, “Normally my procedure on any case involving any case of law enforcement is to have an outside agency investigate the case. That was not done here.”
“I usually ask for the GBI to be called in just because they don’t have ties here,” continued Heap. “They are skilled at investigating actions of other law enforcement. that’s what they do.”
News 3 also asked Minter why he didn’t call in the GBI to investigate this case. Savannah Police responded:
After reviewing the preliminary details of the use of force, Chief Minter made the decision to move forward with an internal investigation first. Then at the conclusion of that investigation, he would determine whether to move forward with any criminal investigations. In this case, the internal investigation warranted that the information is sent to the District Attorney’s Office for review.
Heap says she just got a finished SPD investigation last week, two weeks after the news conference was called and two months after the officers were fired.
As for the calling of a special grand jury, the DA says neither the mayor nor Savannah CARES played a role in the decision.
“I was informed he did show this to them, but I saw it first hand and that’s why I wanted to get this in front of a grand jury,” she said.
Heap says it is her office’s policy not to release body camera or other video or audio in a case before it has gone to court. That is why she has not made this video public.
“I have always wanted a case to be tried in a court of law not a court of public opinion,” she said. “However, the mayor has an initiative about excessive use of force potentially by law enforcement. That is his initiative. I think he’s trying to do what’s right here. I don’t object to that.”
Heap says the special Georgia Judicial Decree during COVID-19 is planned for cases just like this one. Anything that would normally be a case to bring in front of the grand jury, from assaults to murders and beyond, are not eligible.
Cases like this are eligible “because it involves law enforcement officers certain measures have to be taken by law,” explains Heap.
Despite what some, like Schiavone, say Heap says she is not being political and is just following the law.
“Every officer-involved I have put to a grand jury since 2013, I made that my stance,” said Heap. “In 2014 I had my first officer-involved incident. We created a policy that would bring transparency and fairness to all parties involved. I am following the same policy.”
The grand jury is expected to hear the case on Thursday.
Arango and Kang will each have a chance to address the jury and take questions after prosecutors make their case for indictment.