SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Savannah Police Department (SPD) saw the lowest number of St. Patrick’s Day weekend arrests than seen in recent years.

The department closed out its two-day St. Patrick’s operations with a total of 12 arrests in the event zone.

“The St. Patrick’s events were a success, with families, visitors, and locals gathering in our downtown to enjoy all the things Savannah has to offer during one of the country’s largest St. Patrick’s celebrations.” Chief Lenny Gunther said. “The low arrest totals from this year can be attributed to the more family-friendly changes the City of Savannah has made to the annual event, the hard work and long hours worked by Savannah Police Department officers, the support from public safety partners and City of Savannah staff, and the collaboration with local businesses and community organizations.”

Brand new numbers from the Savannah Police Department on Tuesday tells the story of what the city’s Mayor called an extremely safe St. Patrick’s weekend. 

The Mayor told WSAV that the festival featured the fewest arrests in years. But the WSAV Investigative Unit has learned some law enforcement got instructed to only arrest people for certain crimes. 

During the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Friday, WSAV Lead Investigative Reporter Brett Buffington overheard a conversation between a ranking Savannah Police Officer and a Georgia State Patrol Trooper. That Officer told the Trooper only to arrest for domestic violence, DUI, and felony charges at Friday’s parade. 

On Monday, the WSAV Investigative Unit asked a Savannah Police spokesperson for clarification. When the question went unanswered, we took it directly to Savannah Mayor Van Johnson’s weekly media briefing. 

Of the 12 arrests in the 2023 expanded festival zone, WSAV noticed almost all fit the category that the Trooper was told to look for.

On March 17, undercover officers conducted an operation that resulted in the arrest of four men and the seizure of 3.9 grams of cocaine, 104.8 grams of marijuana and a stolen handgun. Then, on March 18, undercover officers conducted a similar operation that resulted in the arrest of two more men and the seizure of 36.5 grams of cocaine, 1.4 grams of Ecstasy (MDMA) and 31 grams of psilocybin (mushrooms).

Savannah Police named the 12 arrested and the charges they face:

  • Nikul Parikh, 37 – criminal trespass/simple assault
  • Pete Tisdale, 35 – robbery by sudden snatch, pointing a weapon at another, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime
  • Frank Damico, 33 —  simple battery
  • Avigal Ben-Meir, 22 – criminal trespass, damage to property
  • Mitchell Tillman, 27 – obstruction, resisting arrest
  • Ajeane Washington, 22, sale of marijuana, possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, theft by receiving (firearm)
  • Camron Roa, 19 – sale of marijuana
  • Keith Richard, 41 – sale of cocaine, possession of cocaine
  • Keith Lawton, 53 – sale of crack cocaine, possession of crack cocaine
  • John Wesley Haynes, 24 – entering auto, criminal attempt to commit entering auto, criminal attempt to commit auto theft
  • Rhaney Washington, 44 – possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, sale of cocaine, trafficking cocaine, possession of controlled substance (mushrooms)
  • Dexter Treadwell, 26 – possession of cocaine, sale of cocaine

It is estimated that 100,000 people took to Savannah’s street to party, Mayor Johnson called the 12 arrests the lowest number in years. 

Police noted that in 2022 officers made 17 arrests. In 2017, police arrested 54 people during the yearly festival. 

“We were relatively quiet in the midst of a very raucous and robust celebration,” said Mayor Van Johnson. 

Savannah’s Police Department quickly addressed The Investigative Unit’s question after the Mayor on Tuesday. In a statement, a spokesperson for the department said, 

“The troopers who were working in Savannah to assist with St. Patrick’s activities were primarily focused on traffic-related issues, especially DUI.

Chatham County Sheriff’s Office was accepting all arrests at the jail over St. Patrick’s weekend activities. SPD were instructed to be vigilant and to not turn a blind eye to criminal activity. Those who were observed or determined to be acting unlawfully were charged accordingly. The list at the bottom of the press release I just sent details the names of all of the people arrested and the associated charges. A very small percentage of them were charged and released upon subpoena, so they were never booked into the jail but do go into our arrest totals.”

WSAV has learned that five of the twelve people arrested were never booked into the Chatham County Detention Center’s system.  

“I know that every offense is arrestable, so you have to be able to determine in the midst of it whether you actually dealing with some issues are sizable,” Mayor Johnson said, adding, “So you can cite someone that is called arrest by citation.”

The WSAV Investigative Unit asked Savannah Police for the number of people cited in the festival zone during the celebration. Police said that number wasn’t available. 

Twelve businesses were cited, police say, for selling alcohol to minors. Outside of the festival zone, 52 drivers were arrested and charged with DUI.