Torpy at Large: Fulton’s courts, the Buckhead bad guys’ best friend

If this sounds like déjà vu all over again, you’re not mistaken.

Recently, a frustrated Atlanta police commander sent out an email to Buckhead residents with a "good news/bad news update" concerning a wave of burglaries, car thefts and general mayhem besetting that area.

The good news? The cops keep catching the bad guys. The bad news? The courts keep letting them out.

Zone 2 Commander Maj. Barry Shaw was writing about a rash of burglaries and car thefts the night of Jan. 30. Some brazen and enterprising young men broke into several cars and garages, stealing what they could.

Now, these weren’t the peaceful, sneaky type of crooks; these were the just-don’t-give-a-damn variety.

After breaking into garages, “They crashed vehicles through the garage doors at two different homes,” Shaw wrote.

And this is Buckhead, so you’re not seeing Chevys and Buicks crashing through doors. According to police reports, these were Acuras, Land Rovers and Mercedes-Benzes. Buckhead residents have nice stuff and the thieves want it. And folks in Buckhead often make it easier for criminals by leaving keys in vehicles parked in their garages.

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I don’t want to start victim-blaming here. You just don’t expect to have someone break into your garage and then crash the family cruiser through your bay doors.

Until now.

Shaw wrote that Michael Hill and Jaquantay Campbell were arrested and charged with burglary, entering autos, theft by receiving, etc. In fact, police ended up loading more charges on Hill, only to discover that “MICHAEL HILL WAS GIVEN A SIGNATURE BOND.” (Those are Shaw’s capital letters. He was irked.)

That means Hill got out of jail without having to pay one red cent.

"This is a perfect example of what is broken in Fulton County," Shaw wrote. "Hopefully, unified voices demanding answers for things like this will eventually make a difference. Our officers continue to make great arrests of criminals terrorizing Atlanta neighborhoods repeatedly and this is the result. They don't fear being arrested in Fulton County the way they do in other jurisdictions and this needs to change."

Like I said, déjà vu.

Atlanta police Maj. Barry Shaw fired off an email to residents taking aim at what he calls a lax judicial system. 

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I typed the terms “Fulton courts”and “revolving door” into the AJC’s computerized story morgue and found dozens of hits through the years going back to the early 1980s, which is as far back as it goes.

"We need to put the judges in the spotlight," Deputy Chief Jeff Glazier told me. "We're the ones on the front lines. People think we have the solutions. But we're just one piece of the puzzle. They have continued to fail at what they need to do."

And, he added, “They are not held accountable.”

Glazier noted that cops have cameras showing them in gritty detail concerning all they do. Sometimes it’s not pretty, like when officers go extracurricular on a suspect. But that’s how it is these days. There’s increased accountability for law enforcement and that’s a good thing.

But cops grumble that judges get to hide behind their robes.

“They never make statements on the low bonds,” Glazier said.

In fact, judges rarely talk on the record. They have ethical considerations that restrict discussion of pending cases, but they seem to use that prohibition as a blanket to halt ALL discussion.

I called both Fulton County’s Magistrate Court (whose judges issue bonds) and Superior Court (whose judges later adjudicate the cases), and neither called back.

They include whether some suspects charged with violent crimes can get bond.

I went to the courthouse to look up the two suspects who caught Maj. Shaw’s ire.

First, Michael Hill: Aside from the Jan. 30 spree, Shaw noted that Hill had been charged previously with a couple of burglary/car thefts, including one where the homeowner was struck by the vehicle as the thieves fled the scene.

Other than that, I can’t find anything on him. You see, Hill turned 17 just two months ago. So if he did anything else, those records are largely hidden in the juvenile system. We, as a society, like to give youths second chances. I suppose the magistrate gazed down at Hill’s youthful visage and said, “We ought not give up on him just yet.”

And then let him out.

A decade ago, Jaquantay Campbell was Michael Hill, a teen at a crossroad.

In November 2009, 17-year-old Campbell stood before Judge Walter Lovett on charges of fighting with cops who were investigating a break-in. He had at least three prior burglary arrests and the judge gave him three years’ probation, warning him that if he should re-offend, he could go away for up to 10 years.

Judges have complained there are few programs to help wayards such as Campbell, so sometimes they figure a stern warning might work.

In March 2010, Campbell blew out 18 candles on his birthday cake and then broke into the southwest Atlanta home owned by a woman who toils to keep a hair salon in business. The prosecutor told that same judge, Walter Lovett, a magistrate then filling in at Superior Court, that he wanted to send Campbell to prison for six years and give him 20 years’ probation.

“It sounds extremely lengthy for a defendant the age of Mr. Campbell,” the prosecutor acknowledged. But he argued that the young mister was already proving himself to be a menace.

Campbell got 10 years, but only 18 months to serve in prison, with the balance on probation.

Jaquantay Cambell, 26 (left) and Michael Hill, 17, were charged in a string of Buckhead burglaries and car thefts.

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Well, you can guess the rest.

In 2011, he got caught burglarizing a nearby apartment. He served five months.

In 2013, he was a felon in possession of a gun and got six months’ incarceration.

In 2014, he had his probation yanked and served three months.

In 2015, he was caught with stolen goods from a burglary and got 12 months’ probation. (It appears sentences of probation are layered upon more sentences of probation.) The defense attorney suggested he be banned from “south Fulton County,” which was explained as “south of I-20.”

Campbell was not worried. He knew they have better stuff to steal north of I-20.

In 2016, he was pinched for trying to break into a car and spent nine months in jail, exiting the following March.

Now, he’s back again for judicial consideration.

Surely, by now, this fellow has learned his lesson. … Right?