For a small town adjacent to the much larger city of Atlanta, Decatur is a relatively secure city with a relatively low crime rate. Although there are isolated instances of street crimes, including muggings and robberies, these generally do not involve loss of life. But for the past week local residents, including my family and myself, have been shaken and concerned about their safety. The recent shooting death of a Smyrna hairstylist and nursing student, Karen Pearce, less than a block of the Decatur Square, caused confusion and fear within a normally relaxed community.
Before going further, we want to express our sympathies to Ms. Pearce’s family and friends. It is truly a human tragedy for her loved ones. On behalf of our firm, we extend our deepest condolences.
Immediately after her murder, there was little known by the public about the crime. Initial reports indicated a lack of camera surveillance on the property or even near the property on which Ms. Pearce was killed. I will get to this issue, but first the background on this crime. What is known is that the victim was enjoying time with friends, that she left her friends on her own and was on her way to the parking deck where her car was parked. She never made it there. Her body was found later near One Decatur Town Center along a driveway separating the office building from the parking deck.
One of Ms. Pearce’s friends mentioned in an interview that she would not have been at all concerned about Ms. Pearce leaving on her own, because the area is considered safe. Although a gunshot had been heard in the area, the victim’s friends had no fear that their friend had been shot and killed. The victim’s family apparently was told by authorities that their daughter was murdered in the course of a robbery. But initially, the police did not provide any details about this case concerning whether there was a potential motive by someone who knew the victim or whether this was a random crime. A reward fund was started by Crimestoppers to encourage potential witnesses to speak out.
The victim’s good friends said that she was not only a wonderful and talented stylist and nursing student, but also that Ms. Pearce had no apparent enemies. Often, police begin murder investigations with a person’s friends and family to determine whether anyone would have a motive to harm her. Apparently, however, some of Ms. Pearce’s belongings such as her wallet were missing, indicating some type of robbery occurred. A suspect is now under arrest in connection with the murder, his name is Aeman Presley. Presley was already in custody in Fulton County for other charges after attempting to enter a MARTA station with no ticket.
When they stopped him at the MARTA, police found a distinctive handgun in his possession. As a convicted felon, Presley was not permitted to carry a gun; and as noted he was carrying a gun when arrested by MARTA police. Apparently, reports indicate that he admitted to the murder of Ms. Pearce and answered questions by the police that only the murderer would know. The initial charges against the suspect included the murders of two homeless men and Ms. Pearce. More charges, including other murders may follow. While there is some relief in this arrest, the lead up to the arrest warrant was disconcerting to residents, family and friends.
Could the murder have been prevented and could Mr. Presley have been captured sooner? Surveillance and security cameras are seemingly everywhere, but they weren’t on the property at which Ms. Pearce was murdered. I walked through Decatur last week, and the scene of the murder in particular, and I did not see any cameras either on the structure or the adjacent parking deck. According to reports, the property manager of the building confirmed that there were no outdoor security cameras on the premises. This seems odd because one of the most prominent tenants in this building is a bank.
Moreover, the city of Decatur has had video security cameras in this area, but they were not working at the time of Ms. Pearce’s murder, according to City Manager Peggy Merriss. I asked Ms. Merriss whether the city operated its own security cameras generally. She replied in an email that the city did not have them in the area of the murder, which was one block off the main square of the city. She stated that there were four cameras that recorded areas in the main city square, but they were not operational on the date of the murder and the outside company that operated the cameras was out of business. It is not clear whether the cameras are still there and were not working or whether they had been removed.
At a time when security camera monitoring is ubiquitous in cities as a “force multiplier” for police, it is extremely unusual that Decatur does not have any operational security cameras in the entire city. While there may be libertarian concerns about surveillance generally, the question regarding expectations of privacy with respect to surveillance on city streets has been largely answered. It is not a violation of constitutional rights. The city of Decatur seemed to confirm this view by affixing the cameras in the first place. Hopefully, Decatur can get them working, particularly with the amount of street crime that happens within the city limits.
In my next post, I will address this issue with additional detail and discuss the potential liability of a property owner for crimes committed on his or her property.
As always, if you have a legal issue that needs evaluation, please feel free to contact Scholle Law for a free consultation.