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The land comprising the city of Atlanta was once a Native American village called Standing Peachtree. The land that became the Atlanta area was sold by the Cherokee and Creeks to white settlers in 1822, with the first area settlement being Decatur.

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Atlanta spent thousands to fight claims by 5 injured cops

Atlanta legal records show the city has spent more than $171,100 in the past five years fighting the medical claims of five severely injured police officers, claims that were almost always ultimately paid.

The officers — four in wheelchairs, one brain-damaged — say the city has systematically challenged and delayed services and treatments they need to survive, especially over the past two years.

When they decide to fight something, the cost is irrelevant,” said Ryan Phinney, a 43-year-old paraplegic who was injured when his squad car was T-boned in 1989.

The officers have complained that the city — through the workers’ compensation administrator it has hired — fights and delays claims until just before the two sides are to appear in workers’ compensation court. Then they are settled.

Phinney said this occurred again this week when the city agreed to pay about $44,000 to make his home handicapped accessible and $6,000 in home health-care costs. The case was due to go to court Tuesday, but the city agreed Monday to pay, he and his attorney said.

Records show the city spent $69,608 on legal fees since March 2007 fighting claims made by Phinney. He said three years of legal bills going back to 2004 were missing. Those records were not made available by the city. It is not clear what is the monetary total of the officers’ claims.

The other four injured officers are: J.J. Biello, a quadriplegic since 1987 when he was shot in a restaurant robbery; retired detective Bob Buffington, shot in the spine in 1977; retired officer Pat Cocciolone, shot point-blank in the head by a man who killed her partner; and Detective Richard Williams, paralyzed 22 years ago when he was shot in the back. Williams still works for Atlanta police in the school system.

The city records were reviewed by police Sgt. Scott Kreher, local president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, who obtained them Tuesday through the state’s Open Records Act. The IBPO made a video about the injured officers’ cases and posted it on its Web site.
Kreher said he was befuddled by the seven-inch stack of the legal invoices he obtained. “It costs thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars to fight these and then the city pays” the claims, he said. “I’m not aware that the city has won a case.”

John Sweet, a lawyer who represents four of the officers, said he cannot remember the city ultimately prevailing in any of these cases. He said the city must balance projecting a hard line to ward off unwarranted cases and agreeing to pay when it should.“The [city’s] style of chronic denial, which you have seen lately, makes you wonder if that judgment was well executed,” he said.

City officials did not respond to e-mails or phone calls for comment on the legal bills.
Kreher, who went through the records at the city’s legal office Tuesday, is on his third week of paid suspension from the force after saying at a city council hearing that “I want to beat [Mayor Shirley Franklin] in the head with a baseball bat sometimes” because of the city’s treatment of the officers.

Kreher later said he was frustrated and apologized for the statement. He was ordered to take a psychological exam, which he said took 15 minutes and declared him fit for duty. He said he has not heard from his supervisors about what happens next. Mayor Franklin said she felt threatened by the remark and said she would ask state and federal officials to see if any charges were warranted.

The Fulton County district attorney’s office could not be reached for comment Tuesday; the U.S Attorney’s spokesman said the office does not comment even if it receives complaints.
The IBPO has said that Franklin’s statement was a ploy to draw attention away from the disabled officers. A union official brought up a statement Franklin made in 2002 regarding bad publicity caused by her ex-husband, then a contractor at the airport.

“Do I talk to David Franklin? Yes,” she said then. “Do I know him? Yes. [But] I’m clearly on record that for my political career, I’d have been better off to shoot him than to divorce him.”

On Tuesday, Franklin said her comment and Kreher’s were in no way alike.“I didn’t propose shooting him but rather the campaign rumors and harassment about my relationship with David as a friend and father of our three children suggested to me that people expected me to shoot him,” she said in an e-mail.

“I never suggested that I would or was angry enough with him to shoot or harm him.”

Source: AJC

Report lists Atlanta second least safe city in U.S.

Atlanta is the nation’s second least safe city, according to an independent analysis of FBI crime statistics that’s been disputed by some experts.

The ranking, compiled by the Web site Real Clear Politics, was derived by dividing the total crimes detailed in the FBI’s report by city population. Atlanta’s per-capita crime rate measured at 16 percent.

“Determining whether a city is safe or not is not as easy as that,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which has representatives from law enforcement agencies nationwide.“That’s a very simplistic approach.”

The annual FBI statistics, released last week, have been a mixed bag for Atlanta. The positive: Violent crime decreased 8.3 percent in 2008 compared with 2007, with 672 fewer such incidents.

Property crimes, however, rose 7.6 percent in Atlanta; nationwide, a 1.6 percent decrease was reported — the first time property crime fell since 2003. Burglaries and larcenies were both on the rise locally, the FBI said.

Whether perception or reality, crime has become a major concern for Atlantans, and it’s emerged as the leading issue in the upcoming mayoral election. “That’s certainly what a lot of Atlantans I’ve talked to have felt,” said Kyle Keyser, director and co-founder of Atlantans Together Against Crime. “They feel like it’s dangerous, regardless of what neighborhood you live in.”

After Memphis, with an 18 percent crime rate, Atlanta, San Antonio, Detroit and Milwaukee ranked as America’s least safe cities, according to the Real Clear Politics analysis.

The safest? New York City, with a per-capita crime rate hovering at 4.2 percent. The rest of the list, in order: San Jose, Calif.; Los Angeles; San Diego; El Paso, Texas; Honolulu; Denver; Boston; Las Vegas; and Louisville, Ky., which has a 10 percent per-capita crime rate.

But even among those cities, some have questioned the rankings.“Until those numbers come back to us from 2008, we know we have a decrease in the number of crimes in El Paso,” said El Paso Police Department spokesman Daniel Petry, in an interview with KFOX-TV. “Just to what extent, we won’t know until we get that back.”

On its official Web site, the FBI cautions against using its stats to compare which cities are safe or not.The head of Atlanta’s Police Foundation said he’s more worried about future results.
The city had 1,784 officers in 2008 — “the most officers we ever had,” said David Wilkinson, president and CEO of the APF. “That is why the city had a good year last year with crime statistics. Since that time, with budget cuts and police furloughs, we’re in a very dangerous situation right now.”

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Police Chief Richard Pennington could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Source: AJC

Piedmont Park stabbing victim’s SUV found

Police have found the missing SUV belonging to a man fatally stabbed in Piedmont Park early Thursday morning, but still haven’t determined a motive.

Patrick Boland, 43, was stabbed in the chest near the park’s lake, Atlanta police Lt. Keith Meadows said.


Police said early Friday that they Boland’s white Toyota Sequoia was missing from his home, and thought locating it might lead to suspects.

The vehicle was recovered Friday night, police spokesman Eric Schwartz said Saturday just after Midnight.

While the murder was originally attributed to a robbery, investigators are now looking into the possibility that the victim was killed while cruising for sex.

The lake is a “widely known cruising area,” according to Atlanta Police spokesman Otis Redmond.

No suspects have been named, and police haven’t linked the stabbing to another that occurred 15 minutes later at Juniper and 6th streets, a few blocks south of Piedmont Park.

“We haven’t ruled out that they could have been the victims of the same person,” Meadows said. That man was hospitalized with wounds not believed to be life-threatening.'According to an e-mail sent by an Atlanta police major to a Midtown community activist, homicide detectives interviewed a a person found with “blood stains and injuries [Thursday] morning in Midtown.”

“This morning’s homicide, at Piedmont Park, is ‘likely’ to be ‘male-hustling’ related,” Maj. Khirus Williams wrote in the e-mail, obtained by Southern Voice. Police say they will be stepped up
patrols within the park, which is closed after 11 p.m.

Park visitors said they were disturbed by news of the stabbing.

“I wouldn’t walk through here at dark by myself,” said longtime Midtown resident Ken Bieber, who was sitting lake side with a friend Thursday evening.

Andrew Manley, who also lives close to the park, said he rarely sees cops in the area, though the park is patrolled by security officers.

“To our knowledge, in the last 20 years the [Piedmont Park] Conservancy has operated, no one has ever been murdered inside the park,” Conservancy president and CEO Yvette Bowden said in a statement.

Although Atlanta police records indicate a decrease in crime in the city, Midtown residents have mixed feelings.

“We’re feeling very comfortable with public safety issues in Midtown,” said Midtown Alliance CEO Susan Mendheim.

She credited partnerships with police and private security firm Midtown Blue.

But Randall Cobb, chair of the Midtown Neighbors Association’s safety committee, challenged the city’s assertion that crime is down.

“Crime has not gone down in the city, no matter what the city says they’re doing,” noting a spike in Midtown break-ins and armed robberies since 2007.

“It’s organized crime,” he said. “These are not crackheads looking for a quick turnaround. These guys are moving into a neighborhood and hitting it with everything they have.”

Source: AJC.

Tax assessments drop in five major counties

There’s no question tax assessors across metro Atlanta have reacted to the continuing real estate collapse. When Fulton County mails out notices June 5, the five major counties will have dropped values for more than 350,000 parcels.

The question taxpayers must now decide is, “Have they gone far enough?”

That’s the central issue in a lawsuit filed last week challenging DeKalb County’s efforts to set 2009 values. The county sent out about 30,000 bills in April, less than half reductions.
Officials admitted they did not include foreclosures in their calculations even though a new state law mandated their consideration. They also raised values for some parcels even though a different state law froze values for three years.

So, last week they redid their calculations and sent out 95,000 notices, this time following the dictates of both new state laws. Hank Ruffin, DeKalb’s interim chief appraiser, said at least 40,000 properties will fall by more than 25 percent.Still, local lawyer John Woodham filed a lawsuit challenging 2009 taxable values for DeKalb County.

“There’s no way they could have done all that work in three weeks,” said Woodham. “They say the tax digest went down 4 percent. It’s probably at least 12 percent. I don’t think that’s a reasonable number.”John O’Callaghan, CEO of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, agreed. His local nonprofit did a study earlier this year of values in high-foreclosure neighborhoods across the five major metro counties and found the sales prices were often a fraction of their tax appraisals.

The study found median sales prices in three high-foreclosure ZIP codes in south DeKalb were on average 57 percent of the tax appraisal. The same study found ZIP codes in Clayton and Fulton where median sales prices were half or less of the median taxable values. Two Fulton ZIP codes had median sales prices in the $20,000 range but median tax values five times as high.
“It’s seems unlikely you’ll see values set at the levels they should be,” O’Callaghan said.
The continuing real estate crisis certainly has sent assessors scrambling to catch up and understand.

Sales volumes are dramatically down. Foreclosures and increasing rapidly. Distressed sales are becoming the market in many places. For many values are falling. Some pockets are holding their own.Assessors say all those factors make setting 2009 values extraordinarily difficult. The system of mass appraisal, assessors agree, is designed to make gradual changes year to year and struggles during times of dramatic, swift change. Normally, prices go up each year, allowing assessors to follow a consistent pattern.

But this year, few of the normal patterns hold true. Values in some places values have collapsed under the weight of foreclosures and distressed sales. A computer search for metro Atlanta Friday returned 177 properties for sale at $10,000 or less.

“It really throws several monkey wrenches in the way we normally do things,” Burt Manning, chief appraiser for Fulton. “With some of these low-priced sales, we don’t know has the plumbing been ripped out. Is the air conditioner gone. That’s why we are truly struggling with how low do we go.”

Fulton expects to be the next major metro county to send out revaluations. Plans are to mail about 105,000 notices on June 5. About 95,000 will lower values, Manning said. Still, Manning said he expects to get complaints that he hasn’t gone far enough. He agreed the department isn’t likely to value homes across wide parts of south and west Atlanta in the $20,000 to $30,000 range.

Property owners who feel their values are still too high have the right to appeal, as long as they got a revaluation notice this year.But even appeals have a new twist this year as well — an optional appeal system using binding arbitration rather than an appearance before a Board of Equalization. With the tax system in so much turmoil, assessors say they have no way to predict how many folks will accept their lower values or choose to contest them or choose arbitration versus the traditional system.

In Clayton, where appeals must be filed by June 8, the county’s already taken in 1,800 appeals. However, that’s against 70,000 notices. Clayton lowered the values on nearly 80 percent of its parcels, the most in metro Atlanta. Rodney McDaniel, chief appraiser in Clayton, said normally the county gets a last-minute flood of appeals, but this year he’s uncertain what will happen next. Woodham, though, said the actions by assessors should be simple and clear. If sales are consistently in the $20,000 range, then tax values should match those numbers.
“It’s a new world,” Woodham said. “I don’t think they hesitated to raise values the last five years. Their state mandated duty requires these movements downward.”

Source: AJC

Cops seriously hurt on job say city stonewalls aid

They were drawn together, five broken Atlanta cops, in a shared sense of futility and anger. Four are in wheelchairs. One is brain-damaged. All say the city has brutalized them for the past two years by systematically challenging and delaying services and treatments they need to survive.

The five went public last week with explosive charges that the city workers’ compensation system has questioned the need for oxygen, delayed the repairs of a wheelchair leading to broken bones, cut off vital drugs and caused a surgery delay that ended up causing bedsore-like infections.

The charges were contained in a video produced and distributed on the Internet by the International Brotherhood of Police Officers. The former officers say a cash-strapped bureaucracy is fighting every minor treatment and employing a callous actuarial system: “The only way it makes sense is they want me to die so they’ll save money,” Ryan Phinney, a 43-year-old paraplegic who was injured when his squad car was T-boned in 1989, said in an interview last week. “I know that sounds irrational,” he added.

It’s an emotional issue. Sgt. Scott Kreher, the Atlanta police union leader who oversaw the shooting of the video, was so frustrated that at a City Council hearing last week he said he’d like to whack Mayor Shirley Franklin with a baseball bat. He later apologized but stuck by his stand that something is rotten at City Hall.

Franklin’s office called Kreher’s comment “reprehensible” but hasn’t addressed the issues raised in the video.On Thursday, a city attorney said he was reviewing questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution but did not respond with answers. City officials say ongoing litigation and privacy concerns about medical records prevent much disclosure.

“The City is committed to working with the officers’ attorneys to address their workers compensation benefit concerns,” Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Greg Giornelli said in a statement. “We are mindful of their right to privacy and will respectfully continue to speak with their attorneys about their care.”

That’s just the point, said J.J. Biello, who has been a quadriplegic since 1987 when a gunman in a restaurant robbery straddled the officer’s wounded body and pumped a bullet into his neck, severing his spinal cord.“For 20 years I never had an attorney” in dealing with the city for medical services, he said. “Now, they won’t even speak to you unless you have an attorney and then it’s their attorney talking to yours.”

Biello said his leg was broken in January when his foot slipped off his electric wheelchair and two brittle bones snapped when his foot caught on a door jamb. Biello said he had tried for six months to get the city to fix the leg rest.The 58-year-old former detective wants to set the record straight: “I’m not a crybaby. I just want what is right. It’s not that this life isn’t hard enough the way it is.”

Joining Phinney and Biello in the campaign are retired detective Bob Buffington, who was shot in the spine in 1977 and now uses a wheelchair; retired officer Pat Cocciolone, who was shot point-blank in the head by a man who killed her partner; and Detective Richard Williams, who was paralyzed 22 years ago when he was shot in the back. Williams, bound to a wheelchair, still works for Atlanta police in the school system.

They are said to be the city’s most catastrophically injured police officers. But they aren’t necessarily friends and didn’t really know each other all that well until recently, Biello said. They live in far-flung areas — Lawrenceville, Norcross, Woodstock, Monroe County — and suffered alone through their travails until former Deputy Chief Lou Arcangeli connected the dots.
Arcangeli, who sat on the police pension board, started hearing random complaints about how the city was dealing with their medical concerns.

“These cops say it was malicious, it was angry, it was take-us-to-court. It was like the city lost its way,” said Arcangeli, who was once demoted for blowing the whistle on the department under-reporting crime.

He got the cops talking to each other and combined their concerns in a letter he wrote to the city March 6, complaining about their treatment.“This pattern of abuse causes me to raise the question of whether this is due to incompetence, malice, deliberate indifference or a counterproductive attempt … to save money,” Arcangeli wrote.

Chief Financial Officer James Glass, in a letter responding to Arcangeli, admitted workers’ comp “can be a complex and frustrating system.” He said the city’s actions “should not be viewed as intentional acts of abuse or harassment, as they are simply an unfortunate by-product of the process.”

Learning about the other officers’ troubles helps in their effort to get changes, Phinney said.
“The city has a vested interest in keeping us apart,” he said. “It’s almost impossible for a simple employee acting alone to get anything done.”

The officers aim much of their anger toward Atlanta workers’ compensation administrator Michele Walker, who came to the city three years ago, and San Diego-based NovaPro Risk Solutions, which has administered the city’s workers’ comp system since 2004.
Reached by telephone, Walker referred questions to the mayor’s office and a NovaPro official said the company would respond later. It did not.

Before NovaPro was hired, the city operated a system that was disorganized and often did not properly investigate cases, said an attorney and a city official familiar with the system. They did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.Atlanta officials did not respond to requests to show if NovaPro has saved the city money in its efforts or if it has gotten more aggressive in questioning medical treatments and procedures.

The City Council this month, apparently without debate according to city records, approved a three-year contract extension for NovaPro worth almost $3.7 million over the life of the contract.Jeff Warncke, who represents Cocciolone, said he was surprised to hear that. “The city is aware a lot of claimants are dissatisfied,” he said, adding there has been a “sea change in how the city is handling cases. There is a real ratcheting up of requests for documentation of [medical] care, some that has gone on for 10 years.”

But, he said, the effort may actually be costing the city more. He said getting second and third medical opinions and then frequently defending its decisions in court has increased the city’s costs.“When you start cutting back services in these catastrophic cases, it’s unbelievable the amount of suffering that is inflicted,” Warncke said.

For instance, Ryan Phinney needed his Achilles tendons severed. His doctor ordered the surgery for the paraplegic because the tendons were tightening up, causing his feet to slip off the wheelchair foot rests. It’s a fairly common problem with paraplegics and the surgical solution is a last-resort treatment used when all other methods had been exhausted. All had, Phinney said.
But the city ordered a second opinion, he said. That doctor also agreed the surgery was necessary. Still, the city fought, pushing it to administrative court.

Four months later, just days before the hearing, the city approved the procedure. But during that period, Phinney said he developed two pressure sores on his leg caused by the tendon problems.Asking for extensions in administrative court further delays the matter and then dropping the cases just before it gets to court means the city never establishes a pattern of conduct before the judges, said Sgt. Kreher, the union leader. “The thing is, at the end of the day, they [the city] end up paying the claims — and these attorneys,” he said.

But the court hasn’t seen a wave of requests for hearings stemming from Atlanta’s workers’ comp cases, said Judge Carolyn Hall, chair of the state workers’ compensation board. A check of the court’s records Friday showed just “a handful more” requests for hearings in 2008 compared to 2005, she said.

Still, Cocciolone says the city has become more difficult in their dealings. In December, Cocciolone went to pick up a prescription to control the migraine headaches she has suffered since she was shot. The pharmacist, she said, told her the city would not authorize payment for the refill.

She said she was a week without pills, triggering severe headaches that she sometimes still suffers.Cocciolone said she was victimized by a crazed AR-15-toting gunman who ambushed her and partner Rick Sowa. He died in the attack.“Now the city of Atlanta is burning me again. How can they do that to someone who is putting their life on …” She pauses. “What’s the word?”
At first, Cocciolone worried that going public with complaints might cause even more delays and challenges for the five.

“It could hurt us, who knows what they’ll do,” she said. “I’m hoping they’ll be too embarrassed to do anything worse.”Biello doesn’t know about that.“It’s hard to embarrass the city of Atlanta,” he said.

Source: AJC

Smash-and-grab burglars hit 2 stores

Smash-and-grab burglars struck an east Atlanta vision center for the third time in a month early Wednesday in a heist that police said could be connected to another retail burglary an hour later at Atlantic Station.

In the first burglary, thieves made off with an estimated $50,000 in designer eyeglass frames from Atlanta Vision Optical on Caroline Street, store owner Ghazal Sabeti Tabrizipour said.

Tabrizipour, who opened the store in Moreland Avenue’s Edgewood Retail District a year ago Wednesday, said she lost a similar amount of merchandise in each of the two previous burglaries.
She said four suspects, their heads covered and wearing gloves, smashed through the front door just before 5 a.m. Wednesday, then shattered the glass display cases — same as in the two earlier heists.
“It’s the same guys every time, in a gray van parked in front of the store,” Tabrizipour said.
“They come in and smash all the glass,” she said. “They know exactly what to go for.”
Tabrizipour said the stolen eyeglass frames retail for $200 to nearly $400 a pair.

Last May, smash-and-grab burglars hit the Pearle Vision store on Lenox Road in Buckhead, making off with about $150,000 in designer eye wear.Atlanta police are also investigating a smash-and-grab at Dillard’s Department Store in Atlantic Station. A large display window was shattered and purses were scattered on the floor inside the store. Atlanta police spokesman James Polite said one suspect was taken into custody after that burglary, which happened about 6 a.m.

Tamarkus Thomas, 18, was charged with burglary, criminal damage to property and giving false information.Police were also looking for a gray van in connection with the Atlantic Station incident.Asked if the two Wednesday morning burglaries are related, Polite said, “We have strong reason to believe so.”

Source: AJC
 
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