2020 has certainly been an unusual year. On Friday, March 13th, in the face of a impending pandemic, I sent out a message to my staff that we were going to be working remotely for a short time. What I thought might be two weeks, turned into 42…and counting. Who could have imagined?!

This year has been filled with ups and downs. It’s been filled with losses and sickness. But it’s also been filled with hope and innovation. During these 42 weeks, my staff and our criminal justice partners have risen to the occasion and continued working tirelessly for our victims and the citizens of DeKalb.

We have engaged via video conferencing and in-person social distancing manners to conduct hearings and perform other important and mandatory legal functions. We are still receiving cases from our partnering law enforcement agencies, which continue to make arrests as necessary and appropriate.

We hosted our 10th Annual Domestic Violence Symposium virtually, and brought attention to this growing pandemic within a pandemic. Six young adults graduated from our inaugural pretrial diversion program, STRIDE. And in November, after months of preparation, we were among the first judicial circuits in the state to resume Grand Jury proceedings with a new virtual selection process and socially distant procedures.

These are just a few of our successes this year, and I’m incredibly proud of the work my team has done during this time to continue moving justice forward within the constraints of the pandemic. It is still unclear what the long-term impact on our operational structure will be as a result of this health crisis, but we remain flexible in our ability to adjust our operations model as necessary, as we work through our current circumstances and prepare for what lies ahead.

Finally, as we close out this year, I’m looking ahead to the next four years. I pen this letter on the heels of having been sworn-in for my second term as your elected District Attorney. Thank you for entrusting me with this role and this work on your behalf. It is indeed my honor and my privilege to serve!

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay distant.

District Attorney
Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit
The Dawning of a New DAy
On December 29th, 2020, District Attorney Boston was sworn-in for her second term as DeKalb County District Attorney. She ran unopposed in the May primary and was re-elected by DeKalb voters in the November General Election. Her four-year term of office begins in January 2021.

Boston’s inaugural term focused, in part, on fulfilling her campaign promise of ushering in a new DAy for the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office with an emphasis on transparency, honesty, integrity and accountability.

“A new DAy has dawned,” said DA Boston. “And now, we have the opportunity and the obligation to move beyond that – to rise up and be leaders in prosecution. We have set the bar high and I hope to continue pushing the bar higher and higher with everything that we do in this office. There’s much more work to be done.”

Upon taking the reigns as District Attorney in 2017, Ms. Boston assembled a diverse and highly experienced leadership team to assist with restructuring and redefining prosecution processes to include the development of new units and the consolidation of others. The Office also increased its capacity to serve victims with an expanded victim services unit.

Through her work with the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution and the Fair and Just Prosecution initiative, DA Boston has also become an integral part of the national dialogue on criminal justice reform and innovative prosecution strategies specific to juvenile justice, reentry, and accountability initiatives.

Under her leadership, the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office was selected by the Vera Institute of Justice to participate in its Reshaping Prosecution program, a national initiative focused on criminal justice reform. The Office is one of three partner sites across the country that will work with Vera to examine systemic racism in the criminal justice system and implement change.

“After a year in which we’ve not only seen a pandemic, but a call to action in the area of social unrest and racial injustice, the world is realizing that we can’t turn a blind eye anymore to the atrocities that have existed in our criminal justice system. I look forward to drawing more attention to this area of importance.”

Boston also hopes to expand community and law enforcement collaborations and increase awareness related to issues such as family and dating violence and human trafficking. She’ll also work to implement work efficiencies in a post-COVID environment.

“Thank you to the citizens of DeKalb for electing me to serve as your District Attorney,” said Boston. “I’m working for you every day, striving to make thorough and fair decisions. I recognize the enormity of what has been placed upon me, and I also recognize that I have the ability to make a difference in our community. I love that I get to wake up every day and know that what I’m doing is serving people. Thank you to the people of DeKalb for giving me this chance.”
Photos above: DA Boston was sworn in for her second term by Judge Bedelia C Hargrove with her family by her side on December 29th, 2020.
Moving Criminal Justice Forward During COVID-19
Grand Jury Proceedings Resume in DeKalb County
In November, after being suspended for more than seven months due to state and county judicial orders, Grand Jury proceedings safely resumed in the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit. DA Boston’s team worked for months to develop new processes that would allow the criminal justice process to move forward, while prioritizing the safety and security of potential grand jurors, witnesses, staff, and members of the judiciary.

“I am so pleased that we, along with our Courthouse partners, have been able to resume Grand Jury operations,” said DA Boston. “Our goal is to keep our staff and grand jurors as safe as possible while also resuming a critical step in our criminal justice process. Defendants, victims and the community alike need our process to be working, and resuming Grand Jury is a necessary step in cases moving forward.”

DA Boston’s team, with assistance from DeKalb County IT, Superior Court and Jury Management, has made provisions to allow prospective grand jurors to appear virtually for the selection process. Traditional in-person selection is still in place in a socially-distanced manner for those who prefer not to appear virtually. Once grand jurors are selected and impaneled, proceedings take place in a new location that allows grand jurors to sit at individual tables spaced six feet apart. Health screenings and masks are required.

Grand juror selection for the November/December term occurred in early November, and a Grand Jury was impaneled on November 9th, 2020. The new process allows for the selection of two complete panels of grand jurors, as opposed to one. If an exposure occurs, the second panel may step in with minimal interruption to overall Grand Jury operation.

Preliminary Hearings will resume in January 2021 and will be held virtually via Zoom. Jury trials remain on hold.

*As of this publication, Grand Jury proceedings are suspended for the January/February term due to ongoing public health and safety concerns regarding COVID-19.
Georgia Supreme Court Rules Video Footage in Elder Abuse Case Can Be Used at Trial
The Supreme Court of Georgia has ruled that video footage captured from a concealed camera in a nursing home patient’s room is admissible at trial, clearing the way for a DeKalb County case to move forward. The unanimous opinion by the high court in Nuckles v. The State, affirms a similar decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals after a DeKalb County judge denied a defense motion to suppress the recording at trial. The District Attorney’s Appellate Division successfully argued the State’s position at each judicial level.

“While we cannot comment on the specific pending matter, we are pleased that the Georgia Supreme Court has affirmed the fundamental right of elder persons and their families to protect their private spaces and belongings,” said DA Boston. In particular, this is a victory for all families who must make the difficult decision to entrust the care of their loved ones to long-term care facilities.”

Wanda Nuckles, a former licensed practical nurse (LPN) is one of three people indicted in connection with the death of a patient at a Brookhaven nursing home. Loyce Pickquet Agyeman, also a former LPN, is charged with Felony Murder and Neglect to an Elder Person. Nuckles is charged with Depriving an Elder Person of Essential Services, while Mable Turman, a certified nurse assistant, is charged with Neglect to an Elder Person. All three women were also indicted on a single count of Concealing the Death of Another in the five-count indictment.

The charges against the women stem from the February 27, 2014 death of 89-year-old James Dempsey, a patient in their care at Northeast Atlanta Rehabilitation Center in Brookhaven. The video recordings show Mr. Dempsey in respiratory distress and repeatedly calling out for help. Soon after his distress calls, the victim became unresponsive. The indictment alleges the Defendants, in varying degrees, failed to provide timely and necessary medical assistance to Mr. Dempsey, who was pronounced dead when paramedics arrived at the scene.

The video surveillance of the incident was made public in November 2017 following a civil lawsuit, prompting a joint investigation between law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office.

The case will be prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Elder Abuse and Exploitation Unit. A trial date has not been set.
Pre-Charging Unit Skillfully Navigates Unchartered Waters
In 2019, DA Boston created a Pre-Charging Unit (PCU), led by Deputy Chief ADA Kelly McMichael. The establishment of this Unit allows the DA’s Office to intervene in cases and make assessments at an early stage. Early intervention creates the ability to move low-level cases through the system quickly and make referrals to diversion and treatment programs, reducing the jail population and preventing incarceration when it is not necessary.

Due to strong leadership from McMichael, as well as Supervising Investigator Mike Bednarz, the Unit went from inception to high performance in just a matter of months. This year, PCU has processed nearly 4,500 cases that have come into the DA’s office. The team handles First Appearance Hearings at the DeKalb County Jail, ensuring that both the State and the Defendant are represented at these hearings. Investigators identify and collect pertinent, time-sensitive evidence within the first few days of an arrest, ensuring that evidence is not lost. The work of PCU investigators allows investigators from the specific units to focus on other items needed to make final charging decisions.

When the pandemic struck and the office switched to working remotely, PCU did not miss a beat. The office closed on March 13th, and the very next day PCU continued their essential court services by conducting First Appearance Hearings. They have continued without interruption, navigating a case intake system that has gone largely virtual ensuring that their coworkers have access to critical information on new cases as quickly as possible.

PCU also oversaw the successful resumption of Grand Jury proceedings that has allowed the DA’s Office to begin moving cases through the system again.

DA Boston awarded the PCU team her 2020 “Unit of the Year Award” for these accomplishments.
Top Honors for DeKalb DA Investigator
In October, Supervising Investigator Mike Bednarz was recognized as Investigator of the Year: Division III by the District Attorneys’ Association of Georgia. Bednarz was recognized both for his case work over the last year as well as for his leadership and development of the investigative staff in the Pre-Charging Unit (PCU). Bednarz serves as the Supervising Investigator over PCU and is a key member of the training staff. He has spent 22 years in law enforcement, with the last 17 devoted to the citizens of DeKalb County.

Visit the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia website to view video presentations for all of the honorees.
Passage of SB 477 Aims to Stop Unintended Arrests of Family Violence Victims
In August, Investigator Jennifer Waindle participated in Governor Kemp’s signing ceremony for SB 477. Through her participation in the Georgia Women's Policy Institute (GWPI), Waindle was instrumental in the creation and passage of this bill that aims to stop the unintended arrest of family violence victims.

Waindle’s passion for public safety and protecting victims of domestic violence was evident as she led her team of GWPI fellows through the process of writing the bill, finding sponsors, and ushering the bill through the legislature during the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Georgia code currently states that officers investigating family violence incidents should arrest the "primary physical aggressor," which can be interpreted to mean the person who acted first. The same code section requires officers to arrest the person who poses the most serious, ongoing threat. The conflicting wording can lead to the arrest of victims, or both the abuser and the victim.
Left to right: Elisa Covarrubias, COO, liveSAFE Resources; Niki Lemeshka, Program Manager, Georgia Commission on Family Violence; Senator Dr. Kay Kirkpatrick; Governor Brian Kemp; Representative Bonnie Rich; Investigator Jennifer Waindle, Office of the DeKalb County District Attorney; and Major Jay Eisner, DeKalb County Police Department.
These unintended arrests of victims can result in loss of employment, housing and child custody, and can discourage them from contacting the police again in the future. This crucial bill, which goes into effect on January 1st, 2021, revises the wording in Georgia code from “primary physical aggressor” to “predominant aggressor.”

The following agencies supported the legislation during the process: YWCA of Greater Atlanta; GA Commission on Family Violence (GCFV); Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence; and Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia.
First Class Graduates from Inaugural Diversion Program
In October, DA Boston announced the graduation of six young adults from her inaugural STRIDE pretrial diversion program. STRIDE, which stands for Stopping Trends of Repeat Incarceration with Diversion and Education, is a voluntary diversion program that holds young adults, 17-24, who reside in DeKalb County accountable for serious non-violent crimes they have committed, while also ensuring their civic and career opportunities remain intact.

Participants pledge to remain crime-free and are required to complete a 12-month program that provides them with skills to form healthy relationships and contribute to the prosperity of their family and community. Participants also take measures to reconcile for former bad acts and forgive themselves, as well as learn strategies to make better choices in the future.

In exchange for successfully completing the program, participant’s charges are dismissed. A ceremony for graduating participants took place virtually and featured a keynote address from DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond.

STRIDE partners include RED, WorkSource DeKalb and American Alternative Court Services.
Left to right, top to bottom: DA Boston; DeKalb County CEO Michael L. Thurmond; Lisa Moultrie, Deputy Chief ADA, Diversion & Community Alternatives Programs, DA's Office; David Windecher, CEO and Founder, RED; Issac Howard, Senior ADA, Diversion & Community Alternatives Programs, DA's Office; Theresa Austin-Gibbons, Director, WorkSource DeKalb.

*To protect their privacy, STRIDE program 
participants are not pictured.*
DA Boston Hosts Second Virtual Town Hall
In July, DA Boston hosted her second DA Dialogue, a virtual town hall, moderated by Veronica Waters of WSB Radio.

This important and timely conversation about criminal justice, law enforcement, and community engagement included: Chief Mirtha Ramos, DeKalb County Police Department; Chief Billy Grogan, Dunwoody Police Department; Mawuli Davis, Civil Rights Attorney and Community Organizer; and Marissa McCall Dodson, Public Policy Director for the Southern Center for Human Rights.
Left to right, top to bottom: Veronica Waters, DA Boston, Chief Mirtha Ramos, 
Chief Billy Grogan, Mawuli Davis and Marissa McCall Dodson.
10th Annual Domestic Violence Program Focuses on Survival
In October, DA Boston hosted her 10th annual DV program, Building Bridges, Making Connections: Stories of Survival. The public event, which coincided with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, was a virtual fireside chat highlighting powerful stories of survival from some of the most memorable keynote speakers from years past. Guest speakers included: April Ross, Executive Director, Georgia Commission on Family Violence; Tamiko Lowry-Pugh, President, Still Standing Foundation, Inc.; and Partrounar Bryant-James, Domestic Violence Advocate.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. In 2019, there were 166 domestic violence-related deaths in Georgia.
Left to right, top to bottom: DA Boston, 
April Ross, Partrounar Bryant-James 
and Tamiko Lowry-Pugh.
“We are experiencing a pandemic within a pandemic with escalating incidents of domestic violence during a particularly vulnerable time for victims given the constraints associated with this health crisis,” said DA Boston. “This program is an opportunity to build awareness about the devastating impact of domestic violence, provide education on some of the signs we can all watch for, and spread a message of hope to victims and survivors.”

Supporting Partners & Raising Awareness
6th Annual Love Run 5K Goes Virtual
Registration is now open for the 6th Annual Love Run 5K in commemoration of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. To keep everyone safe and healthy, the event is going VIRTUAL with a fun twist! Take to the streets, the pool, or the exercise equipment of your choice to log your 3.1 miles between February 14th and February 28th, 2021 for the renamed Love Run, Walk & Roll 5K.

Registration is discounted for groups of 10 or more! All registrants will be mailed a signature long-sleeve shirt and race medal for their participation.

Love Run proceeds will benefit the important work of Women's Resource Center to End Domestic Violence. Since its inception, the Love Run has raised more than $35,000 for WRC. Let’s keep the momentum going in 2021!

Register today to take advantage of our Early Bird rate (ends 12/31/2020) and group discount.
Fond Farewell
We end the year with a few notable and bittersweet farewells.

In a virtual retirement ceremony in mid-December, DA Boston recognized Chief Alan Traylor for 30 years of dedicated service to DeKalb County. Chief Traylor began his career with the DeKalb County Police Department, serving as a police officer and later detective. He would then work as an Investigator and Deputy Chief Investigator for the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office before being selected as Chief Investigator for the then newly-appointed DeKalb Solicitor-General, Sherry Boston. Traylor would later return to the District Attorney’s Office as Chief Investigator in 2017 under DA Boston’s leadership.

DA Investigator Kim Tesalona is retiring from DeKalb County after 20 years of service. Prior to her tenure with DeKalb, Tesalona worked with the Decatur Police Department for ten years. She would later join the County as an Investigator with 20 years combined service in the Solicitor-General and District Attorney’s Office using her talents and skills to assist in the prosecution of a variety of felony and misdemeanor crimes across several special units in the Office. Investigator Tesalona was also instrumental in the development of the Office’s new Pre-Charging Unit.

Finally, after nine years of service to the citizens of DeKalb County, Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney, Sonja Brown, is leaving the office following her appointment as Cobb County Magistrate Court Judge. Under then Solicitor-General Boston, Brown developed the office’s first Community Prosecution program serving as a vital liaison between community stakeholders and criminal justice partners. She also served as Deputy Chief of the Special Victims Unit prior to joining Boston’s District Attorney administration as Community Affairs Director and head of the Crime Strategies and Community Partnerships Unit, which she helped establish.

Best wishes to each of these treasured DA family members in their new endeavors.

We are grateful for their service and their indelible contributions to this Office.
Chief Investigator Alan Traylor
Investigator Kim Tesalona
Deputy Chief ADA/Community Affairs Director Sonja Brown
DA Boston presents Chief Traylor with his
badge and a shadow box honoring his
time serving DeKalb County.
Newly sworn-in Cobb County 
Magistrate Court Judge Sonja N. Brown
Join the conversation @SherryBostonDA