Man who spent 19 years in jail after wrongful conviction found dead

Published: Saturday, December 26, 2015 @ 5:50 PM
Updated: Saturday, December 26, 2015 @ 7:59 PM

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A man awarded $3.7 million after spending 19 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit was found dead Saturday, the medical examiner’s office confirmed.

Thomas Doswell was freed from prison in 2005 after spending more than 19 years in jail. He was exonerated after DNA evidence proved he didn’t commit the rape that occurred in 1986.

The medical examiner did not release a cause of death.

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Despite his release from prison and ensuing lawsuit, Doswell found himself in trouble with the law again in 2013 after pleading guilty to charges of possessing marijuana, crack cocaine and a gun.

He was sentenced last year to 11 1/2 to 23 months in the county jail for those charges.

Doswell reached the $3.7 million settlement with the city of Pittsburgh in 2009 after his wrongful imprisonment. 

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Atlanta’s ex-mayor Kasim Reed doles out $500k in bonuses, gifts on way out

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 10:26 PM

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed defended his holiday spending in 2017 by saying “the individuals who received the bonuses were worthy of them based upon their contributions to the City of Atlanta’s unprecedented growth and fiscal stability.” 
Alyssa Pointer/ AJC.com
Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed defended his holiday spending in 2017 by saying “the individuals who received the bonuses were worthy of them based upon their contributions to the City of Atlanta’s unprecedented growth and fiscal stability.” (Alyssa Pointer/ AJC.com)

Just days before former Mayor Kasim Reed left office, his administration showered select city employees with more than $518,000 in bonuses, and gifts that were presented during an “executive holiday party” at City Hall.

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The spending spree has left the police union outraged, taxpayers fuming and council members questioning its legality.

During his last days in power, Reed awarded at least $350,000 in bonuses to his senior staff; ordered $42,500 in checks to the eight members of his security detail; gave away $36,000 by drawing names out of a hat during a holiday party raffle in December; and awarded $31,000 to lip sync and ugly sweater contest winners, also at the party.

But none of the holiday giving came out of Reed’s wallet — it all belonged to city taxpayers.

And that’s not the full extent of the spending.

>> Related: See who got bonuses from former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed

Former human resources commissioner Yvonne Yancy handed out an additional $57,500 in bonuses to 11 members of her staff just days before she left City Hall for the private sector, on Dec. 31.

In response to questions from the AJC, Reed issued a three-paragraph statement.

“Rewarding employees for service and performance is not new and has been common practice in the City of Atlanta,” says the statement, issued through Reed’s spokesman. “These bonuses were appropriate and Mayor Reed believes that the individuals who received the bonuses were worthy of them based upon their contributions to the City of Atlanta’s unprecedented growth and fiscal stability.”

Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore called the spending “disgusting” and “illegal.”

“It just reminded me of someone having money and throwing it in the air and letting everybody catch it,” Moore said. “It’s just unconscionable. Let’s just make it clear: It’s not legal to do this. Just make it point-blank clear. He had absolutely, positively no authority to issue any of that to anybody under any circumstance,” she said.

“The mayor can only do what is authorized by the council. He did not go through the proper channels,” Moore added.

Moore pointed to a city ordinance that prohibits increasing “the salaries or other remuneration in any form of any officer or employee of the city during the fiscal year, except by ordinance” approved by the City Council.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, whose campaign was endorsed by Reed, did not respond to the AJC’s questions about the appropriateness of using taxpayer money for contests and raffles. She also declined to respond when asked if the bonuses were appropriate and whether she would award them at the end of the year.

“Decisions around the bonuses were made without input from the current administration,” the statement said. “However, Mayor Bottoms will continue to carefully evaluate best practices, prioritizing ways in which city business can be conducted in a transparent and responsible manner.”

‘A bunch of questions here’

The city’s code stipulates several circumstances under which employees may receive bonuses.

Police officers can receive retention bonuses of $3,000 after 5 years of service. Some employees can receive 2-percent bonuses for being bilingual or by earning a special certification. The city also provides longevity bonuses up to $750 for employees who have been with the city for 25 years or more.

City ordinances do not appear to authorize payments or bonuses of arbitrary amounts for unspecified reasons.

“There are a bunch of questions here,” said Councilman Howard Shook, who chairs the City Council’s Finance/Executive Committee. “I couldn’t think of a worse time to dole out bonuses of this nature from a political perspective. Everything is so unsettled. Morale is so low. Everyone is waiting for the next piece of bad news.

“Obviously, we are all now going to contemplate what guardrails need to be put around this process,” Shook said.

The Georgia State Constitution’s gratuities clause prohibits public agencies from granting donations, gratuities and “extra compensation to any public officer, agent, or contractor after the service has been rendered or the contract entered into.”

An unofficial opinion from the Georgia Attorney General in 2002 dealt with whether public hospital authorities could offer prospective employees signing bonuses. It said they could “if the authority receives a substantial benefit in exchange for the signing bonus.”

>> Related: See the unofficial opinion from 2002 here

Georgia State Rep. Chuck Martin, a Republican, and chairman of the state house’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee, said the gratuities clause generally prohibits taxpayer money from being spent without taxpayers receiving something in return.

“If those types of bonuses hadn’t been done previously, it would seem to me to call into question the reason for them here,” said Martin, a former Mayor of Alpharetta. “If I was a taxpayer in Atlanta, I would certainly wonder: Wouldn’t that half-a-million dollars been better spent recruiting people to work for me in 2018 and beyond?”

Reed did not address the AJC’s questions about whether metrics were used to determine the amounts of bonuses; nor did he say what the city would receive in return for giving the bonuses.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Carr did not respond to an email about whether the gratuities clause applied to the City of Atlanta’s recent bonuses. Shook said he couldn’t recall similar payouts during his 16 years on the City Council.

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Semi-trucks line interstate to help stop man from jumping off overpass

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 @ 1:05 PM

Semi-Trucks Help Stop Man From Jumping Off Overpass

More than a dozen tractor-trailers formed a line under an overpass on Interstate 696 in Detroit early Tuesday to help stop a man who was contemplating jumping from the overpass, according to multiple reports.

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Authorities were called to I-696 near the Coolidge exit just before 1 a.m., WJBK reported. Negotiators worked for several hours to convince the man not to jump as authorities directed several tractor-trailers to park under the overpass, according to the news station.

Michigan State Police shared an image of 13 tractor-trailers that were lined up side-by-side on the interstate, in case the man jumped.

“This photo does show the work troopers and local officers do to serve the public,” police said Tuesday on Twitter. “But also in that photo is a man struggling with the decision to take his own life.”

The unidentified man came down from the edge of the overpass through the combined efforts of police and the truck drivers, The Detroit Free-Press reported.

“Please remember help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255,” state police wrote on Twitter. “You can also call a loved one, member of the clergy or 911. There are so many people that can help you make the choice to get help and live! It is our hope to never see another photo like this again.”

Huntington Woods police took the man to Beaumont Hospital for an evaluation, WJBK reported.

Officials reopened I-696 to traffic around 4 a.m.

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Atlanta a hot spot for sugar daddies willing to pay college tuition

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 2:51 PM

Hot Spot For Sugar Daddies Willing To Pay For College

We’ve known for some time that Atlanta is considered a hub for sex trafficking.

But who knew metro Atlanta is also known for having an abundant number of, ahem, sugar daddies — older men seeking the companionship of college-age women?

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According to SeekingArrangement.com, Georgia ranks sixth in the country, behind places like Arizona, Philadelphia and New York. Over the past few years, the website has touted its growing numbers to news publications around the country.

In Georgia, according to folks at the website, the vast majority of these young women providing companionship to older men attend big state colleges such as Georgia State, the University of Georgia and Georgia Southern (in that precise order), with a few at Spelman College and elsewhere.

“Students are tired of being told by the government that secondary education is important, and then being slapped with outrageous student loans and staggering interest rates,” said Brandon Wade, founder and CEO of SeekingArrangement.com. “The value of a degree is undeniable, but students can’t leave their futures in the hands of officials any longer.”

Today more than 2 million students across the country — 3 million worldwide — have signed up to find wealthy benefactors who can help offset college costs, said Wade.

RELATED | Many Georgia students feel overburdened by rising college costs

Each year, almost 44 million Americans rack up student loan debt or they graduate with no full-time jobs in their chosen careers.

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Among them are Jessica and Stephanie, local college students introduced to me through an email exchange arranged by SeekingArrangement.com. Both agreed to talk about their experience, but neither wanted to use her last name because their parents are not aware of the arrangement. I met Jessica in person. Stephanie and I spoke by phone.

I found them both to be articulate, ambitious young women. Neither saw their arrangement as anything out of the ordinary — just an agreement between two consenting adults. There was a line, however, that both said they were unwilling to cross: marital infidelity.

Stephanie, 21, was working at a popular sports bar when a colleague told her about Seeking Arrangement, and they posted their profiles to the site.

“I really didn’t think I was going to follow through, but I actually met someone,” said Stephanie, who is enrolled in an online program at the University of South Carolina. She eventually matched with a 46-year-old cybersecurity expert, who takes her on vacation trips and shopping sprees and makes weekly deposits to her bank account.

“I know a lot of people think it’s prostitution, but it’s totally different,” she said. “This is a real relationship. We communicate every single day. I care about him. He takes care of me like men are supposed to. He thinks I’m funny. He tells me I’m beautiful. What girl wouldn’t want that?

“I’m going to college, and I’m making money,” she added.

RELATED | Why Women’s March hat moniker strikes me wrong

Ironically, Jessica, a 22-year-old theater major who had her pick of six colleges, including the University of Pennsylvania, Florida A&M, and Spelman, first heard about the site while overhearing her mom tell a friend about a magazine article she’d read about Seeking Arrangement. But the concept itself, Jessica said, came to her in a song titled “Suga Mama” by R&B singer Beyonce.

When she isn’t studying or in class, Jessica makes time for her sugar daddy, a 45-year-old Atlanta business consultant, who pays her tuition and gives her a biweekly allowance.(GRACIE BONDS STAPLES / GSTAPLES@AJC.COM)

“That you could have a mutually beneficial relationship with someone of high status that would help with expenses intrigued me,” Jessica said.

In the scheme of things, that hardly matters. Language and naming have power and are symbolic.

“Even the terms sugar daddies and sugar babies have an incestuous and infantilizing echo,” said Deborah Cohan, a professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort. “Young women can try to convince themselves that they are calling the shots in these situations, but is this the way women want to become empowered?”

It’s unfortunate, Cohan said, when women perceive few options for economic freedom.

“The owners and operators of these sites and the participants want to make the case that this is a choice, and a viable one, but it strikes me as the epitome of a choiceless decision,” she said.

RELATED | Prosecutors: Backpage.com made millions in prostitution ads

As a professor at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort, Cohan sees this firsthand. USC’s main campus is near Hilton Head, home to the annual Heritage golf tournament. “Every year I have students who tell me that as exotic dancers this is their big week to make money to pay for tuition and that as a result they want to be excused from classes,” she said. “Is this the way we want young women to have to exist in their earliest employment and earliest intimate relationships and connections?

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“And moreover, what does this mean for men, for how they think about power, control, and sexuality and women in general?”

Jessica went on a half-dozen dates before she settled on an arrangement with a 45-year-old Atlanta business consultant, who pays her tuition and gives her a biweekly allowance of $2,000.

She says they dated six months before they ever touched. One of those dates was to get the results of an HIV test before beginning a sexual relationship.

On average, Jessica sees her benefactor three times a week, mostly on weekends. In that time, she’s discovered she likes the fact that he grew up in a two-parent home like herself and attends church.

“He’s kind of an introvert,” Jessica said. “He really treats me like a lady.”

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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Disney offering hiring bonuses while unions prepare to return to the bargaining table

Published: Monday, April 23, 2018 @ 11:45 PM

The History of Disney

Walt Disney World is looking to hire more than 3,500 new workers, even offering “hiring bonuses” of up to $3,000 for some positions. 

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It all comes as the unions that represent 38,000 Disney workers get set to go back to the bargaining table next week. 

Unionized workers have been locked in contract talks since last summer -- and since then, they’ve staged demonstrations and gone back to the bargaining table several times, but still have no deal. 

"How can Disney justify giving $3,000 bonuses, when you have 19,000 plus workers making under $11 an hour?” asked Angie McKinnon, a representative of UNITE HERE LOCAL 737.

Union leaders were meeting Monday afternoon as they prepare to head back to the bargaining table one week from Tuesday. 

Union workers voted down Disney’s most recent offer of a 3 percent raise for most workers, with a minimum 50-cents-an-hour raise. 

And union bosses are upset that Disney won’t pay a $1,000 tax-cut bonus to union members -- unless they accept that deal. 

"A lot of them are still waiting on the tax, the money that Disney promised to give them from the tax cut,” said McKinnon. 

“As is the case with all aspects of an employee's compensation package, federal law requires that we negotiate the payment of that bonus with the unions, which we are in the process of doing,” a Disney spokeswoman said. 

As Disney now tries to hire thousands more full- and part-time cast members, the company is able to pay the hiring bonuses because the new cast members won’t be covered by the union contract until after they’re hired. 

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