Savannah Police Chief To Resign Amid Uproar Over Shooting

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Savannah's police chief says he soon will step down to focus on his nomination to serve as a U.S. Marshal, an announcement that comes amid scrutiny over recent local police shootings, including the death of a Black man at the hands of a white officer.

Police Chief Roy Minter said Thursday that he will resign at the end of July to focus on the confirmation process for his nomination to serve as U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Georgia. Minter’s last day with the Savannah Police Department will be July 29, The Savannah Morning News reported.

Minter, who has served as chief since 2018, had been facing criticism from religious leaders who have called for both his resignation and a federal investigation into recent fatal police shootings, including the June 24 shooting of Saudi Arai Lee, 31.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which has launched a probe into the case, said officers spotted Lee walking around midday in the middle of a street. Authorities said Lee immediately showed them his wallet, saying it contained his weapons permit, and then lifted his shirt and removed a weapon from a holster. Investigators said a short chase followed and that Lee was shot by Savannah Police Officer Ernest Ferguson, who is white.

Lee’s killing was the fifth officer-involved death in the city this year, according to The Savannah Morning News.

Elder James Johnson of the Racial Justice Network said there were too many police shootings under Minter’s watch and he also has questioned the training of officers in the field.

In response to Minter's announcement, Savannah City Manager Jay Melder said the city was grateful for Minter's service.

"Chief Minter is the definition of a professional police chief, and I thank him for his tireless service to the City of Savannah, our residents, businesses, and visitors. I wish him well in the confirmation process and in all future endeavors, and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity,” he said.

In a statement, Minter said: “Being Savannah’s police chief has been an honor and I look forward to the potential opportunity to continue my service to this community and all of southeast Georgia."

Melder has appointed Assistant Chief Lenny Gunther to serve as interim chief effective July 30. Gunther has served the department since 2001. The city will launch a nationwide search for Savannah’s next chief, but the final decision rests with Melder.

Mayor Van Johnson said he had mixed emotions about Minter's announcement, but noted it wasn’t unexpected following the news of Minter’s nomination in May.

“I knew that this day was going to come once it was announced that he was nominated,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he wants to give Gunther an opportunity to see what he can do in his new role.

“I don’t want to rush so quickly to a national hire and we miss a local opportunity,” he said. “Chief Gunther was raised in the Savannah Police Department and so, I would be interested ... in giving Chief Gunther an opportunity to see what he can do.”