DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Members of a DeKalb County community told Channel 2 Action News they are watching prostitutes work, solicit around children and even get killed.
Over the past several years, two women were murdered in the community.
“There have been the murders of two prostitutes in this area,” said neighbor Wayne Powell.
One happened in 2017. Neighbors found the body in an Alston Drive backyard. Her murder is unsolved. The second woman's killing happened a few months ago. A Decatur man is charged in that murder. Channel 2 Action News reported on both murders and spoke with the family of one of the women killed. We are not connecting those reports to this piece in order to protect their identities.
With that sort of violence and all the solicitation happening in their backyards, neighbors said they fear for their safety, but they've struggled to get action.
“Literally a drive-thru,” Maria Rossoto said about a gas station in her neighborhood.
“There’s a lot of solicitation going on there at the station,” Powell said about the same gas station.
Neighbors in the South DeKalb County community say there is a lot more for sale than just gas.
“I’ve seen it at the side of the Citgo where cars in line, like two, three drive up, girl leans over the window, gets in and the next car drives up, next girl,” Rossoto said.
They said they see it in early mornings when school kids are waiting for the bus.
“Just a very short distance away I have counted as many as three women that I assume are prostitutes,” said Powell.
They said they also see it late at night on street corners, driveways and outside businesses.
"You've seen nudity?" Channel 2's Nicole Carr asked Rossoto. "Yes, I have. I've seen sex acts happening next to a local business here," she replied.
Channel 2 set up our own cameras to try and capture the complaints in the White Oak Hills and Belvedere Park neighborhoods.
A Channel 2 photographer also rode along with DeKalb County police to see the problem from an officer's perspective.
Channel 2 went to a March crime and safety meeting where neighbors took their concerns to police and listened to human trafficking and security experts.
Neighbors hired their own security patrols. They report illegal activity on the Next-Door app.
Neighbors told us the biggest roadblock in addressing it is the court system.
“The police officers told us quite often when we arrest a prostitute before we can even complete filling out the paperwork, they have done a signature bond and they’re back out on the street,” said Powell.
They said they’re not notified when the prostitutes go before judges. One neighbor sent us an email chain asking when one suspect would be in court. She told us she never got a response.
Rossoto said she went through the Court Watch program to be trained on how to participate in the system.
“And then you don’t get any emails. Like two years later I’ve maybe gotten one email and it was the morning of,” she said.
Neighbors said judges often are making decisions without impact statements.
“It’s impossible. If we knew ahead of time we could certainly, certainly have letter writing campaigns and so forth,” said Maria.
Channel 2 took the neighbors' concerns to DeKalb County Solicitor Donna Coleman-Stribling whose office handles prostitution cases. She refused our requests for an on-camera interview. But her office sent us a statement:
“Since taking office, we have broadened the community prosecution unit and have three prosecutors dedicated to our various communities; fielding questions, concerns and working to hold offenders accountable. While we have not been contacted about any specific cases, we have worked closely with the community on a number of concerns.
“Our office takes a smart, balanced approach to the prosecution of our misdemeanor cases, including prostitution. Often our goal is rehabilitating the individuals through one of our seven diversion programs. One such program is Phoenix. We strive to balance the community’s needs with the need to create an environment where the participants can fully and honestly engage in the hard work of lifestyle change.
“We are encouraged by the continued conversation around this issue and look forward to further educating the community about our approach and processes.”
But the office never addressed the concern that the neighbors aren’t notified of what’s going on until it’s too late or included in the actual prosecution.
“It would be so much more effective if you want to have community involved,” Rossoto said.
© 2020 Cox Media Group