SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Robert Douglas Morgan chose the wrong night to try to run from the law.
The 29-year-old passenger in a battered, blue-gray Oldsmobile ignored a police officer’s demand he stay in the vehicle Thursday evening, choosing instead to sprint past half-a-dozen cops toward freedom.
But for Morgan, who scampered about half a block from the gas station at Victory Drive and Waters Avenue where the car was pulled over, there was no freedom to be found.
“I knew as soon as he opened that door he was going to run,” said police Sgt. Chris Hewitt, who was among the officers to nab Morgan within minutes in the parking lot of the Blessed Sacrament Church just across Victory. “He wasn’t going to get away, though.”
That’s because of the massive police force operating throughout Chatham County Thursday evening during the metro police-headed, multi-agency special operation dubbed Total Focus. It’s designed to saturate crime-troubled areas and prevent criminal activity across Savannah and Chatham County.
Including Morgan, police arrested 32 suspects, issued 143 citations, conducted 67 probation compliance checks and checked on 13 sex offenders during the two-night operation.
“About once a month we come out and do these special operations,” said police Maj. Richard Zapal, Savannah-Chatham’s patrol south commander. “It not only lets the citizens know we’re out here, but it also lets the
criminals know that we’re out here. It keeps them on their toes, and we try to keep down crime by doing this. It’s mostly about visibility ... and it shows that Metro can really do its job.”
The police major, who said operations like Total Focus have been run in Savannah for more than a decade, believes his officers interrupted crimes Thursday night before they could happen.
Arresting Morgan and the Oldsmobile 88’s two other occupants — 40-year-old Joseph Maurice Hamilton and 41-year-old Lawrence Sheppard Jr. — that evening put three felons acting suspiciously behind bars.
Police saw the Oldsmobile pull into two convenience stores where its occupants checked out the front and back of each store.
The suspicious activity earned Morgan, Sheppard and Hamilton a tail in the form of a plain-clothes officer in an unmarked car. After learning the vehicle’s registration was expired, marked units were given the go-ahead to initiate a traffic stop, just as Sheppard pulled into the third gas station.
After apprehending Morgan, who dropped a pistol later determined to be stolen, and placing Sheppard and Hamilton in custody, officers found marijuana and gloves inside the vehicle, said Capt. John Best, Islands Precinct commander.
All three suspects were discovered to be felons on probation, Best said.
“Everyone in that car is a convicted felon,” Best said. “We have some really hard working officers out here who know what we’re looking for. We followed them, we interdicted them and we got them off the street.
“We’re interrupting their night so that they can’t interrupt the night of somebody who is law-abiding.”
Morgan was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, obstruction and theft by receiving. Sheppard, who has a criminal history that includes convictions of armed robbery, forgery and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, was charged with operating a vehicle without a license plate and marijuana possession.
The third occupant, Hamilton, convicted of drug charges, obstruction and possession of a firearm by convicted felon, was charged with marijuana possession.
“The idea of Total Focus is to prevent crime,” Zapal said. “We do this by finding those who have been charged with crimes and getting them off the streets and presenting a presence that would discourage illegal activity. In a sense, we are taking the enforcement to them rather than reacting to the crimes they may commit.
“We are fairly certain we interrupted several robberies in the planning stages Thursday night. That was a huge achievement. I have thanked and congratulated all participants in the operation.”