Students share safety concerns over recent Savannah State University shooting

Savannah State University Police Department break their silence since Feb. 24 deadly shooting (Credit:Robert Catanese)

The shooting death of Kaleel Shakur Clarke on Feb. 24 has once again placed Savannah State University in the spotlight.

Police have arrested Phillip Dayan Burke in connection with the shooting. He is currently being detained at the Chatham County Detention center on charges of carrying a weapon in a school safety zone or school function and possession of a firearm or knife during the commission of or attempting to commit certain felonies.

Clarke’s murder is the most recent incident in a string of several violent crimes that has some students on edge and frustrated.

Devund Tinson is a registered senior at SSU, but is in the process of changing his name to David Cunningham for personal reasons. He is one of those students speaking out.

“I am paying to go to school and to stay in a place where I don’t feel safe and no one is addressing the safety issue,” said Cunningham.

Campus police are telling a different story about safety in and around campus. They released this statement to FOX 28.

"Campus safety is a top priority for Savannah State University. Safety measures and enhancements are reviewed on an ongoing basis and include the input of the campus community.

General campus safety measures include:

  • Community Oriented Policing, which includes strategies to build partnerships and increase the visibility of department personnel, engage the student body to become force multiples, etc. Examples include self-defense classes, department open house, “see something-say something” campaign, Cops and Cars campaign, campus safety walks, annual Safety Week, informal presentations, informational sessions, seminars and panel discussions for students, faculty and staff.
  • Monthly resident hall meetings
  • Security/surveillance cameras
  • License plate readers (mobile and stationary)
  • LiveSafe mobile app
  • Officer body cameras
  • Emergency (blue light) poles available across campus
  • Experienced sworn officers including experienced investigators

Following the Feb. 24 incident, SSU took steps to:

  • Limit access points on campus
  • Require presentation of ID at access points
  • Student visitation limitations
  • Increase police presence with assistance from other agencies

Some of these measures will be long term, while others may be phased out gradually upon continuing review."

Related: Savannah State students hold candlelight vigil, remember gun violence victims

It is normal procedure to request advice and assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) for such campus investigations. Given the fast development of this case, SSU police processed the crime scene. The SSU Police Department has consulted with the GBI and will continue to do so as needed during the course of the active investigation of the Feb. 24 incident.

But some students tell us these measures don’t always take place.

Desiree Priest is a junior at SSU. “What concerns me the most is the lack of consistency from campus police or security,” she said.

Cunningham said he has had a number of issues he has tried to bring up to campus police and faculty.

“I have had numerous conversations with SSU PD and division of student affairs regarding campus safety and how it is they can better protect the students and they have disregarded all of the student concerns,” he said.

He goes on to say his concerns don’t end there.

“They would tell students that they aren't in a position to speak on that issue. Chief Barnswell said that he was not in the position to address student safety,” he said

The GBI said campus police did reach out to them but a spokesperson said, “We were contacted by SSPD to assist with crime scene processing, however it was determined that the SSPD had begun working the scene and our assistance was not needed."

Related: Press conference at Savannah State University takes an emotional turn

Students tell FOX 28 whether its campus police or someone else investigating Clarke’s death, they are worried about more than crime.

”Many are afraid to speak up regarding different issues at Savannah State because they’re afraid to be blackballed. Something needs to change,” said Cunningham.

FOX 28 has filed a number of open records requests with the university both on the Clarke investigation as well as campus death investigations going back the last five years. They have referred us to the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office.

We reached out to the D.A. on Thursday regarding the Clarke investigation and they informed us they do not have a file on this most recent death investigation.

We contacted Fifth District Alderman Dr. Estella Shabazz regarding campus violence.

“I do believe that the campus police faculty and the president is doing the best that they can, but they have to step it up more. They can’t just do it by themselves, we have to have more student body involvement,” said Shabazz.

FOX 28 has obtained pictures from the crime scene taken by the Clarke family, courtesy of the Tate Law Group.

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