Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect how Savannah Police's body-worn cameras record audio and video.
The long simmering animosity between two Savannah City Council members turned ugly earlier this month, as Alderman Kurtis Purtee and Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter traded vulgar insults in an exchange outside council chambers.
Purtee called Gibson-Carter a "ghetto b****" in response to her accusing him of being a "child predator and a pedophile." Purtee is a white, openly gay man while Gibson-Carter is a Black woman.
The argument took place following the Sept. 8 council meeting and was recorded on a body camera worn by a Savannah Police officer who witnessed the argument. The body camera footage was obtained using the Georgia Open Records Act.
Warning: The video below includes vulgar language that readers may find offensive.
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Purtee admitted using the "ghetto b*****" slur in a telephone interview earlier this week. Contacted about the incident Thursday, Gibson-Carter shared a complaint letter she sent to Georgia Southern University President Kyle Marrero, which listed her grievances with Purtee, a GSU police captain.
Purtee and Gibson-Carter have an acrimonious history, with Purtee twice filing ethics complaints against Gibson-Carter. He frequently tells her to "shut up" during tense council meeting moments.
Contacted for comment on the name calling incident, Gibson-Carter responded with an email that read in part, "It is unfortunate that I continue to have to respond to issues related to attacks against my person. I would rather use space in your paper to address the most pressing issues facing our community; like rising crime, poverty, forced displacement, homelessness and property taxes. Instead, I am continually attacked on council and the attacks are usually ignored by the mayor and the media."
What prompted the argument?
Following the Sept. 8 meeting, Gibson-Carter was talking to a constituent outside council chambers. Purtee says he approached the two to add to the conversation, and Gibson-Carter sent him away, calling him “boy,” which he said he found offensive.
The constituent "expressed that she was not interested in speaking to him. I then asked him to not say anything to her, as she was upset with him and staff," Gibson-Carter said via email.
Purtee says he then proceeded to call Gibson-Carter a “ghetto b****."
Purtee said the constituent Gibson-Carter was speaking with was one of his District 5 residents. According to Purtee, the constituent had come to address a property concern but was denied because the matter was not on the meeting agenda. Purtee said he was familiar with the property and a planned project for the site and wanted to share information.
Purtee said Gibson-Carter confronted him, called him “boy” twice, and told him to “go somewhere else." She then made comments about him being a "child predator and a pedophile."
“The way she was dismissive and called me ‘boy’ twice, when I went out there to try to help talk to this lady, that kind of, that kind of threw me off,” Purtee said. “And then for her to call me a child predator and a pedophile, that pissed me off right there.”
Gibson-Carter said Purtee's "ghetto b****" comment was especially concerning, since Purtee is a police officer and trained in de-escalation.
"The use of the term 'ghetto' squarely renders the encounter racist. And as a female in leadership, I am not letting this go," Gibson-Carter said in her email. "Kurtis Purtee works at a university with Black people and women. He carries a badge and gun plus has arrest powers. This is a dangerous power for someone who has a disdain of women and African-Americans."
Purtee said he had to call upon his de-escalation training during the interaction, noting, "I had to center myself there for a minute because I thought, here we go."
What does the body cam video show?
The aftermath of the incident was captured on the police officer's body camera. The first few seconds are muted, but the footage shows Purtee talking to Gibson-Carter outside council chambers on the second floor of City Hall, with the officer standing between them.
When an officer activates their body-worn camera, the exported video starts at 30 seconds before they press the button. But the audio does not become available until the time of activation, 30 seconds later. Consequently, when the audio recording commences is not a decision made by an officer: it’s just how Savannah police's Axon cameras work.
And so, the audio of the bodycam footage comes in around the 30-second mark. The first words heard are Purtee saying, "She treats employees like s*** all the time. I'll be happy when she's gone."
Gibson-Carter, holding her phone in a filming position, tells Purtee "let's go live." Gibson-Carter frequently hosts livestreams on her Facebook page. Purtee then walks away and Gibson-Carter says, "Yeah, that's what I thought."
Gibson-Carter then points, phone in hand, toward someone off screen and says, "I guess that makes you one too, cause y'all look alike," before asking the officer if the interaction was recorded on the body camera.
"Did you get that on camera? Him calling me a ghetto b****? Did you get that?" Gibson-Carter says, telling another person outside of the camera's field of view, "He called me a ghetto b****."
The recording also shows Assistant City Manager Heath Lloyd talking to the woman whose concerns both Gibson-Carter and Purtee were trying to address.
Gibson-Carter then tells the officer recording the body camera footage, "You know what? I feel sorry for you. Just a real disappointment. Just a real disappointment, and I hate that things have to go to what they are. I really do."
"You know what he does on a daily basis. And it's unfortunate that you have this job," Gibson-Carter says, still directed towards the city hall police officer.
What is the history between the two council members?
The current council's term has been marked by similar turbulence. In December 2021, City Council voted to reprimand Gibson-Carter by a 6-3 vote after calling Alderman Nick Palumbo racist earlier that month.
In January 2022, Purtee brought forward an agenda item calling for the reconsideration of city council officers in response to the incident between Palumbo and Gibson-Carter. At the time, Gibson-Carter was serving as chair of council, a position she was selected to hold during the first council meeting of 2020.
Purtee's motion passed, and Gibson-Carter was stripped of her council chairwoman title.
In his complaint, Purtee stated a number of ethical issues including that Gibson-Carter has used “vulgar profanity” toward council members in closed sessions, had physically threatened another council member, made public allegations of unethical practices at city hall without evidence, conveyed misinformation to the public, spoke verbally aggressive and bullied other members of council and the mayor, badgered the city manager search recruiter, and refused to be part of the city manager hiring process.
A three-member ethics board found Gibson-Carter had violated the city’s ethics code in a hearing on on Oct. 29, 2020.
Will Peebles is the City Council and County Commission reporter for Savannah Morning News, covering local Savannah and Chatham County decisions. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @willpeeblesSMN
Drew Favakeh is the public safety reporter for Savannah Morning News. You can reach him at AFavakeh@savannahnow.com.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah alderman directs derogatory slur toward fellow council member