A maintenance worker charged with the brutal murder of a tenant. A sex offender who slept in the hallways. A corpse left in an apartment for days, found covered in flies.
These are just a few disturbing stories about living conditions in apartments owned by Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D., Ga.) church, gathered from interviews with residents and hundreds of pages from the Department of Atlanta police, fire department and court records obtained by the Free Washington beacon.
Atlanta police and firefighters have been called to Columbia Tower and the Columbia Senior Residences in MLK Village in Atlanta hundreds of times since 2020, records show. Responding officers encountered dead bodies and people trapped in elevators, as well as fights, burglaries and car thefts. Both buildings belong to the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Warnock serves as senior pastor.
The Free tag also learned that Columbia Tower management had hired a convicted murderer, now accused of killing a tenant who lived with him at Columbia Senior Residences, which is directly across from the building.
“They hired a guy who killed his girlfriend. He was the maintenance guy who lived in the senior building and he already had a locker,” a resident told the Free tag in October. “Why would you hire a person like that who has the keys to the building? I understand second chances, but this person already had experience in murdering someone, and you give them the keys to our apartment?”
The records could pose problems for Warnock, which seeks to defeat Republican challenger Herschel Walker amid rising crime. Crime is a top concern for Atlanta voters heading into next week’s midterm elections, according to polls. Homicides have increased in Atlanta by at least 60% since 2019, according to 11Alive News, citing crime data from the Atlanta Police Department.
Warnock has recommended for softer crime policies, including an end to cash bail. He criticized the US prison system as a “scandal on America’s soul” and called for an end to “mass incarceration”. Warnock also championed safe housing during his time in the Senate, saying earlier this year that “housing is dignity”.
But the archives tell a different story. Police have been called to Columbia Tower and the Columbia Senior Residences more than 150 times since January, in response to allegations of theft, fighting and criminal trespassing. The fire department has been called to Columbia Tower 153 times since January 2020, sometimes to rescue people trapped or stranded due to broken elevators.
Firefighters also reported making grisly discoveries in the building.
“The person was stiff as a board and his jaw was locked,” firefighters reported in April 2020 during a wellness check on a resident who had been missing for three days. “Engine 10 crew checked the pulse and there was no pulse. The person appears to have been dead for a few days because there were a lot of flies [sic] around the person. He was an old man.”
Firefighters discovered another dead body at the apartment complex in January 2021. “E10 investigated and checked for a pulse, no pulse found,” an incident report read.
In August, a man reported that his car was stolen from the back parking lot. In July, Atlanta police arrested a man who “continues to trespass on property by sleeping in the hallway of the building on the third floor,” according to a police report. The man, a sex offender with a history of violence and an outstanding warrant, had been the subject of a no trespassing order from Columbia Residential months earlier, but continued to enter the building, an employee told police.
In the spring of 2020, Columbia Residential hired a new maintenance man named Anthony Bernard Stokes, a convicted murderer who had been released from prison two years earlier after serving decades for a 1992 homicide. Fulton County prosecutors allege that just months after going into labor, Stokes killed his 56-year-old girlfriend, Sean Macklin, in the apartment they shared at Columbia Senior Residences.
Stokes had the key to every room in the Columbia Tower when he worked in the building, residents told the Free tag.
Shortly after Stokes began working at Columbia Tower, Macklin’s daughter reported him missing after several days without hearing from him. The girl said Macklin once told her that Stokes “broke his foot bones with a hammer among other injuries in the recent past,” according to an affidavit of arrest.
Investigators claimed Stokes killed Macklin in the early morning hours of Nov. 6, 2020, and disposed of her body, potentially using the building’s garbage system, according to an arrest affidavit. They said Stokes was seen in surveillance footage around 4:48 a.m. leaving the apartment and walking to the parking lot, where he unsuccessfully attempted to “cover the CCTV camera with a black plastic bag”. He then pulled his truck “around the corner of the driveway that contains the trash compactor”, which was out of sight of the cameras.
Stokes’ truck bed was empty when he backed up to the compactor. But minutes later, he was seen on camera driving away with “numerous items in the bed of the truck, including a very large box”, according to the affidavit. A subsequent police search of the apartment found traces of blood on the floor, counter and bathroom door handle, according to the affidavit.
In May 2020, around the time Columbia Residential hired Stokes, firefighters reported that an unnamed maintenance worker refused to open the door to a locked apartment bedroom in which a resident of the Columbia Tower was “screaming and making strange noises as if struggling to breathe”.
“The next door neighbor called building maintenance and advised them to come and open the apartment door for the unit…and the maintenance guy said he wouldn’t. “, wrote the firefighters in an incident report. “As the maintenance man wouldn’t open the door, Engine 10 had to pry open and break it open.”
“The patient had a facial droop as if he had had a stroke and fell to the ground,” firefighters reported. The man was cold to the touch and could not speak, but he was alert, firefighters added.
It is not clear if the unnamed maintenance worker who refused to open the door was Stokes. Columbia Residential did not return a request for comment.
Incident reports from the Columbia Tower Fire Department appear to corroborate the accounts of residents who told the Free tag in October that they saw firefighters ferrying their disabled neighbors to and from their rooms because of the building’s chronically broken elevators.
“Invalid occupants unable to get to their apartments due to non-functioning elevators in the building,” firefighters said in a March 2022 incident report. “Contacted the building manager who came on the scene to ensure that the elevators were repaired.”
Firefighters had to rescue several residents trapped inside the malfunctioning Columbia Tower elevators twice, once in July 2020 and another in March 2022, according to incident reports.
Firefighters said in a March 2021 incident report that they could not transport a Columbia Tower resident to her 12th-floor room and would have to wait for maintenance to fix the elevators. In September 2021, however, firefighters reported helping an elderly resident down the stairs to her room on the 7th floor of the building.
The Warnock Church, which pays the senator a monthly housing allowance of $7,417, owns the Columbia Tower through a network of fictitious organizations tied to the Ebenezer Building Foundation, a 501(c)( 3) which delegates all management duties to the church and identifies Warnock as its primary officer in its IRS Form 990 filings.
Warnock Church also owns Columbia Senior Residences through a similar arrangement. According to Fulton County property records, the complex is owned by MLK Village Real Estate Holdings LLC, a company founded in 2016 by Ebenezer Baptist Church board member Kenneth Palmer. The LLC also shares the address as shown by business records for the church, Georgia.