A maintenance man charged with brutally murdering a tenant. A sex offender who slept in the hallways. A dead body left in an apartment for days, found covered in flies.
These are just a few disturbing tales of the living conditions in apartments owned by Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D., Ga.) church, gathered from interviews with residents and hundreds of pages of Atlanta Police Department, Fire Department, and court records obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Atlanta police and firefighters have been called to Columbia Tower and the Columbia Senior Residences at MLK Village in Atlanta hundreds of times since 2020, the records show. Responding officers have been met with corpses and people trapped in elevators, as well as fights, burglaries, and car thefts. Both buildings are owned by the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Warnock serves as senior pastor.
The Free Beacon also learned that Columbia Tower management hired a convicted murderer now charged with killing a female tenant who lived with him at Columbia Senior Residences, which is just across the street from the apartment building.
"They hired a guy who killed his girlfriend. He was the maintenance guy who was living in the senior building and he had a record already," a resident told the Free Beacon in October. "Why would you hire a person like that who has keys to the building? I understand second chances, but this person already had a background in murdering someone, and you give him keys to our apartment?"
The records could pose problems for Warnock, who is seeking to defeat Republican challenger Herschel Walker amid rising crime. Crime is one of Atlanta voters' main concerns heading into next week's midterm elections, polls show. Homicides have increased in Atlanta by at least 60 percent since 2019, according to 11Alive News, citing Atlanta Police Department crime data.
Warnock has advocated for softer crime policies, including ending cash bail. He has criticized the American prison system as a "scandal on the soul of America," and called to end "mass incarceration." Warnock has also championed safe housing during his time in the Senate, saying earlier this year that "housing is dignity."
But records tell another story. Police have been called to Columbia Tower and the Columbia Senior Residences over 150 times since January, in response to allegations of larceny, 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 gruesome discoveries at the apartment building.
"The person was stiff as a board and his jaw was locked," firefighters reported in April 2020 upon conducting a welfare check on a resident who was missing for three days. "Engine 10 crew checked for a pulse and there was no pulse. The person appears to have been dead for a couple of days because there were a lot of flys [sic] around the person. This was an elderly male."
Firefighters discovered another dead body at the apartment complex in January 2021. "E10 investigated and checked for a pulse, no pulse was found," an incident report states.
In August, a man reported that his car was stolen from the back parking lot. In July, Atlanta police detained a man who "continues to trespass on the 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 subject to a no-trespassing court order by 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 he started the job, Stokes killed his 56-year-old girlfriend, Sean Macklin, in the apartment they shared at Columbia Senior Residences.
Stokes had a key to every room in Columbia Tower when he worked at the apartment building, residents told the Free Beacon.
Shortly after Stokes started working at Columbia Tower, Macklin’s daughter reported her missing after not hearing from her for several days. The daughter said Macklin previously told her that Stokes "had broke bones in her feet with a hammer amongst other injuries in the recent past," according to an arrest affidavit.
Investigators claimed Stokes killed Macklin in the early morning hours of Nov. 6, 2020, and disposed of her body, potentially with the aid of 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 tried to "cover the surveillance camera up with a black plastic bag." He then pulled his truck "around the corner to the driveway that contains the trash compactor," which was out of view of cameras.
The bed of Stokes’s truck was empty when he backed up to the compactor. But a few minutes later, he was spotted on camera driving away with "numerous items in the bed of the truck including an extra-large box," according to the affidavit. A subsequent police search of the apartment found traces of blood on the floor, countertop, 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 a locked apartment room door in which a Columbia Tower resident was "screaming and making strange noises as if he was having trouble breathing."
"The next door neighbor called building maintenance and advised them to come open the apartment door for unit … and the maintenance guy stated that he would not do it," firefighters wrote in an incident report. "Since the maintenance worker would not open the door, Engine 10 had to force it open and break it."
"Patient had a facial droop as if he had a stroke and fell to the ground," firefighters reported. The man was cool to the touch and could not speak, but was alert, firefighters added.
It’s not clear if the unnamed maintenance worker who refused to open the door was Stokes. Columbia Residential did not return a request for comment.
Fire department incident reports for Columbia Tower appear to corroborate accounts of residents who told the Free Beacon in October that they’ve witnessed firefighters hauling their handicapped neighbors to and from their rooms because of the building’s chronically broken elevators.
"Invalid Occupants unable to get to their apartments due to elevators not working in the building," firefighters said in a March 2022 incident report. "Contacted building manager who came to the scene to ensure the elevators were fixed."
Firefighters have had to rescue several residents trapped inside Columbia Tower’s malfunctioning elevators on two occasions, one in July 2020, and another in March 2022, incident reports show.
Firefighters said in a March 2021 incident report they couldn’t carry a Columbia Tower resident up to her 12th-floor room, and that she would have to wait for maintenance to fix the elevators. In September 2021, however, firefighters reported assisting an elderly resident down the stairs from her room on the 7th floor of the building.
Warnock’s church, which pays the senator a $7,417 monthly housing allowance, owns Columbia Tower through a network of shell organizations connected to the Ebenezer Building Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity that delegates all management duties to the church and identifies Warnock as its principal officer in its IRS Form 990 filings.
Warnock’s 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 Kenneth Palmer, a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church Board of Trustees. The LLC also shares the address as the church, Georgia business records show.