Updated: Aug 31, 2022
By Joe Johnson
The head of a local nonprofit was arrested this week for allegedly assaulting two women at a county-sanctioned homeless encampment that his group operates on Barber Street, according to Athens-Clarke County police.
The incident marked the second time in less than three months that residents and a former employee of the 1st Step encampment for Athens’ unhoused residents made criminal complaints against 49-year-old Charles Hardy Jr. of Bethlehem, president and executive director of Athens Alliance Coalition, Inc., which contracts with the county to operate the encampment.
The incident report for his week’s incident was not yet available on Wednesday, but ACCPD’s public information officer Lt. Shaun Barnett provided the following account of what allegedly occurred:
On Monday morning officers were dispatched to 1st Step in reference to a fight.
“Officers arrived at the scene and made contact with Jada Prothro who stated that she was there to pick up her belongings, when she was informed that her belongings were placed in the dumpster,” Barnett said.
“Prothro stated that she went to the dumpster on the property to get her belongings, at which time Hardy approached her and punched her in the face, causing a visible injury to her lip, the officer said. “The two then began fighting. Prothro also stated that her mother approached to defend her, and that Hardy also hit her mother several times, causing visible injury to her mother’s face.”
Barnett said, “Officers spoke with witnesses that observed various aspects of the incident. Officers received information that at another point during the encounter, Prothro struck Hardy with an open hand.”
“As a result of the on-scene investigation by officers, Hardy was placed under arrest for two counts of battery and Prothro was arrested for simple battery against Hardy,” according to Barnett.
Hardy said that Prothro's tent and belongings had been discarded because it's policy that belongings cannot be left unattended for 72 hours, and Prothro had been gone for about a week.
During the confrontation in his office, he said, Prothro "balled up both fists and hit me in the face."
Later that afternoon, Hardy said, Prothro and several other females, including her mother, showed up at the gate and began attacking him. He alleged that one suspect had a can of mace, and Prothro's mother tried stabbing him with a switchblade knife.
The first criminal complaints against Hardy were made in June, according to police, who said a female 1st Step employee alleged that Hardy inappropriately touched her and she quit because of repeated such behavior at the encampment.
Barnett on Wednesday said that investigation was currently inactive because “at this time there is not sufficient probable cause to make an arrest.”
1st Step, which began operating in March is funded by a $2.5 million contract awarded to Athens Alliance Coalition by the Athens-Clarke County Board of Commissioners. The contract is funded by the federal American Rescue Act, and it is providing Hardy’s organization with funding to operate the camp for one year, with the possibility of a 10-month renewal.
With a 55-bed capacity, the program works with Advantage Behavioral Health Systems to place residents in long-term housing.
Hardy and Prothro, 20, were both released from the county jail Monday night upon posting $5,000 and $1,500 bonds, respectively.