A Glynn County grand juror has formally asked for the Caroline Small police shooting case to be re-opened, calling the way it was handled by Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson in 2011 a stain on the “reputation and credibility” of her office.
Frank E. Booker III, a retired commercial banker who lives on St. Simons Island, penned a stinging, four-page letter to Johnson on Jan. 29 asking her to recuse her office from the case. He asks for a special prosecutor to be named and for the case to be presented to a new grand jury.
Booker, who first became aware of the case late last month, believes Johnson’s office bungled it and showed undue favoritism to help clear the officers who killed Small.
“This undermines my confidence in law enforcement and the judicial process in Glynn County, Georgia,” Booker said. “If it could happen to (Small), it could happen to me; it could happen to you.”
Small, a 35-year-old mother of two, was unarmed when she was brutally killed by two Glynn County officers in June 2010. A dashcam video captured the incident and shows Small’s car hemmed in by patrol vehicles and a utility pole, with no where to go, when a barrage of eight police bullets pierce her windshield at near point-blank range.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation into the shooting last year found Johnson took extraordinary measures in the grand jury process that helped clear the officers. The officers — Sgt. Corey Sasser and Officer Michael T. Simpson — said they shot Small in self-defense because she was threatening to run them over with her car. After the initial story, four ex-prosecutors stepped forward and described how Johnson mishandled the case. One said: “This was a murder and it was covered up.”
Booker, who has served on the Glynn County grand jury since September, said he first learned of the case on Jan. 28 when he attended a town hall meeting in Brunswick organized by “Justice for Caroline,” a grassroots campaign that has also urged Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens to reopen the case.
Booker said he was so shocked when he first viewed the dashcam video at the town hall meeting that he initially doubted what he was seeing. He said he doesn’t believe the central thrust of the officers’ defense — that Small posed a threat to them. He was also shocked by the statements the officers made in the minutes after the shooting, in which they compared their marksmanship and described how the bullets exploded Small’s head.
“Those statements were so callous, such a disregard for life,” Booker said. “It grated on me. I wondered how the district attorney, who also must have read those statements, how she could have defended those officers?”
He said he sent the letter to Johnson out of a sense of duty to uphold the oath he took when he became a grand juror last fall. He sent it certified mail the day after the town hall meeting, but as of Friday he had not received a response from Johnson, who was appointed Brunswick DA shortly after the Small shooting with the support of the local police chief.
The Justice For Caroline Small effort took shape last summer after the AJC/Channel 2 investigation that uncovered details of the case that her mother and her friends say they never knew.
The reports showed how the Glynn County police department interfered with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s investigation of the shooting. It also revealed how Johnson provided the evidence to the officers’ attorneys almost two months before the grand jury met and how she struck a deal with them not to present an indictment. She also allowed introduction of misleading evidence that the Glynn Count Police Department created to help justify their officers’ actions.
The group in November asked Deal and Olens to reopen the case, but have yet to receive a formal response. They’ve also tried to encourage public officials in Brunswick to take action and held the town hall to help build local support for their cause. The group estimates more than 100 people attended the Jan. 28 meeting, including three Glynn County commissioners.
Since the meeting, the spotlight on the case has intensified. In addition to Booker’s letter, a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, Leonard Pitts, penned a Feb. 2 column about the group’s efforts. He called Small’s shooting “every bit as outrageous” as more well-known cases of police brutality that have gained attention in the past year.
“I think we all feel we are making progress in getting Caroline’s story told,” said Robert Apgar, the leader of the group. “One of our major objectives is the truth should be known about what happened. There’s been major progress there. We’re still waiting for any government responses, government action. We’re going to keep pushing for that.”
The group invited Johnson to the town hall in January, but she never responded, Apgar said. About a week and a half ago, she reached out and was willing to travel to Tallahassee for a meeting that was scheduled for last Friday. But when the group insisted that a court reporter be present to document the meeting, Johnson balked. On Wednesday, she called Apgar to cancel, expressing concern that the press would have access to the transcript and would report her statements inaccurately, Apgar said.
She has declined multiple interview requests from the AJC/Channel 2 dating back to last June. In a written statement in November, she said that “as District Attorney I do not want my words used out of context to compound the tragic nature of this case.” She added that the 2011 Glynn County grand jury found the officers’ actions lawful as did a federal court, which in 2014 dismissed a civil lawsuit brought by Small’s family.
Booker, who is scheduled to rotate off the grand jury at the end of this month, said he plans to ask to be reappointed for the next term with hopes that Small’s case can be pursued by the next grand jury. He is