The family and supporters of an unarmed Brunswick mother who was brutally killed by Glynn County police made a direct appeal Thursday to Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens for justice in the case.
In a letter delivered to the state Capitol, the group is asking Georgia’s top elected officials to intervene in the 2010 killing of Caroline Small, a case that has attracted national attention because of dramatic dash cam video that captured the police shooting on tape.
The group seeks a GBI investigation into the Glynn County Police Department, independent investigation of the local prosecutor and termination of the police powers of the two officers who shot Small.
Deal’s office declined to comment about the group’s appeal. His press office referred questions to Olens and the GBI who were not immediately available Thursday for comment.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have reported extensively on the controversial shooting, most recently in stories this week that quoted former prosecutors in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit saying their boss breached prosecutorial ethics and mishandled the case.
Several former prosecutors in the office told the AJC and Channel 2 that they believed the shooting was a murder. They say Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson fired one prosecutor who planned to bring an indictment against the officers, and cut out others who felt the officers had committed a crime.
In documents obtained by the AJC and Channel 2, Johnson expressed concerns that public statements by the prosecutor who wanted to pursue charges — the same prosecutor she ultimately fired — had damaged her office’s relationship with the Glynn police department. The former prosecutors say her concerns showed a conflict of interest that should have caused her to recuse herself from the case.
“It is an understatement to say that justice was not done in this case,” according to the letter written by Robert C. Apgar, a Florida attorney and chairman of the Justice for Caroline McGehee Small group.
The group, started by Small’s mother, Karen McGehee and a tight circle of church friends in Tallahassee ask Deal and Olens, “as the chief law enforcement officers” in Georgia, to direct the GBI to investigate the shooting and its aftermath.
They ask the governor to investigate DA Johnson’s conduct and whether she violated her oath of office. And it asks them to direct the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) to investigate the officers’ conduct and take action to strip them of their police powers if necessary.
Small, then 35, led police on an erratic low speed chase that ended on a suburban Brunswick street with her beat up Buick hemmed in by a utility pole and several police cruisers. Two Glynn County officers — Sgt. Robert Sasser and Officer Todd Simpson — fired eight rounds into Small’s windshield.
In their letter, the justice group praises the actions of a Georgia State Patrol trooper who can be seen on the dash cam video trying to rescue Small from the vehicle before the two officers — Sgt. Robert C. Sasser and Officer Michael T. Simpson — opened fire.
“It is clear to us that it was completely unnecessary for the two Glynn County police officers to shoot Caroline,” the letter says. “It is beyond question that the shooting was an unreasonable use of deadly force.”
The AJC and Channel 2 reported in July that the GBI supervising agent who oversaw the investigation believed it the worst police shooting he’d investigated in two decades on the job. DA Johnson has declined interview requests to discuss the case.
The GBI says Glynn County police interfered with their investigation and created misleading evidence that was presented to a grand jury, which cleared the officers in August 2011.
The Glynn County Commission, which oversees the police department, has been largely silent about the shooting and did not review it. Commissioner Bob Coleman told the AJC and Channel 2 earlier this month that he doesn’t think the shooting was justified.
“I have read your reporting and the circumstances surrounding the investigation,” Coleman said in written response to questions posed to the seven Glynn commissioners. “Based on those allegations I believe that additional investigation is warranted.”
Coleman said Thursday that he supports the Small group’s efforts and hopes it will lead to a new investigation. He said he believes there was a “breakdown in justice” in the case.
“I just want the truth,” he said. “I want people to answer these unanswered questions.”
The other commissioners did not respond to written questions from the AJC.
Glynn Commission Chairman Dale Provencanzo said the local grand jury and a federal court have already weighed in on the shooting and found it justified. He questioned if the commission had jurisdiction or authority to do anything.
“I can’t go back five years and overrule something that’s already been done,” Provencanzo told the AJC and Channel 2 in an interview.
The Justice For Caroline Small group formed this summer after family and friends in Tallahassee, where Small grew up, read how the case was handled. Now numbering 100 members, the group is reaching out to citizens in Brunswick and Georgia to build support for their cause.
Log on to myAJC.com to read the letter that Justice for Caroline Small delivered to the governor and attorney general.