I tried for a couple of days this week to get a hold of District Attorney Jackie Johnson in Brunswick to ask her some questions.
The most pressing: How can you look at yourself in the mirror?
The bodies are piling up in Glynn County in southeast Georgia. And a good part of that blame falls in Johnson’s office.
Johnson is the prosecutor who cake-walked a couple of trigger-happy cops through the justice system after the thoroughly outrageous 2010 shooting of Caroline Small, the mother of two who was unarmed and trapped in her car after a slow-speed chase.
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The GBI supervisor in charge of the investigation called the shooting unjustified, saying it was the worst police shooting he ever reviewed. Despite that, DA Johnson acted as though she were Public Defender Johnson. The DA gave the officers the evidence in the case weeks before it was presented to the grand jury and then let the Glynn County Police Department — her partner in burying the truth — show jurors a faulty animation of the case.
In the past two months, one of those cops, Lt. Robert C. Sasser, was again protected by Johnson’s office, as well as by the police department, which seems to prefer giving sketchy cops every chance in the world.
What was the outcome of that repeated leniency? Nearly two months ago, Sasser went to the house of his estranged wife and — in front of his fellow officers — repeatedly threatened to kill her and a local businessman she had been dating. And last week, on June 28, he acted on that vow, shooting to death Katie Lovett Sasser and Johnny Hall.
Sasser then took the coward’s way out when he killed himself after being cornered by police. Fittingly, it occurred after leading cops on his own slow-speed chase.
Now, in the wake of public outrage and horror, the DA and the police are shrugging off their complicity. There was little we could do, the police say. DA Johnson sings a similar tune, releasing a statement that understates her willful neglect and spreads the blame to the “court system.” The statement mentions “court” a dozen times; it mentions “district attorney” once.
Let’s go back to May 13, when Sasser was kicking his wife’s door at 3:10 a.m. Glynn County cops arrived and had to restrain Sasser. The wife told them Sasser repeatedly yelled, “I’m going to kill you” and “I’m going to kill him.”
Katie Sasser asked the cops why they weren’t arresting him. Was it because he was a lieutenant?
Two days later, after Chief John Powell heard about the incident and watched the officer’s body cams, Sasser was arrested on family violence charges: simple battery and criminal trespass. He was bonded out and ordered to not harass his wife and stay away from guns.
On May 17, police were told Sasser was acting irrationally. They found him in the woods in his vehicle threatening suicide with a gun. After an hours-long standoff, SWAT team members rushed him and overpowered him. But not until after he kicked officers in the groin, adding two felony charges to his plate.
A week later, he was in magistrate court. DA Johnson and Sasser’s defense attorney had cooked up a consent order for a $5,000 bond. He had been treated in a mental health facility, they noted. Once again, Sasser promised to be good, to not bother his wife, to stay away from guns, etc. He was told to leave the county in two hours and return only to attend court hearings in his divorce.
According to the law, bond is only to be given to defendants who are 1) not a threat to flee, 2) pose “no significant threat” to others, 3) pose no significant risk of committing more felonies and 4) pose little risk of intimidating witnesses. However, Sasser, an unhinged person known for untruthfulness in the department, had or would violate all four.
Johnson, who apparently read a different law book than I did, said in a statement that “statutory factors weighed in favor of Sasser’s release.”
According to The Brunswick News, Magistrate Flay Cabiness told Sasser, “You’ve been given a second chance. Don’t violate the orders again. There won’t be a third chance.”
The system finally seemed like it was getting tough, but …
On June 26, Sasser returned to Glynn County to attend divorce court, and things didn’t go his way. That evening, several hours after the courthouse was closed, Katie Sasser, her boyfriend Johnny Hall, and some friends were at a local pizzeria enjoying trivia night when Sasser ambled in to pick up a pizza. While there, Sasser stuck out his index finger, pointed it at his estranged wife and Hall, and cocked his thumb like the hammer of a gun.
Unnerved, Hall and Mrs. Sasser called the cops. Hall also called his attorney, Jason Clark.
“He wanted to make sure the police paid attention to this, to make sure they did something,” Clark told me.
“It is inexcusable they did not arrest him,” an angry Clark said. “When you have a potentially dangerous situation, and a person out on bond, you don’t have to be right. Make the arrest!”
Clark said he sees two new charges here — terroristic threats and stalking. The morning after the pizza incident, Glynn cops talked with Hall at Clark’s office.
Brian Scott, chief of staff for Glynn’s police chief, told me the department investigated and “determined there was no probable cause for a new crime here.”
Scott said Sasser may have violated his bond but cops don’t make arrests without a judge’s signature. He said local authorities were trying to determine whether Sasser should be arrested.
I telephoned former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan. He called the Glynn County DA’s and police department’s actions over the past two months “unbelievable.”
In the last incident, “they put the cart before the horse. The revocation hearing should happen after he is arrested,” Morgan said. “Domestic violence victims would be in grave danger if you always had to wait for a hearing.”
Former cop and state investigator Richard Hyde said DA Johnson “has a reputation for covering up police misconduct. This is the result. She has blood on her hands.”