The Georgia police department at the center of the Ahmaud Arbery murder investigation has been marred by scandals and claims of corruption for years, including allegations that detectives tampered with evidence, lied to prosecutors and retaliated against whistleblowers.
In fact, the charges against the Glynn County Police Department are so severe that the Georgia General Assembly is considering letting voters decide whether to disband the department altogether.
The PD’s sketchy track record has come under national scrutiny after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was asked to intervene in Arbery’s case more than 2 1/2 months after local authorities largely looked the other way. Within 48 hours of the GBI getting involved, law enforcement had arrested former police officer Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34. They were charged with felony murder and aggravated assault.
One area resident told Fox News the allegations against the police department are well known.
“They don’t have a great reputation and it’s just the good ol’ boys mentality,” she said. “They look out for themselves and everyone around here knows it.”
It’s a sentiment Page Pate, a criminal defense attorney in Glynn County, echoed.
“There is not just one prior case,” she told NPR. “There are many prior cases. And each one is a separate Netflix episode.”
Four days after Arbery’s shooting, Glynn County Police Chief John Powell was indicted for perjury and witness tampering and remains on administrative leave. Powell had been hired to clean up the department’s “culture of cronyism” but instead got caught up in a scandal where he was accused of covering up wrongdoing by the police department’s narcotics task force. Three other department officials were also arrested for their involvement.
Last year, the drug force was dismantled after a state-led investigation found extensive misconduct, including an incident where an officer had sex with a confidential informant.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In the past decade, the Glynn County Police Department has faced at least 17 lawsuits, including allegations of illegal search and seizure.
A Nov. 8, 2019 grand jury report concluded, among other things, that there was “an ongoing culture of cover-up, failure to supervise, abuse of power and lack of accountability within the administration of the Glynn County Police Department.”
A year before the report, Glynn County Police Lt. Robert Sasser killed his then-estranged wife Katie Kettles Sasser and her friend before turning the gun on himself.
Katie’s family is suing the police department because they claim authorities failed to step in before the murders and knew Sasser displayed “erratic, violent” behavior. The lawsuit states Robert Sasser started to track his wife’s movements after they separated by hacking her OnStar service in her car, peeped through her windows at night and used the police database to look up personal information on people she knew.
Despite complaints, the lawsuit claims he was never reprimanded.
On May 13, 2018, the cops were called to Katie Sasser’s house after Robert Sasser tried to break down her door and threatened to kill all of the people inside. When Katie Sasser was speaking to police officers on her front porch, Robert Sasser allegedly lunged at her and tried again to get into the house. When the police dragged him off the porch, he pointed his hand and his finger at her and claimed, “You know what is going to happen!”
After several other documented incidents, he killed Katie, her friend and himself.
“The public trust has been violated and respect for the county police has diminished with the slow creep of incremental and deliberate corruption,” the lawsuit claims. “The fact is that the Glynn County Police Department is in crisis, it has been for years and people are dying as a result.”
Robert Sasser’s violent streak first surfaced on June 18, 2010 when he and another officer were involved in the shooting of Caroline Small, a 35-year-old mother of two who had led them on a slow-speed police chase. The “chase” ended when her car, tires flattened to the rims, spun out on a suburban street.
One officer yelled, “If she moves the car, I’m going to shoot her.”
Dashcam video shows she pulled forward. Then it shows Sasser and his partner shoot Small eight times hitting her in the head and face.
After the killing, the two officers compared their marksmanship. One told a witness how he saw Small’s head explode.
Sasser avoided punishment and remained on the force.
That same year, the Glynn County Police Department lost its certification with the state because it failed to meet basic policing standards.
The PD has also been accused of not being representative of the population it protects. A report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police called out Glynn County for having only 12 percent of its force comprised of black officers even though black residents make up 26 percent of the county’s population.
The deep disconnect and cronyism are just two of the reasons lawyer Lee Merritt, who was hired by Arbery’s family, told Fox News that getting justice for Arbery would be an uphill climb.
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“No family should wait 10 weeks for an arrest,” he said. “That was extremely exhausting for the family. They began to lose hope.”
Gregory McMichael, the former detective whose actions in Arbery’s shooting were defended as a citizen’s arrest, had been stripped of his law enforcement certification and power to arrest in February 2019, after he repeatedly failed to complete the required training.
According to documents from the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, McMichael had failed to finish mandatory firearms and use-of-force courses in 2014 as well.
None of it bodes well for the McMichaels but their lawyers argued this week the public was getting only half of the information.
Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael’s lawyer, vowed Thursday to find the “truth” and said the “facts” would eventually come out at trial.
“We know that there are strong opinions, we know there is anger, we know there is outrage, he said. “Right now we are starting at the end. We know the ending. What we don’t know is the beginning.”
Multiple calls to the Glynn County Police Department for comment were not returned.
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