It was well covered in the news, the local reporter says. And, indeed, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has been on the story for a long time. After all, the shooting of Caroline Small, by two Glynn County, Georgia, cops, occurred over five years ago, well before cops shooting citizens became a topic of national disgust.
About a month ago, some strangers with a camera showed up at the Glynn County Commission meeting, but nobody knew why they were there. The only thing that happened that night, which the visitors might have noted, but probably didn’t, was that the Commission passed an imprudent resolution:
WHEREAS, the Glynn County Board of Commissioners is not pleased with the manner in which the Executive Director of the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission (JWSC) is conducting operations with regard to matters affecting the JWSC; and
WHEREAS, the Glynn County Board of Commissioners is concerned that the decisions of the Executive Director have not served the interests of the citizens and taxpayers of Glynn County;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Glynn County Board of Commissioners, acting in its capacity as the governing authority of Glynn County, that it be known that the Glynn County Board of Commissioners has lost confidence in the Executive Director of the JWSC and calls for his termination.
The imprudence had been pointed out in an ad by one of the County’s residents, who asked:
–Why does it fail to name Steve Swan, the Executive Director of the JWSC?
–Why does it fail to identify the only agency that has the ability to terminate Mr. Swan’s employment?
–Why does it assert that the County Commission is not pleased with the way Mr. Swan “is conducting operations” when Mr. Swan is on suspension and obviously NOT conducting operations?
–Why does it fail to specify which decisions by Mr. Swan “have not served the citizens and taxpayers of Glynn County”?
–Why does it refer to “the citizens and taxpayers of Glynn County” but fail to mention the rate-payers served by the JWSC?
–Why, if you adopt this resolution, should voters in Glynn County continue to have confidence in the manner in which you conduct yourselves?
–Why don’t you simply come to your senses, trash this pointless and mean-spirited resolution, and apologize to Mr. Swan?
It turned out that the reason the camera crew from the AJC was there was because Brad Schrade, a reporter for the AJC was expecting an answer to the email he’d sent, on October 30th, to the Glynn County Commission:
Subject: Questions about the Caroline Small shooting death from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution-Channel 2 Action News
Dear Glynn County Commissioner,
I’m a reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This year the AJC in partnership with Channel 2 Actions News published an investigation of the 2010 police shooting death of Caroline Small by Glynn County Police Department. The story drew national attention to the case and the Glynn County Police Department’s actions. Our investigation revealed the GBI believed the shooting was unjustified and that Glynn County Police interfered with its investigation. The story also revealed that Glynn County Police Department created a factually inaccurate animation of the shooting that was later presented to grand jurors.
In response to the AJC’s story, Small’s family and some others believe the case should be reopened and presented to a new grand jury.
We are seeking each of your views on the case as elected representatives of the county, and ask that you please respond to the following questions. The responses will be reported in a forthcoming story about the case. I will also reach out to you by phone.
1) Do you think the 2010 shooting death of Caroline Small by Glynn County Police was justified?
2) Do you condone the statements made by Glynn County Officers Robert Sasser and Michael Simpson in the moments after they shot Caroline Small? They discussed their marksmanship, talked about watching the shots hit her face and seemed to talk about the shooting as if it were sport.
3) Do you endorse the actions of the Glynn County Police Department when its officers interfered with the GBI investigation of the shooting?
4) Do you endorse the actions of the Glynn County Police Department when it created a factually inaccurate animation that was later presented to grand jurors?
5) Should this case be re-examined?
6) Do you support the governor or some other public official asking the GBI to investigate the case and its prosecution?
7) Should the Glynn County Commission conduct its own review of the shooting and the police department’s actions?
8) Should this case be presented to a second grand jury?
Thanks for your time and cooperation.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Almost a month later, there appeared, on the Glynn County Consent Agenda, wherein multiple items are routinely approved without discussion in a block, unless some commissioner asks for a separate vote, this item #10:
“Authorize the chairman to issue a letter in response to recent press inquiries regarding Caroline Small.”
Which provided a hook for Citizen Smith’s final comment (his fourth) of the year:
I am Julian Smith, and I live on Saint Simons Island. I come before you this evening to express my appreciation for the many excellent opportunities you provide me to comment on your decisions or proposed actions. I will focus on just two:
At your November 5th meeting, five commissioners voted in favor of a resolution calling for the firing of Stephen Swan, the Executive Director of the JWSC. Despite the fact that resolution expressed disapproval of the way Mr. Swan “is conducting operations” and claimed his “decisions have not served the interests of the citizens and taxpayers of Glynn County”, not a single commissioner provided any example of how Mr. Swan conducted operations or explained what decisions did not serve citizens or taxpayers.
And Chair Provenzano and Commissioner Brunson, the only ones who voted against the resolution, did not, either before or after the vote, challenge or question their colleagues’ failure to speak to those claims, nor did either say anything to discourage their colleagues from embarrassing themselves and the citizens of Glynn County with unsupported allegations.
Moving on to your consent agenda this evening, I call your attention to item ten: “Authorize the chairman to issue a letter in response to recent press inquiries regarding Caroline Small.” That agenda description is inaccurate. The press inquiries in question do NOT regard Caroline Small herself but concern the actions of the two Glynn County police officers who shot her to death in 2010, the investigation of that shooting, litigation following that investigation, and other matters.
Please be patient as I quote the first sentence of the letter you are being asked to authorize Chair Provenzano to issue: “The Glynn County Board of Commissioners . . . has received your October 30, 2015, e-mail regarding the death of Caroline Small, and the Board is collectively providing this letter in response.”
In that October 30th e-mail, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked eight simple questions. A month and three days later, the letter before you does not answer a single question directly.
For example, the second paragraph of the letter begins with “The first question in your e-mail is whether the Commissioners think that the shooting was justified.” Instead of answering that question, the letter cites a federal district court ruling that, quote, “The key question before the Court is whether the tragic shooting of Caroline Small violated the United States Constitution such that Small’s representatives can recover money damages from the police and the county. After thorough consideration, it is clear that no constitutional violation occurred.”
Those last words, “it is clear that no constitutional violation occurred”, are italicized for emphasis in the letter you are being asked to provide “collectively”. Later in the same paragraph, I find this incredible paraphrase of two federal court decisions: “In other words . . . the level of force was permissible under the Constitution.” In its final paragraph, the letter repeats the assertion that “all four members of the federal judiciary who have reviewed this case have reached the same conclusion–the level of force was justified under the U. S. Constitution.” That is NOT what the courts decided in this case.
Whether or not you believe the fatal shooting of Caroline Small was justified, please do not consent “collectively” or individually to this letter or ANY letter regarding this matter.
This letter and the resolution you adopted on November 5th are both useless. If you really want to do something useful, adopt a resolution and send a letter in response to the following “whereas” in the 10 June 2015 consent order between the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Sea Island Acquisition, LLC, regarding violations of the Shore Protection Act:
“WHEREAS, Respondent [that is, Sea Island Acquisition, LLC] manages the beach at Sea Island in the role of, and in lieu of, a local government, and performs the functions of security, law enforcement, beach cleanup, animal control, resource management and beach maintenance activities, as well as other functions performed by governmental entities on other barrier islands . . . “
Please, gentlemen, let Sea Island Acquisition and the innocent citizens who live on Sea Island know that Glynn County has not abandoned its authority as the local government responsible for law enforcement and the enforcement of local ordinances.
Of course, the Chair only thanked Smith for his comments and the commission moved on to hold public hearings on liquor licenses, which nobody in the audience chose to address.
However, when the Consent Agenda items came up, #8, #9, and #10 were removed and then, after some cursory discussion, #8 was approved, #9 was overlooked (the County Attorney reminded them later) and #10 was deferred several weeks until the commissioners had “more time to read.” There was no mention of a letter the Chairman had received earlier in the day from a former Assistant District Attorney, who cared enough to share his thoughts:
Subject: Caroline Small Killing
Dear Comm. Provenzano:
I am David Peterson, one of your constituents on Jekyll Island, having moved here permanently from Minnesota in 2004 with my wife and law partner, Sonja Johnson Peterson. Sonja worked on special projects for the Jekyll Island Authority and after proper vetting with Minnesota officials, Judge Stephen Kelley hired me as an Asst. District Attorney and I had the privilege of serving honorably from 2005 until my normal retirement at 65 in October, 2011.
I regret you and your colleagues have to continue to deal with the tragedy of the Caroline Small killing. I have personally tried several of Officer Sasser’s drug cases, and I have tried cases with DA Jackie Johnson.
Officer Sasser was not afraid when he shot Caroline Small. He lost command and control, which he had properly conducted until the pit stop by Trooper Monroe. He had Small trapped in a tiny front yard at 228 Armstrong Avenue (please look at Google map) between 4 police vehicles and the utility pole. She had no place to go. Sasser simply needed to provide routine cover to Tr. Monroe while he extricated her from her vehicle. Officers do it every day in Georgia, usually alone, sometimes with one other officer, very rarely ending in violence.
Simpson should not have been there. He was on limited desk duty, due to brain seizure issues. He should not have been carrying a weapon. Simpson admitted his seizure/medication problems in his initial statement to the GBI. See report.
Sasser and Simpson made no public utterances of being afraid at the scene, or by their conduct. They focused on their marksmanship. They waited and let her bleed out, just like deer hunting.
She deserved to go to jail. She did not deserve to die.
Your proposed response to Mr. Schrade of the Atlanta Journal Constitution is premature, and I would suggest lacking in awareness of critical facts.
I respectfully request that you defer further public action until we can meet with you.
I will be glad to give you substantial detail and perspective and I would like Keith Higgins to give you his knowledge and perspective as our senior trial attorney in the DA’s office. Perhaps Alex Atwood can also be present. If you prefer we can meet with a subcommittee or committee of the whole, whichever you prefer.
You are correct. There is a limit what you can do at this point. When you have heard us, I recommend that you immediately suspend Sasser and obtain his service weapons and badge and report same to the POST Board.
You are in this mess because of the unlawful criminal behavior of Sasser and Simpson, but more importantly the inexcusable behavior of Matt Doering and Jackie Johnson to prevent these crimes from being dealt with in the Constitutional forum, a public trial. I and all the senior ADAs, as well as Rick Currie, Ware County DA and Jackie’s mentor for years, advised from the outset in 2010 that these officers should have been indicted for murder, to vindicate the 95-95 percent of GCPD officers who NEVER would have shot her or any other Misdemeanor Offender in those circumstances.
If Matt Doering refuses to immediately suspend Sasser and secure his weapons, then he would be defying your Board Authority and justify his suspension or termination.
This is as serious as it gets in our profession.
I am a serious and respected attorney and citizen, having served in Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Georgia.
Ask Judge Kelley. Ask Judges Tuten, Wilkes, Scarlett, Harrison, and Barton and any attorneys you know, or GCPD officers, if they have worked with me.
I welcome the opportunity to meet you, discuss this issue, and work to improve the quality of all our lives, now and for the future ((Splost 2016, water and planning etc), here in Glynn County. Thank you.
Respectfully, David A. Peterson
It is perhaps noteworthy that, on yesterday, the Brunswick Glynn Joint Water and Sewer Commission, voted to extend the Executive Director’s contract for another year. Alan Booker, the Glynn County Commissioner delegated to sit on the JWSC Board voted ‘no’ because, “everyone knows how I feel.” Booker did, later in the day, vote to defer sending the letter to the AJC because he needed “more time to read” without specifying his reading matter. One wonders if he’s watched the video of the execution of Caroline Small and how that might have made him feel.