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Ghosts of Former Brunswick DA Linger as Grand Jury Prepares to Consider Johnson’s Pet Project

The four Glynn County police officers indicted last year in a quest by the then-district attorney to silence her opposition will once again face a grand jury this week. The case highlights only a few of the many lingering impacts of the tenure of disgraced former District Attorney Jackie Johnson. 

Background

In 2019, former Glynn County PD Officer James Cassada, who was assigned to the Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team, was prosecuted for his misdeeds while working on the narcotics task force, including having an inappropriate relationship with a confidential informant. Cassada ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of Violation of Oath of Office by a Public Officer. The plea was a curious one as Violation of Oath charges generally require an underlying criminal charge to define how an officer violated their oath in the commission of their duties, but Jackie Johnson prosecuted the case and set yet another legal precedent for a misapplication of the law. Cassada, in exchange for the lighter charges and sentence, agreed to offer testimony on others in the Glynn County PD. 

In February 2020, a grand jury indicted Glynn County Police Chief John Powell, Vidalia Police Chief Brian Scott, and former Glynn County officers David Haney and David Hassler on a 20-count indictment mostly compiled of allegations that were not criminal offenses but departmental policy violations of the Glynn PD. The case was presented by Special District Attorney Tracy Lawson, who was handpicked to prosecute the case by Jackie Johnson. [Background on the first indictment here]

In brief, the district attorney’s office sought to hold the four accountable for how it handled complaints made by Cassada’s wife as they pertain to the inappropriate relationship with the confidential informant. Specifically, one officer and a former Captain were charged with violating their oaths by failing to notify a supervisor of the allegation while another charge said the oath was violated when the officer facing allegations was allowed to continue working. Most flabbergasting, a former Sergeant was charged with perjury (based on four instances in another grand jury proceeding) because he testified that he was “unsure” and ‘did not recall’ statements made to him by another officer two years earlier. None of those are to be upstaged, however, by the charge against former Chief John Powell for violating his oath when, after calling for a GBI investigation into GBNET, he failed to require a Sergeant to cooperate with the GBI and then failed to discipline the Sergeant when said Sergeant refused to talk to the GBI.

Jackie Johnson initially skirted Georgia law as it governs rescusals and conflicts of interests and continued to advise on the case despite her supposed recusal. Amid the controversy over her handling of the Ahmaud Arbery case and the impending contested election last year, Johnson ultimately turned the case over to Attorney General Chris Carr for the assignment of a new District Attorney. In June 2020, Carr appointed Joe Mulholland, District Attorney in the South Georgia Judicial Circuit, to handle the case, which was already headed for trial.

The Cassada scandal led to the dismantling of GBNET and, coupled with the charges against the four Glynn PD employees, prompted Georgia lawmakers to pursue dissolving the Glynn County Police Department via state legislation. The latter came following Johnson’s presentation of the idea to a grand jury and the grand jury recommended the action. A judge ultimately ruled that the Georgia legislature had no authority to take such action – deeming it unconstitutional – just two months before voters ousted Johnson from office.

New Indictments

In September 2020, Judge Anthony Harrison dismissed three charges of violating oaths of office against former Glynn County Police Chief John Powell and former chief of staff Brian Scott. He also tossed three oath-of-office violation charges against David Haney, leaving the 14 counts still on the table. Defense attorneys argued that the perjury charges should be dismissed as well because they failed to state specifics or substantiation that the statements were false. Essentially, how did the state plan to prove that “I can’t recall” was a false statement. 

Under Georgia law, a district attorney has two opportunities to present the same case before a grand jury. Mulholland made it known in Fall of 2020 that he would take another stab at the case, seemingly for a number of reasons, including the poor construction of the case the first time and the judge’s dismissal of a handful of the charges. To date, that presentation has been delayed due to pandemic-related restrictions. 

This week, however, grand jurors in Glynn County are once again set to consider the charges against Powell, Scott, Haney, and Hassler. The cases, however, have been severed with two defendants in each. Even still, the charges for three of the defendants rely heavily on agency violations, not criminal wrongdoing. 

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John Powell faces counts of Violation of Oath of Office by Public Officer for failing to take action on GBNET personnel working in Camden County and in McIntosh County and for his failure to initiate an Internal Affairs investigation for an incident that occurred in Florida.  Brian Scott and John Powell jointly face one count of Violation of Oath for failing to act when learning that an Investigator had a personal relation with a convicted felon. No underlying criminal act is cited. 

A total of 10 counts are to be considered against David Hassler and David Haney, including seven counts of Violation of Oath of Office, two counts of Perjury and one count of Making a False Statement. The Violation of Oath charges, once again, all stem from allegedly failing to notify a supervisor of reports that Cassada was engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a CI, from Cassada’s wife and others. The proposed indictment also suggests that David Hassler made a false statement to the GBI regarding the matter and perjured himself in a 2019 grand jury proceeding. David Haney, the indictment says, perjured himself in the same grand jury proceeding by saying “I don’t recall,” “I can’t recall,” and “I don’t remember any specifics,” regarding a conversation two years prior with Hope Cassada. 

In committing these acts, the state alleges Brady Violations occurred. A “Brady Violation” is defined as an instance when prosecutors – or the state actors, including law enforcement – fail to perform their constitutional duty to turn over helpful evidence to the people they have charged with crimes.

“I Can’t Recall”

In August of 2020, during a motions hearing on the Glynn PD case, Jackie Johnson, who was still serving as the District Attorney, testified that she “did not have any specific recollection of ever doing that. I do not.” Her words were almost verbatim to those cited by David Haney in the grand jury proceedings she used to concoct the indictment. In the same hearing, she said twice more “I’m telling you I don’t have no recollection of that” and “again, I don’t remember any specifics or the content of any conversation that I had with him.” 

Jackie Johnson’s Chief Assistant District Attorney, John B. Johnson (JBJ), who now works for the Solicitor’s Office in Glynn County, has a well-documented history of committing in his official capacity, the very acts for which he and Jackie Johnson began the domino effect of legal issues for the four Glynn County police officers. And while Jackie Johnson found herself to be the subject of a multi-month grand jury presentation this summer, it is JBJ who has stolen most of the thunder in the headlines

JBJ came under fire in March 2020 when GBI files revealed that Johnson was dishonest in an interview with the agency during the Robert Cory Sasser murder investigation. In that case, the former Glynn County Police Officer murdered his estranged wife and her boyfriend and then killed himself. Johnson told investigators that he did not have a relationship outside of work with Sasser, but pictures on social media depicted the two embracing at a Shriners event. The personal relationship was illuminated because John B. Johnson agreed to Sasser’s consent bond before he killed Katie Sasser and John Hall, Jr.

JBJ also made headlines for his work prosecuting Dennis Perry, who was recently exonerated after serving 20 years for a murder he did not commit. In that case, court documents purport that JBJ withheld evidence from the defense that would have vindicated Perry at the time of his prosecution – a Brady violation. Another court order penned by a Superior Court Judge in a different case states that JBJ’s behavior “flies in the face of all fundamental fairness and is more akin to the Nazi Secret Service investigations than those required by the laws of this State and nation.” 

These well-known acts, among so many others, have not stymied the prosecutions of so many haunted by the ghosts of the former administration in the district attorney’s office in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.

Jessica Szilagyi
Written By

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Mike Gilder

    August 16, 2021 at 8:17 pm

    As someone who has had Jackie Johnson and JBJ over see a case I’m not the least bit surprised by any of this. I can only hope that they dig further than the tip of the iceberg. I also am PRAYING that she,JBJ, and ALL of those she ran cover for one day spend serious time in maximum security somewhere that is most unpleasant.

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