The escalating legal troubles of a suspended Glynn County Police officer imploded with lethal consequences Thursday night, ending with Lt. Robert “Cory” Sasser fatally shooting his estranged wife and her friend in McIntosh County before dying himself of a gunshot wound to the chest in the driveway of his Glynn County home, authorities said.
According to Glynn and McIntosh County law enforcement authorities, Robert “Cory” Sasser shot and killed Katie Lovett Sasser and Johnny Edward Hall Jr. at Hall’s home in the Tolamato Island neighborhood about 9:44 p.m. Hours later, police found Cory Sasser dead inside a leased silver Toyota Tacoma pickup truck that was parked in the driveway of his Hunters Point home, located off U.S. Highway 341 in the western Glynn County community of Sterling. Following reports of shots fired, police found Hall, 39, shot dead in the driveway of his home. Katie Sasser, 34, was found dead inside the home, the McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office said. Deputies said the home’s front door was forced open.
Police say Hall was armed and returned gunfire with Sasser, 41. The McIntosh County Sheriffs Office said Sasser died of a gunshot wound to the chest. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating Sasser’s death and would not comment Friday on whether Sasser’s fatal wound was self-inflicted or fired from Hall’s gun. Officers surrounding Sasser at the end fired only tear gas canisters, police said.
Glynn County Police said at a press conference that a state Department of Natural Resources game warden was responding to the call of shots fired at Hall’s home when he encountered Sasser, who had been arrested May 18 following a standoff involving Glynn County police officers with whom he once served. Sasser gave DNR ranger Jay Wright a phony story, then sped away, authorities said. The officer recognized Sasser only after he left, police said.
Shortly after, a McIntosh County Sheriff’s sergeant encountered Sasser at Ga. Highway 251 and U.S. Highway 17. Sasser then led Glynn and McIntosh county officers on what was described as a slow-speed pursuit of more than 30 miles to the driveway of his home at 37 Hunters Drive, police said. The pursuit never exceeded 60 mph, police added.
Sasser remained in his vehicle and law enforcement surrounded it, police said. Glynn County SWAT team members fired several canisters of tear gas into the Sasser’s vehicle, but got no response. After several hours, officers approached the vehicle and found Sasser dead inside, police said. Sasser was on unpaid administrative leave at the time of his death, but Police Chief John Powell had served him with a notice of termination, which Sasser had appealed. Sasser joined the county police department in 2001.
The downward spiraling series of events that led to Thursday night’s tragic ending began in the predawn hours of May 13 when he confronted Katie Sasser at her Promenade Place residence in Glynn County. Police said Sasser refused to leave when asked and grabbed her arm as she tried to close the front door. County police charged Sasser with simple battery and criminal trespass in the incident. He was released the following day on $4,800 bond. Under the conditions of his release, he was ordered not to carry firearms and to have no contact with Katie Sasser. Katie Sasser later asked that the no contact order be lifted, according to court documents.
Several days later Sasser forced a standoff with police and the Georgia State Patrol SWAT team in the woods off Ga Highway 99 in western Glynn County. Police learned on the afternoon of May 17 that Sasser was in possession of a gun, in violation of the conditions of his release. Police caught up to him in a wooded area behind Hutcheson Plantation on Ga. 99. County police and state patrol SWAT members surrounded his pickup truck. A standoff of more than eight hours ensued during which Sasser fired a shot inside his truck, police said. Sasser kicked two county police officers in the groin while being subdued and eventually had to be Tased by state troopers, police said. He was charged with two felony counts of obstruction of law enforcement with violence and one misdemeanor count of obstruction of the law.
After that incident and spending a week in mental health treatment, Glynn County Magistrate Judge Flay Cabiness released Sasser on $5,000 bond during a May 23 hearing. However, Cabiness ordered him to leave Glynn County that same day. He was to live with a sister in Theordore, Ala., and was to seek treatment for PTSD at the nearest Veterans Administration facility. A family member drove him to the small town north of Mobile, Ala., immediately after Sasser was processed out at the Glynn County Detention Center.
“Once he walks out of that gate (at the detention center), he’s got two hours to get out of Glynn County,” County Sheriff Neal Jump said at the time.
He was to return only for court appearances, and then only after advance notice. The court order actually applied to the entire Brunswick Judicial Circuit, which also includes Camden, Wayne, Jeff Davis, and Appling counties. McIntosh County is in the Atlantic Judicial Circuit. Sasser still could have no contact with his wife.
He had permission to return Tuesday to Glynn County for court proceedings in a divorce from Katie Sasser. Sasser was required to leave the area immediately following the court proceeding, police said. It was the duty of the local probation officer to ensure that he complied with those conditions, police said.
County police also confirmed Friday that they were investigating reports that Sasser had threatened harm against his wife during an encounter at a local restaurant this week by making gestures with his hand like he was shooting her and a male friend. The couple had been separated for about three months, police said.
“There are certain restrictions we have as law enforcement,” Chief Powell said. “We have to make sure that we have probable cause established, which has to be reviewed by the judicial authorities. We were working in concert with judicial authorities to identify if there was probable cause to make an arrest. We were taking every step available to us under the law to ensure a safe outcome.”
The decision to release Sasser on bond following his May 18 arrest was based on several factors, including consultations with mental health officials, as well as Katie Sasser and officers involved in the incident, said Jackie L. Johnson, District Attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit. State “statutory qualifications for bond” also were taken into consideration, Johnson said in her statement to press.
“It was agreed that the statutory factors weighed in favor of Sasser’s release ...” Johnson said.
Sasser was one of two county police officers involved in the controversial shooting eight years ago of Caroline Small, which led to her death a week later. The fatal police shooting gained national media attention. Sasser and officer Todd Simpson shot the 35-year-old mother of two several times on June 18, 2010, at the end of a 20-minute low speed pursuit that ended with her car rocking on four flat tires and hemmed in by two patrol cars and a utility pole. Small had a history of struggles with drug addiction and depression.
A Glynn County grand jury chose not to pursue criminal charges against Sasser and Simpson. A federal judge ruled in a subsequent civil suit that the shooting was “unnecessary” but did not violate Small’s constitutional rights. Officer Simpon died of cancer in 2016.
A group calling itself Justice for Caroline that has pushed for prosecution of the officers involved in the Small shooting issued a statement Friday expressing sympathy for the families of all involved in Friday’s incident. The statement also expressed frustration, saying members believe three deaths could have been prevented.
“Once again, children have lost their parents and families have lost their loved ones at Cory Sasser’s hand,” the statement said. “Too many lives have been lost due to public officials protecting and promoting one unfit to wear a badge.”
Around midmorning Friday, the only signs that anything had happened at Sasser’s single-story stucco home on Hunters Drive were the pieces of auto glass in the short concrete driveway.
Neighbor Harley Rich said he and his wife heard the commotion from two doors away.
“I had just laid down kind of early,’’ and couldn’t sleep because of discomfort from medical treatment, he said.
“My wife got me up and said there’s cops everywhere. Something’s going on at Cory’s house,’’ Rich said.
His wife eventually had to take their dog out, but an officer instructed her to go back inside, he said.
“I thought, ‘This is not good,’’’ Rich said.
They both heard a lot of muffled shots — his wife counted two dozen — that didn’t sound like gunfire and there was nothing that sounded like return fire, he said.
Rich said he got his handgun out, having heard about Sasser’s earlier standoff with police and the charges against him. Although there were a lot of police on the scene, Rich said he worried Sasser could somehow evade custody and “kick in my door. I had my gun out. I figured he’d gone this far with it.”
Having lived in the usually quiet, well-kept neighborhood less than a year, Rich said he hadn’t known Sasser long but said all their contacts had been pleasant. Back in the winter, Sasser promised to invite the Riches over for pool parties once the weather warmed. But then he and Katie Sasser had their breakup.
Rich also said he had seen Sasser out often with his young son.
“He took up a lot of time with the kid, played ball with him. I saw that a lot. Cute little boy,’’ Rich said.
And that, Rich said, is the hardest part.
“I can’t get that little boy off my mind. I hope there’s good family people to take care of him,’’ he said.
The News’ Taylor Cooper contributed to this report.