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Local_news
District Attorney: Cassada case could face grand jury
 lhobbs  / 
 04.09.19

While James Cassada’s alleged misdeeds have cost him his career and imploded the county’s drug enforcement squad, criminal charges have so far eluded the former Glynn County Police detective.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation declined late last month to present charges against Cassada at the completion of its investigation, which centered on allegations he engaged in sexual relations with informants and consumed illegal drugs with them. However, the GBI has presented its findings in the investigation to Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, letting the final decision on whether Cassada faces criminal charges rest with her office.

At some point, Johnson said Monday, Cassada very well could face criminal consequences for his alleged actions.

“I think, ultimately, this will end up in front of a grand jury,” Johnson said.

It could be some time yet before that comes to pass, she said. The DA’s most pressing priority is straightening up the mess left in the wake of revelations that the Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team’s activities may have jeopardized numerous cases the DA has and is prosecuting against drug dealers. Glynn County Police Chief John Powell disbanded GBNET in the wake of the internal affairs investigation; it will be replaced with the Brunswick-Glynn Special Investigative Unit.

Right now she is focusing on more than two dozen cases involving those convicted of drug charges and presently serving time in prison, she said. These are among hundreds of cases that may have been compromised by the alleged actions of GBNET, which also include an investigator who associated with a convicted methamphetamine manufacturer and reports of the unit operating unannounced outside of its jurisdiction.

“Right now my priority would be people who are actually in custody on possibly compromised cases, based on what we know right now,” Johnson said. “My office is taking a look at those right now. We have identified 26 of those cases, as of today. And there could be upwards of a couple of hundred cases we have to go through.”

In early February, Powell requested the GBI investigate Cassada’s actions to determine whether criminal charges were warranted against him. Simultaneously, the police department began an internal affairs investigation into Cassada, a married man who reportedly slept with at least two confidential informants and was rumored to have consumed illegal drugs with one informant.

Cassada, who sought rehabilitation for an alcohol problem in 2018, resigned from the department on Feb. 8 rather than submit to an internal affairs interview, according to police records.

The internal affairs investigation concluded that Cassada violated numerous department policies, including sexual affairs with confidential informants and pressuring a fellow GBNET detective to drop an arrest warrant against one of those informants. The internal affairs investigation determined, however, that it could not prove definitively that Cassada consumed illegal drugs. “Although there were allegations that Investigator Cassada used and supplied cocaine and methamphetamine to two confidential informants, there is insufficient evidence to support the allegations,” the report said.

As a result of the internal affairs investigation, two others officers involved in GBNET faced disciplinary action. Investigator Dustin Simpson was reassigned from detective to patrol division after it was determined he had an ongoing friendship with a man twice convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine. And GBNET commander Capt. David Hassler still faces “major disciplinary action” for providing conflicting statements to internal affairs investigators and failing to act on information regarding violations of policy within his command. The report holds that Hassler was “incompetent or negligent in the performance of his duties as Police Captain ... “ the report said.

Police Chief Powell has not yet made public the nature of the discipline against Hassler.

On March 20, GBI investigator James Feller told Glynn County Police Chief of Staff Brian Scott that its investigation into Cassada was complete. “SA Feller said he did not have any intention of obtaining arrest warrants on James Cassada for any crime,” the county police investigation noted. “He said he would provide a copy of his investigation to DA Jackie Johnson, who could seek indictment via a Grand Jury if she felt a crime(s) was committed by James Cassada.”

Johnson said Monday that there is much more to consider before moving forward. She said the scope of a grand jury inquiry regarding these incidents could become “broader.”

In addition to the GBI investigation requested by the Glynn County Police Department, the DA’s office also had requested a separate GBI investigation, she said. She just received the findings of the DA-requested investigation last week and has not had time to review the report, she said.

And still more information came to light during that Glynn County Superior Court proceedings into the matter that concluded Friday, Johnson said.

For now, however, she is too busy sifting through potentially damaged cases against alleged drug dealers to worry about whether cases go forward against a former law enforcement officer.

“Our focus is on identifying affected cases,” Johnson said. “I have a spreadsheet right now that is massive. But I do see this ultimately ending up in a grand jury.”


Local_news
Festival to celebrate beauty, history of Lover's Oak
 lmcdonald  / 
 04.09.19

The Golden Isles is home to many treasured trees. The beautiful live oaks that stand tall over Glynn County have witnessed many eras of the area’s history.

One of the most well-known is Lover’s Oak, located in Brunswick’s historic district. The uniquely-shaped live oak has the appearance of two trees grown together and offers visitors willing to climb a little a nice seat overlooking Albany Street.

Lover’s Oak is visited daily, often by travelers passing through town, and has towered in the background of countless cellphone selfies.

An upcoming festival will celebrate Lover’s Oak and the historic charm the tree brings to Brunswick.

The Golden Isles Fund for Trees (GIFT) and the Brunswick Tree Board plan to co-sponsor the first Lover’s Oak Festival from 9 a.m. to noon on April 27. The free event will be held in the 800 block of Albany Street, which the city plans to close off during the festival.

The event will include a variety of activities that celebrate National Arbor Day. The festival aims to also educate participants on the history of Lover’s Oak and on ways to maintain the health of the Golden Isles’ many trees.

Lover’s Oak has been estimated to be more than 400 years old. Local lore suggests that Native American maidens used to meet their braves under the tree. Through the centuries, newlyweds have stopped by the tree for photos.

“We wanted to celebrate the tree, and the last Friday in April is National Arbor Day,” said Miriam Lancaster, a GIFT board member and one of the festival’s organizers. “We usually don’t do a lot of that in Georgia, because we have Georgia Arbor Day in February, which is the good planting time.”

GIFT, a local nonprofit formed in 2016, aims to preserve and improve the tree canopy in Glynn County.

To support this mission through local education, Nan Marie O’Hara, a GIFT board member, began a project to register the trees in Glynn County and collect and record their histories. The stories of registered trees can be found online at treesglynn.org.

“I always try to find history that’s maybe not really common,” O’Hara said. “A lot of times, it will be about a man, and they say nothing about the woman. So I dug into some of them and found some history on the women that people don’t know.”

Some of these stories will be shared at the festival. Local historians Bill Weeks and Stephen Hart will speak at the event on the founding and history of Brunswick. Local musician Owen Plant will also perform.

The Magnolia Garden Club will have craft and planting activities for children, and the Junior Women’s Association of the Golden Isles will offer a tree story time.

Certified arborists and the UGA Extension Service will also be on hand to answer plant and tree care questions.

Plein air artists will take part in the event and will offer works for sale. A portion of those proceeds will go to the improvement of Lover’s Oak.

GIFT will also accept donations for Lover’s Oak improvement during the festival. Improvement plans include new signage and median planting for the tree.

“There’s some historic pictures that are really very cool, so we’re going to be collecting funds to put a new interpretive sign with some of the older pictures,” said Sandy Colhard, one of the festival’s organizers.

The full schedule for the event will soon be posted online at treesglynn.org.


Local_news
Sewer spill leads to St. Simons Island road closure
 tcooper  / 
 04.09.19

A burst sewer main under Arnold Road on St. Simons Island led the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission to close a section of the street around 4 p.m. Saturday.

“The top half (of the pipe) blew off,” said Andrew Sessions, with the utility’s systems pumping and maintenance division.

Utility workers patched up the break at around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, but the closure stretched through Monday. Workers at the scene said they expected to finish up and patch the road sometime today.

“Assuming the tools come in from the distributor today or tomorrow, we’ll have the road covered up (today),” said Administration Director Jay Sellers.

Until then, the section of Arnold Road from Ocean Boulevard to just past East Peachtree Street will be closed to through traffic.

The break occurred underneath the road near the intersection of East Peachtree Street and Arnold Road. The subsequent sewage spill dislodged the dirt around the pipe, which created a sinkhole in Arnold Road. Someone reported that to the JWSC, Sellers said.

Sessions said workers had installed a temporary fix and were waiting for a new section of high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, pipe Monday morning.

Workers couldn’t patch the pipe quickly enough to prevent enough sewage from leaking out into the street to fall within state Environmental Protection Division regulations, Sellers said.

“We had to contact the EPD. We call a 1-800 number and report when there’s a sanitary sewer overflow,” he said. “Then we follow up with a report of the (sewage) flow, and was there a fish kill, was there a particular amount in standing water, that sort of thing. The good news is whatever (sewage) did make it into the storm drain was diluted before it got to the marsh.”

Sellers said the JWSC would release the report within a day or so, publishing it on its website and as an advertisement in The News.

A news release from the utility stated the pipe suffered a material failure and spilled an unknown quantity of sewage before workers patched it.

The pipe was made of ductile iron, a material popular in the 1950s and 60s, Sessions said. Roughly 22,000 feet of ductile iron pipe remains under the surface of Glynn County, according to Sellers, although the utility has reason to suspect the number isn’t entirely accurate.

Over the years the material becomes brittle, Sellers said. Utility crews work to replace it with PVC or HDPE whenever possible.

Sellers said a lateral crack started in the pipe and continued to an elbow joint, complicating the fix. He still expects the repairs to be completed today, however.


Local_news
Abortion bills take center stage on Capitol Hill
 wwolfe  / 
 04.09.19

Abortion legislation will be the talk of Congress today as House Republicans seek to push a resolution out of committee, and Senate Republicans convene a committee hearing on a 20-week abortion ban.

In a statement released Sunday, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, announced he’s one of the signatories to a discharge petition that’s being filed today to bring H.R. 962 out of the House Judiciary Committee, where the Democratic majority is unlikely to grant the opportunity for a vote.

“This legislation would require medical care for any baby that survives an attempted abortion,” Carter said in a video statement. “It would require the same care to any other child born prematurely at the same gestational age. After these efforts, the health care providers must transport the baby to a hospital. Any precious child — no matter why or where they are born — deserves proper medical care.

“As some state legislatures move to legalize late-term abortions, it’s critical we pass this legislation as soon as possible to protect the lives of these innocent babies who have no voice for themselves. As a father and grandfather, I strongly believe life begins at conception and believe in the right to life. However, even if you don’t agree with me on this, I hope we can all agree that medical practitioners should be legally required to administer medical care to precious babies born alive, no matter what. We must stand together and end the horrific practice of murdering babies following failed abortions.”

The H.R. 962 discharge petition needs the support of at least 218 members, and getting to 218 won’t be easy. There is the resolution’s lead sponsor, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., 184 Republican cosponsors and three Democratic cosponsors — U.S. Reps. Henry Cueller (Texas), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), and Collin Peterson (Minn.). If the GOP is able to corral all of the other 12 House Republicans, they still need another 17 Democrats. And there’s no guarantee on either count.

Hence, since discharge petitions usually fail, they’re considered largely symbolic.

Over in the Senate, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., filed S. 160 on Jan. 16, and it was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is chairman. At around 10 a.m. today, the committee will take up the bill in a hearing. There is the possibility for some theatrics, as Senate Judiciary has among its Democratic members presidential contenders including U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.).

The bill would criminalize abortions performed after 20 weeks of gestation, with a maximum prison sentence of five years. The bill provides exceptions regarding saving the life of the woman, or if the pregnancy occurs through rape or incest. A doctor who performed an abortion under the exceptions would have to comply with a number of requirements.

Both Georgia U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue are original cosponsors of S. 160.

Invited are three people to speak for the bill and two to speak against it. One of those to speak against it is Georgia state Sen. Jen Jordan, R-Atlanta.

She generated a fair amount of attention for her speech against H.B. 481 when it came up for a vote March 22 in the state Senate.

In that speech, Jordan said, “What gives this body the right to substitute its judgment of that of the entire medical community of this state? What gives this body the right to substitute its choices for those of the women who will no doubt bear the scars, the consequences, and who will face death, and now, likely, prison? Who gives this body the right to substitute its will to override the Constitution of the United States?

“Each of us took an oath to protect, to uphold the Constitution, to heed established constitutional law. This oath should mean something, because without the rule of law, we have nothing.”

Also testifying are Melissa Ohden of Gladstone, Mo., founder of the Abortion Survivors Network; Dr. Valerie Peterson of Dallas, Texas, director of partnership development for Equal Opportunity Schools; Dr. Donna Harrison of Eau Claire, Mich., executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists; and Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life.

Those wishing to watch the hearing online can go to is.gd/s160hearing.