Hope Cassada told the court she never saw her husband come out of a motel room with a confidential informant and never accused her husband’s fellow officers of possibly cheating on their wives with informants.
That was only part of the new information coming to light in Glynn County Superior Court regarding alleged misconduct by James Cassada and other members of the Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team and the Glynn County Police Department.
Taking the stand Friday afternoon, Hope Cassada said that on Nov. 15, 2017, the girlfriend of one of James Cassada’s confidential informants — “out of the blue” — reached out to her on Facebook. The girlfriend said she believed the CI, Brittni Lowrey, was having an inappropriate relationship with James based on the texts the girlfriend saw in Lowrey’s phone.
This was late in the evening, and Hope was outside her residence when she talked with the girlfriend. Once the conversation was over, Hope walked in and confronted James with the information, leading to him leaving the house for two days.
Hope Cassada testified she was concerned for two reasons — one was the implications if the claims were true, and the other was she found it concerning that the significant other of an informant was reaching out to the spouse of a law enforcement officer.
She called GBNET Capt. David Hassler and told him about it. Hope also confirmed she talked with other spouses of other officers, and Lt. David Haney. Hope Cassada said James and Haney were close, and on Nov. 16, she said she vaguely informed Haney of the allegations over the phone, and wanted to make sure James was OK. Later, Hope said Haney told her James was fine, and she asked him to talk with James about getting him into rehab for alcohol abuse treatment.
Later that day, the girlfriend gets in touch again and informs Hope about what occurred Nov. 8 at a Brunswick bar and restaurant between her, Lowrey and James Cassada.
James Feller, an agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, testified earlier Friday as to what GBNET officers told him happened Nov. 8. The composite story was that around half a dozen or more members of GBNET were on the scene conducting an operation because they learned that establishment had a reputation for drug sales.
While James Cassada and other agents were inside — undercover, in plain clothes — Lowrey and her girlfriend walk in. The girlfriend was aware Cassada was having sex with Lowrey and understandably wasn’t pleased with it, so she confronted him. Not long after, the GBNET operation was cancelled because their cover was all but blown, and the girlfriend yelled as Cassada as the officers left the establishment.
The GBNET officers were instructed not to use Lowrey anymore, and paperwork was filed to that extent, but nothing was noted on that paperwork about the reason it was done.
During another phone call with the girlfriend, Hope Cassada said Lowrey also got on the phone, “sort of apologized,” “deflected responsibility” and generally blamed James Cassada for what went on.
In the internal affairs investigation document created by GCPD Chief of Staff Brian Scott, Investigator Stephan Lowrey, Brittni’s brother and a GBNET officer, said what she told him. He informed Scott that Brittni explained to him that Cassada “was not a good person” and was not who Stephan Lowrey thought he was.
Stephan Lowrey said he was at the Nov. 8 operation when his sister and her girlfriend walked into the restaurant. He told Scott the couple got into a loud argument, the relationship with Cassada was mentioned, and Brittni accused her girlfriend of being jealous.
Lowrey was the only informant involved with Cassada that Feller was aware of when he started his investigation, but he testified that, in that process, he found out about Cassada’s relationship with Misty McDaniel. She was a target of Operation Déjà Vu, a multi-agency anti-narcotics operation that was announced to the public in November 2018. In previous testimony and in Feller’s statements Friday, it was disclosed that GBNET Investigator Dustin Davis had an active warrant for her arrest on a charge of selling methamphetamine, but Cassada had Davis pull the warrant because if the arrest became public, it would cause problems between him and his wife.
Policy & Dustin Simpson
Also testifying Friday was Mike Lawson, a Glynn County Sheriff’s Office deputy assigned to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He served in GBNET both as a Brunswick Police officer and in the GCPD, covering a period of around eight years, ending in 2009.
Under direct examination by District Attorney Jackie Johnson, Lawson went over matters of policy, like not associating with known felons unless it’s a required part of your work on the job, the credibility of the evidentiary chain of custody and behavior entering other jurisdictions.
GBNET officers are accused of working outside Glynn County, where they have no police powers and are like anyone else under the law. Lawson said that even with sheriff’s deputies, who have statewide jurisdiction, it’s proper protocol to make local law enforcement aware if you’re working a case in their jurisdiction. He said otherwise it puts officers at risk. Lawson said he was aware of GBNET officers working outside their jurisdiction in Brantley and Camden counties without notifying local law enforcement, including once on a matter in Camden in which Camden authorities were already involved.
Moving on, he testified that a CI came to him in May 2018 with a photo of GBNET Investigator Dustin Simpson, saying he was hanging out with Brian Highsmith — who was convicted of a felony meth offense in federal court — and other drug dealers. A couple days earlier, Lawson said he and two other ATF agents were with Davis working on other matters when Davis told him GBNET was closing in on a dealer on St. Simons Island, but had to back off when they found out Simpson was friends with him.
When Lawson was talking with Scott and GCPD Chief John Powell later that month, he let them know what he was told. Information flowed the other way when they spoke with Lawson about an incident with Simpson and Highsmith at a Blythe Island Highway bar. Bar management saw Highsmith was carrying a firearm and attempted to do something about it when, Lawson was told, Simpson flashed his credentials and essentially said it was OK.
However, it’s a state and federal crime for a convicted felon to possess a gun. It’s punishable in Georgia by one to five years in prison, and the federal charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. If the allegations were true, Highsmith would also be violating the terms of his supervised release, which is one reason why Lawson, as a federal agent, would be notified of the information.
Lawson said Scott asked him if he was going to do anything with that, and Lawson said he told them that the first thing that should be done is an internal affairs investigation, with the GCPD bringing in an independent investigator to do the job.
The Lowe Incident
While Friday’s testimony was going on, McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy George Trexler emailed The News concerning testimony Wednesday by Powell, regarding records the MCSO requested on two traffic stops by GCPD officers of MCSO Col. Danny Lowe the evening of Jan. 4, when Lowe was in a MCSO vehicle.
Trexler said Powell is mistaken in his testimony if he believes GCPD and Glynn-Brunswick 911 turned over all the records they needed to turn over. Trexler said he hand-delivered an open records request to Scott on Jan. 7, asking for body cam video of both stops and all reports, texts, communications records, evidence collected and anything else. Later, Trexler sent a text asking for a copy of the GCPD body cam policy.
The next day, Scott turned over two discs with video of the two stops, said GB-911 would need to be contacted about communications records, and said there were no reports, notes, texts or anything else available. Trexler said Scott didn’t provide a copy of the body cam policy. Trexler also said that while the first video appeared complete, the second looked edited, partially deleted or otherwise incomplete.
On Feb. 19, Trexler hand-delivered an open records request to GB-911 Director Steve Usher, requesting all communications records from 9-11 p.m. on Jan. 4 that involve the stops on Lowe’s vehicle. He said he’s yet to receive a response from Usher, which is a violations of the state open records law.
Trexler said that as a last resort, March 4 he hand-delivered a request for assistance to Glynn County Attorney Aaron Mumford, explaining the partial response from GCPD and the lack of response from GB-911. He said Mumford called him and said he’d obtain the records requested. However, a month later, Trexler said that’s not the case.
“Since there were multiple G.C.P.D. officers on the scene there should be body cam video footage from each officer,” Trexler wrote. “I also have not received the C.A.D. (communications) records or the G.C.P.D. policy on body cam usage. In other words, all I ever received from my Opens Records Request January 7, 2019, was body cam video from the first traffic stop and partial body cam from Officer Varnadoe on the second stop.”
He concluded, “Why it is so difficult to comply with my request leads a reasonable person to conclude G.C.P.D. does not want the events concerning the harassment of Colonel Lowe the evening of January 4, 2019, disclosed.”
There is unlikely to be a final result from the superior court hearings soon. Johnson requested an expedited transcript, but transcripts can take a long time to prepare. She said they’re still struggling with the scope of this matter, but both the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office will be working toward compiling a complete list of the cases that are affected, and figuring out to the extent they’re affected by the actions of several GBNET officers.
From there, they will also determine what is the best method to remedy the misconduct involved in the investigations. Once that happens, the offices will work on drafting a document on the findings of fact and conclusions of law, come back to the court and present the judge with an idea of how things are supposed to proceed.