Protesters, the NAACP and clergy leaders have an ally in their call for the ouster of embattled Glynn County Police Chief John Powell.
In a May 6 email to fellow Glynn County Commissioners, at large commissioner David O’Quinn, calling Powell “incompetents” and “a cancer in the community,” made it known where he stands. He also noted in the email the county had offered Powell a “nice” package to resign, but the police chief rejected it.
“I want to be clear that I support firing John Powell immediately,” began O’Quinn’s email, which he sent to fellow commissioners at 10:17 p.m. Greg McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested by the GBI and charged in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, on May 7.
County and city officials were under a local and national barrage of vitriol and outrage over the Feb. 23 killing. A chilling video had just been leaked to the public May 5 showing the fatal shooting of the unarmed Arbery as he struggled with Travis McMichael for possession of McMichael’s shotgun on a street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Both McMichaels were charged with murder and aggravated assault two and a half months after the shooting incident.
Earlier on May 6, a group of local clergy leaders stood at Old City Hall in downtown Brunswick and called for the immediately resignation of Powell. The day before, hundreds of protesters marching through the Satilla Shores neighborhood echoed the same sentiment.
Calls for Powell’s resignation came again at demonstrations outside the county courthouse May 8 and May 16.
In his email, O’Quinn said Powell should have taken a more assertive role the day of the shooting — either to ensure that an arrest was made or to request GBI intervention into the investigation immediately. Gregory McMichael served as an investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office for more than 20 years. He was a Glynn County police officer seven years prior to that.
“There are many reasons (for Powell’s resignation),” O’Quinn’s May 6 email continued, “but mainly his failure to call in the GBI immediately and not making an arrest of the McMichaels. I am tired of making excuses for his actions.”
O’Quinn said Wednesday he wrote the email under an intense emotional state after viewing the shooting video. While he wishes he would have chosen his words more diplomatically, the sentiment remains.
“Some of the wording is not how I would have liked that to come out, but in the end, yes, I think Chief Powell should be let go. I haven’t changed my opinion that he should be let go.”
The email was among numerous pieces of official county correspondence obtained by The News through a public records request.
Powell and several other current and former top officials within the Glynn County Police Department were indicted just five days after the shooting on charges unrelated to the Arbery incident. The charges of perjury and violation of oath of office against Powell stem from a scandal that imploded the department’s narcotics squad in 2019. It centered around an investigator’s sexual relations with a confidential informant.
Powell, on paid administrative leave pending trial, was named interim police chief in September 2017 and hired permanently on Jan. 1, 2018, earning $109,990 annually.
In late June 2018, troubled Glynn County Police Lt. Robert “Cory” Sasser shot his estranged wife and her boyfriend dead in McIntosh County before leading Glynn County police on a slow pursuit to his Hunter’s Point home. There he shot himself dead while surrounded by police. Sasser had been arrested twice since mid May and was court-ordered to leave Glynn County and stay away from his wife.
“From (narcotics investigator) Cassada to the out-of-state surveillance and ultimate car crash, and the Sasser cases that resulted in two innocent people dead and a wrongful death lawsuit against the county ... It is time to quit making excuses for his actions and own up to him being incompetent and ineffective,” O’Quinn wrote in the email. “... Our community is broken and divided ... A step in the right direction is to fire John Powell. He has been a cancer and as long as he is on the payroll, he will be a cancer in this community... “
In the email, O’Quinn noted that Powell had rejected “a very nice package to resign” the county had earlier offered him.
“He should have taken it,” O’Quinn said.
Fellow commissioner Allen Booker said Wednesday he is not ready to call for Powell’s firing.
However, he would like to know more details about Powell’s involvement or lack of involvement immediately following the Arbery shooting.
“And I’m going to consult with other black community leaders before I make a decision,” Booker said.
Glynn County Commission Chairman Michael Browning said he supports Powell.
“I don’t know of any reason to fire John Powell,” Browning said. “I don’t see anything (on which to fire Powell) knowing what I know about the facts.”
O’Quinn, however, said his mind is made, adding that he thinks in the end Powell will emerge favorably in court.
“I don’t think he’s done anything criminal,” O’Quinn said. “I think he will be exonerated. But at the same time I think what has transpired warrants him being removed. I just don’t think this is what we expect from the person we hired to lead our police department.”