A presentment released Monday by an outgoing Glynn County grand jury calls for a public vote on whether or not to consolidate the Glynn County Police Department and the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office.
“There is an ongoing culture of cover-up, failure to supervise, abuse of power and lack of accountability within the administration of the Glynn County Police Department,” according to the document.
The presentment — essentially a report — states that the last grand jury, which served from September 2018 to March 2019, encouraged the currently-outgoing grand jury to “inquire further into various matters involving the Glynn Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team (GBNET).”
In the presentment, the grand jury goes on to document its findings.
“GBNET consisted of a unit of officers from the ... Brunswick Police Department and the Glynn County Police Department assigned to perform drug investigations,” the document reads. “Both departments contributed personnel and funds to the operation of GBNET. GBNET was dissolved in February of this year when the (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) began an investigation into alleged misconduct by a Glynn County police officer who had been assigned to the unit.”
In its report, the grand jury details actions allegedly taken by former GCPD Officer James Cassada, former Capt. David Hassler, Lt. David Haney and Officer Dustin Davis, among others.
The presentment covers mostly the same ground as a May court order issued by Glynn County Superior Court Judge Roger Lane in the criminal lawsuit against Gary Allen Whittle. While the grand jury’s presentment doesn’t name names, Lane’s court order does.
“In November 2017, GBNET officers including Glynn County Police Department supervisors (two identified as Hassler and Haney in Lane’s order) were made aware of allegations that a GBNET officer (identified in Lane’s order as Cassada) was having an improper relationship with a confidential informant,” according to the presentment. “That informant had been used by GBNET to make criminal narcotics cases. Nothing was done by supervisors to document or conduct any investigation into the allegations of misconduct by the police officer in question.”
Upon learning of the alleged misconduct, the presentment states that the “officer in question” — Cassada, according to Lane’s order — had been given two months of sick leave for alcohol treatment and that neither the leave nor treatment were documented in police department records.
Lane’s order states Cassada was allowed to return to duty with no restrictions, which is backed up by the grand jury document.
The presentment also delves into an incident that allegedly occurred in February 2018.
According to the grand jury’s report on its findings, GBNET officers gave $1,000 to an informant heading to Florida and surveilled a vehicle as it traveled to Nassau County, Fla. After watching an “apparent narcotics transaction” in Fernandina, the officers followed the vehicle back to Glynn County.
According to Lane’s order, despite having no jurisdiction GBNET officers did not attempt to coordinate with law enforcement agencies outside Glynn County.
Once across the county line, the report states the GBNET officers requested a traffic stop. A GCPD patrol officer attended to stop the car, ultimately performing a PIT maneuver.
The car crashed, according to the presentment, killing the passenger and leading to a charge of homicide by vehicle against the driver.
“The Glynn County patrol officer who initiated the stop was instructed by his supervisors at the scene of the crash to omit from his report any information concerning the GBNET operations that had taken place in Florida,” according to the presentment. “When another supervisor instructed the patrol officer to change his report to include all the information leading to the chase, including GBNET involvement, an internal affairs investigation was conducted into that supervisor’s ‘interfering.’”
Jumping ahead to February 2019, the presentment details the events that led to the unraveling of GBNET.
While working on a report, a GBNET officer — identified in Lane’s order as GCPD Officer Meredith Tolley — listened to a year-old recording of an interview with a former informant, the report states. During the recording said informant claimed to have had sexual relations with a GBNET officer, named as Cassada in Lane’s order.
The officer listening to the recording told fellow officers Dustin Davis and Mikey Davis, and all three took it to the District Attorney’s Office, where they were told to run it up the chain of command, according to Lane’s order.
GCPD Chief John Powell subsequently requested a GBI investigation and opened an internal affairs investigation into the matter.
“During the GBI investigation, at least one Glynn County supervisor (identified in Lane’s order as Haney) refused to be interviewed by the GBI and later testified that he would encourage others not to cooperate with the GBI,” the presentment states.
“That supervisor was not disciplined and continues in his position. During the Glynn County internal affairs investigation, one officer was encouraged to reconsider his previous statements and testimony because it did not match the testimony of a supervisor. This resulted in the officer changing his previous statements to match the supervisor’s testimony.
“Other officers who have cooperated with the GBI investigation or testified in court have been the subject of retaliation by Glynn County Police supervisors. The retaliation went so far that those supervisors contacted outside law enforcement agencies in an attempt to discredit the officers and damage their careers.”
The presentment also references Judge Lane’s order, in which Lane wrote that there was reasonable belief that certain statements made after a certain date by Cassada, Hassler, Haney, Davis and GCPD Officer John Dustin Simpson were untrustworthy.
“Cases made by GBNET over a two-year period are potentially adversely affected by the court order,” according to the grand jury report. “This includes some 200 criminal cases that have already been adjudicated. An additional 100 cases that have not yet come to court could be affected.
“As a result of the court order, several defendants have been released from prison thus far. One defendant charged with trafficking in excess of 400 grams of methamphetamine was pled down from the mandatory minimum sentence to a few years with the possibility of parole.
“The defendant charged with vehicular homicide ... has been released by a judge on an ... (own recognizance) bond.”
Finally, the grand jury makes several recommendations in the presentment.
Glynn County commissioners need to either implement new policies or enforce existing policies:
• “Pertaining to the failure by supervisors to document and investigate allegations of misconduct by Glynn County employees.”
• “To address the actions by supervisors to retaliate against Glynn County employees who have cooperated or provided truthful information in investigations into allegations of misconduct within county government.”
• “To protect Glynn County employees who have cooperated or provided truthful information in investigations into allegations of misconduct within county government.”
• “To ensure that county police officers prepare reports in a timely manner and include all relevant information.”
It also recommends the county:
• Establish consistent policies governing internal affairs investigations and end the practice of conducting “inquiries” in place of investigations
• Maintain GCPD personnel files separate from the police department with controlled access and regular audits
• Review the GCPD command structure.
• Establish policies to ensure all required information is provided promptly for criminal prosecutions.
• Establish policies “for the selection, hiring and promotion of persons who will serve as supervisors over law enforcement officers.”
Further, it states the citizens of Glynn County should have the opportunity to vote on whether or not to consolidate GCPD and the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office during the November 2020 general election. A presentment from a 2016 grand jury offered the same recommendation, according to the document.
According to the presentment, the Glynn County Commission and County Manager Alan Ours both oversee the police department and serve a buffer between law enforcement and public accountability.
“The Glynn County Police Department is supervised by added layers of government ... that creates inefficiency and less accountability to the public,” the document states. “... If the Glynn County commissioners are unable to address the issues set forth in these recommendations, the operation of the county police department should be terminated by the county commission or the state legislature.”
Glynn County spokesman Matthew Kent said on Tuesday that the county government had only received the presentment the day before, and hadn’t had enough time to draw up an official response to all the points made by the grand jury.
“The (Glynn County Commission) is in receipt of the grand jury presentment and will take it under advisement. The county manager is preparing a response to the presentment to deliver to the (county commission),” according to a statement from county administration.
While commission Chairman Mike Browning hadn’t read the presentment in-depth, he immediately dismissed the idea that the county would get rid of the police department.
“We’re going to deal with it effectively and with full transparency,” Browning said. “And we want everybody to know we’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We have great people in that police department that serve the people of Glynn County. They put their lives on the line, and we’re not going to paint with a broad brush.”
He didn’t deny the police department has problems but said the county commission will deal with them.
“Do we have problems we have to address in the police department? Sure, just like we do in every other department,” Browning said. “We’re not going to stick our heads in the sand, and we haven’t as long as I’ve been on the commission.
“We’re not in the business of not identifying problems and getting rid of an entire department. That’s just not what you do in this country. If you can’t identify your problems and address your problems and move on, you shouldn’t be in the governing business.”
He also questioned whether or not the grand jury had looked at both sides of the issue.
“I don’t know what they know, who told them, in what context it was presented or if they talked to anyone from what I say is the ‘county side,’” Browning said.
The county commission and administration will look into the issue itself, he said, and report back to the public.
“I just want to reassure the community that, if there are any issues there that we have to address we’re going to do it,” Browning said. “The county police department, it’s here to stay.”