A former Glynn County police chief and a former county police chief-of-staff are still on track to stand trial for their alleged actions in covering up an internal scandal with the narcotics squad, according to a court ruling filed Wednesday.
Glynn County Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison denied a motion to dismiss the cases against former Glynn County Police Chief John Powell and former county police Chief of Staff Brian Scott.
The two defendants, along with former Glynn County Police Lt. David Haney and former police Capt. David Hassler, are facing charges ranging from violation of oath of office and perjury to trying to influence a witness stemming from a scandal involving an undercover narcotics officer’s affair with an informant and allegations of subsequent internal attempts at a coverup.
Powell and Scott were seeking to dismiss the charges on the basis that Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson had a personal interest in the case that disqualified herself and her office from prosecuting.
Johnson recused herself from the prosecution on May 21. State Attorney General Chris Carr gave the case to South Georgia District Attorney Joe Mulholland, who is based in Bainbridge.
Before recusing herself, Johnson brought in former Clayton Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tracy Lawson and appointed her as a special assistant district attorney on Nov. 15. Lawson, who according to the motion has previously handled cases involving political corruption, was the attorney who presented the indictments to the grand jury in February.
The defendants argued that “Johnson has held a personal animus against Haney and Powell based on Haney’s relationship with one of her former assistant district attorneys and/or his Facebook posts about her and/or her office, and Powell’s failure to take any disciplinary action against or terminate Haney therefor.”
Judge Harrison didn’t buy the argument.
“Though Ms. Johnson’s concerns with issues within the GCPD certainly predate the issuance of the indictment of this case, the court finds no evidence of any conflict of interest or personal interest or bias creating an opportunity for conflict or other improper influence on professional judgment in this case by Ms. Johnson or any attorney in her office,” Harrison wrote in his order.
Harrison also didn’t see Lawson’s appointment as evidence that Johnson was motivated by politics or because she wanted Haney fired.
“The court does not discern an appearance of impropriety regarding Ms. Johnson’s involvement in this case or that of any member of her office in this case and certainly none exists to the extent it would undermine the public trust in the criminal justice system.
“Therefore, after careful consideration of the evidence before it, the court concludes that defendants have failed to demonstrate the existence of a conflict of interest sufficient to have warranted Ms. Johnson or her office’s disqualification from this case before it was presented to the grand jury or when the grand jury returned its indictment. As such, defendants’ motion to quash the indictment on this basis is hereby denied.”
Powell’s future employment with the county is currently in limbo. He was placed on paid administrative leave after he was indicted, and Jay Wiggins was named acting chief in his stead. Wiggins was given the full-time position recently while Powell is still being paid his annual salary while on leave.
Scott left his chief-of-staff post in 2019 to become chief of the Vidalia Police Department. He was placed on administrative leave from that post after charges were filed.