Karen McGehee has submitted a letter to the sitting Glynn County Grand Jury asking for a new investigation into the death of her daughter, Caroline Small, who died in June 2010 after being shot by two county police officers at the end of a low-speed chase.
In her letter, McGehee seeks a new grand jury investigation, conducted by a special prosecutor appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal. McGehee wants the grand jury to ask Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson to recuse herself from the proceedings.
“I implore you to direct district attorney Johnson to request that Gov. Deal appoint a special prosecutor to conduct a second grand jury proceeding,” McGehee’s letter to the grand jury states. “I do not ask this to seek revenge. I simply want the truth to be told ... My family and I could never feel that justice has been done unless Ms. Johnson steps aside and requests that Gov. Deal appoint a special prosecutor.”
Police officers Robert Sasser and Todd Simpson shot Small several times on June 18, 2010, at the end of a 20-minute low-speed chase that ended with her car hemmed in by two patrol cars and a utility pole. The police officers said it was still possible for Small to maneuver her Buick Century out of its position and that she was using the vehicle like a weapon. The vehicle had four flat tires by the time the chase ended.
Dashboard video shown in federal court during civil proceedings in 2014 depicted Small moving her car forward, after orders from an officer to cease, when Sasser and Simpson shot eight times into the front windshield.
Small, a 35-year-old mother of two with a history of drug addiction and mental illness, died seven days later in a Savannah hospital.
Johnson presented evidence in the case in August 2011, but the grand jury did not pursue prosecution. Findings from the subsequent civil suit filed in federal court determined the shooting was “unnecessary” but was not a violation of Small’s constitutional civil rights. Officer Simpson died in March after a lengthy battle with cancer.
McGehee, who lives near Tallahassee, Fla., said she met in person with Johnson in Woodbine on April 15. Johnson was accompanied by assistant district attorney Rocky Bridges, McGehee said. McGehee was accompanied by Linda Shelley, a Tallahassee attorney and a member of the group Justice For Caroline Small.
McGehee said Johnson told her that she did not believe Small’s vehicle could have escaped. However, Johnson also told her she believes the officers thought their safety was in jeopardy.
“She told me the car could not have gotten out of the space where it was blocked in,” McGehee said Tuesday by phone. “I said, ‘Then why did the policeman shoot if the car could not get out of there?’ ... And of course she said they feared for their lives. I think she was trying to justify her actions and to justify what the grand jury had done.”
McGehee also said a diagram of the scene presented to the grand jury in 2011 did not accurately depict the scene.
Several people and organizations have called for a new investigation into Small’s death in recent months. They say new evidence that emerged last year during an investigative report by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution suggesting information was withheld from the grand jury or manipulated to favor the police officers.
The group Justice for Caroline Small formed last year in response to these new allegations through the efforts of friends of McGehee who worship with her at a small Tallahassee church. Members of group believe the grand jury was misled.
“Our goal is just as it’s stated — that the truth should be told,” said Bob Apgar, a spokesman for Justice for Caroline Small. “We simply ask that there be an investigation into the truth of what happened and it be shared with the public. That’s the goal. There may be consequences that come with that, but we don’t know.”
McGehee is not the first person to make requests of the current grand jury regarding Small’s case.
Brunswick-area activist Jeff Kilgore sought an appearance before the grand jury in March, also to request a new investigation. Kilgore submitted the request on March 21, seeking 72 hours’ advance notice to prepare. Kilgore was notified March 29 that the grand jury would hear his presentation at 11 a.m. the next day. Kilgore declined, saying that was not given the three days notice he asked for in his request.
Kilgore said he later learned that the grand jury approved his request several days earlier than the notice he received. A source with knowledge of the situation told The Brunswick News recently that the grand jury approved Kilgore’s request on March 23, two days after he submitted the letter.
Glynn County Clerk of Superior Court Darren Jones told Kilgore in his March 29 email inviting Kilgore to speak that he had difficulties reaching Kilgore by phone. Kilgore said Jones told him he was calling the wrong number for several days.
“Tried to reach you but your phone is busy,” Jones wrote in the email. “The grand jury wanted you to come in tomorrow March 30, 2016 at 11 a.m. If this time is not acceptable please let me know so I can pass the word along to them.”
The same source indicated Johnson spoke on March 30 to the grand jury, the day Kilgore was not able to be there.
Kilgore said the next notice he received from the grand jury came in late April, when the foreman declined in an undated letter to meet with him.
Johnson and Jones did not return calls Tuesday. Mark Spaulding, the DA’s office administrator, said he had not seen McGehee’s letter.
“I know that nothing will ever bring Caroline back,” McGehee wrote in her letter to the grand jury. “However, YOU have the opportunity to take some steps to make something right come out of an event that was so tragically wrong.”