Suspended Glynn County Police Lt. Robert “Cory” Sasser sent holiday money anonymously to the two children of Caroline Small, the woman who died in 2010 after Sasser and another officer shot her at the end of a low-speed pursuit.
That is what Katie Kettles Sasser told county police on May 14, the day after the 17-year veteran officer was arrested for causing a disturbance at his estranged wife’s Promenade Place residence, according to files released by Glynn County Police late Friday. Her interview with police gives insight into the increasingly depressed mindset of Sasser leading up to the bloody events of June 28, when police say he shot and killed Katie Sasser and another man before shooting and killing himself.
Sasser’s remorse and unresolved anger over the 2010 shooting of Small served as the wedge that drove the two apart, Katie Sasser told police. He grew suicidal after their separation three months earlier, then became angered by jealously over her dating another man, she told police. Doctors determined Sasser, 41, suffered from “extreme depression and extreme PTSD,” she said in the interview. Katie Sasser told police “alot of it, probably 75 to 80 percent of it is the shooting,” she said in her police interview.
Sasser sent Small’s children money at Chrstimas and on birthdays, she said. “She also said that Mr. Sasser sends that lady’s (Caroline Small’s) children Christmas and birthday money every year anonymously,” a summary of the interview said.
The payments could not heal their marriage.
“I told him you can’t do this. I’ve told you that you’ve got to stay away, and he’s having a hard time with it,” Katie Sasser told the interviewer. She then told the interviewer, Glynn County Police Chief of Staff Brian Scott, she planned to file for divorce later that week, citing his anger issues and mood since the shooting as a major reason.
A local grand jury declined to charge Sasser and officer Todd Simpson in the shooting of Small, but the accuracy of the information provided to the grand jury has since been called into question. A federal judge later determined the shooting was “unnecessary” but cleared the two officers of violating Small’s constitutional rights. Simpson died of cancer in 2016. Sasser continued to serve on the county police department.
Yet, it is difficult to gauge Sasser’s performance as a police officer during the final years of his life. That is because the 17-year veteran officer’s personnel files are missing for the last six years of his service with the county police department, according to County Police Chief John Powell. In response to a public records request from The Brunswick News on May 22, Powell reported several days later that Sasser’s files cannot be located from 2012 forward.
Powell was named the county’s new Police Chief on Jan. 1, replacing long-time Chief Matt Doering, who retired last September after heading the department for 13 years.
Two days after that public records request, Lt. Cheri Bashlor told Powell of the missing Sasser files.
“In the course of preparing responses for Open Record Responses, I discovered Robert Sasser’s files missing,” Bashlor told Powell in a May 24 memo. “After an extensive search, they were not located.”
However, Sasser’s personnel files from 2001-11 indicate a pattern of disciplinary action consistent with “red flags” regarding an officer’s worthiness to serve within an accredited police department, according to one veteran Georgia law enforcement chief. Between December of 2001 and November of 2011, Sasser was disciplined at least 10 times, serving a total of 11 days’ suspension, receiving six written reprimands as well as supervisory counsel on two occasions, according to the department’s internal affairs files. Sasser was demoted from probationary lieutenant to sergeant in 2011, but later promoted back to lieutenant.
According to the files, the disciplinary infractions include withholding information from a fellow officer about a crash he witnessed while off duty; lying to a superior officer who was investigating another officer’s actions; and showing disrespectful behavior toward subordinate officers. On at least two occasions, internal affairs investigators determined Sasser insubordinate to superior officers.
The final weeks
By late May, Powell was going the through red tape of firing Sasser, based on his recent scrapes with law. But then police say he Sasser committed the double-murder and suicide, which appears by all accounts to be ignited by a jealous rage.
On the night of June 28, Sasser shot and killed Johnny Edward Hall Jr., 39, in the driveway of his McIntosh County residence, then forced his way inside the home and shot to death Katie Kettles Sasser, 34, according to the McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office. Sasser then drove from Hall’s Tolamato Island neighborhood in a leased Toyota Tacoma, leading McIntosh County Sheriff’s deputies and, later, Glynn County Police, on a low-speed pursuit of more than 30 miles to his home in western Glynn County.
County SWAT team members fired tear gas into the truck during a standoff that lasted into predawn hours of June 29. When SWAT team members closed in, they discovered Sasser dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, according to GBI investigators.
It was the veteran police officer’s third run-in with the law since May 13, when he was arrested after showing up at Katie Sasser’s Promenade Place home in the early-morning hours and created a disturbance. The Sassers were living in separate residences by then, but Cory Sasser was upset to find Hall with his estranged wife.
“Yeah, we’re married,” Cory Sasser tells police, as recorded on an officer’s body camera. “She’s over here with another man.”
Sasser posted $4,000 bond and was released on charges of simple battery and criminal trespass the following day. Powell placed him on unpaid leave. The magistrate court ordered him to have no contact with firearms. Three days later, May 17, Sasser found himself in a standoff with county police and Georgia State Patrol troopers when they tried to arrest him for carrying a firearm in violation of his release. That might have been the same day Katie Sasser served him with divorce papers, according to her interview with police.
That standoff ended early on the morning of May 18 when Sasser was subdued with a stungun, but not before kicking two county officers in the groin, police said. He was released to St. Simons By The Sea Hospital for mental treatment and evaluation, remaining there until a May 24 bond hearing in county magistrate court.
“At the time of his discharge, this individual was evaluated by a physician and deemed stable and ready for lower levels of care,” a therapist at the facility wrote.
Magistrate Judge Flay Cabiness granted Sasser release on a $5,000 bond that day, contingent on several conditions. Sasser was to continue seeking treatment for PTSD and depression at the VA in Mobile, Ala., near where he would be staying with a sister as outlined under the conditions of his release. Sasser served in the Army.
He was ordered to leave Glynn County immediately upon his release that day, and drive to his sister’s home in Theodore, Ala., returning only for court dates. Even then he was to give advance warning, and leave immediately after. He was to possess no firearms and have no contact with his wife.
His career with the Glynn County Police Department effectively ended there, as Powell said after the bond hearing that he intended to fire Sasser.
After Ala. VA Visit, Sasser Returns
Sasser met May 31 with suicide prevention counselors at the VA in Mobile, according to medical records released by the Brunswick District Attorney along with records pertaining to his bond order. Sasser told them he had considered suicide “two weeks ago after catching his wife with another man,” according to the records. Sasser told them “he has cooled down since the incident and is thinking more clearly,” the VA report said. The VA report indicated Sasser, an Army veteran, had served in the “Persian Gulf War.”
Sasser returned to Glynn County June 26 for divorce proceedings with Katie Sasser in civil court. It was the responsibility of CSRA Probation Services in Brunswick to ensure that he complied with conditions of his release, and left immediately after the court proceedings, police said.
However, Sasser had a confrontation with Katie Sasser and Hall at Moondoggy’s Pizza in the county later that night, long after he should have left the county. Katie went home and first called county Sheriff Neal Jump, according to a 911 transcript. Jump “told her to call (911) for a report and then leave her residence,” the transcript said.
Police said they later investigated the incident, but determined Sasser had committed no new crime. Police relayed information of possible bond violations to court and probation officials.
The shooting deaths and suicide described above unfolded two nights later. Police say Sasser arrived at Hall’s Mission Drive home in McIntosh County on the night of June 28 in a leased Toyota Tacoma, inside of which investigators would later find five firearms. With a search warrant from Glynn County Magistrate Court, GBI investigators seized the following: a Remington 700 .308-caliber rifle; a Bennelli 12-gauge shotgun; a Bushmaster XM15 military-style rifle; and an M&P Smith & Wesson .40 caliber handgun. The Remington was equipped with a scope and had one .308 round in its chamber. The shotgun had a 12-gauge round in its chamber. There were two ammo magazines with the Bushmaster. Thirteen bullets for the handgun also were recovered, the warrant showed.
Heading out of the Tolamato neighborhood, Sasser slipped past a state Department of Natural Resources ranger who was responding to a 911 call about the shooting. But the ranger realized Sasser might be a suspect and radioed a description of the truck to fellow law enforcement officers.
“I believe he might be involved, I’m not sure,” the ranger said, according to 911 transcripts. “I talked to him and he’s not from here and shouldn’t be in the area. Be on the lookout for a four-door Toyota Tacoma.”
A McIntosh Sheriff’s sergeant picked up Sasser’s trail at Ga. Highway 225 and U.S. Highway 17.
So began the long, low-speed pursuit to Sasser’s driveway at 37 Hunters Drive in western Glynn County off of U.S. Highway 341. He was in communication with a Glynn County Police sergeant through much of the pursuit, offering to give himself up on several occasions, according to a Glynn County police report.
A SIMILAR ENDING
This final slow speed chase was eerily similar to the one involving Sasser in 2010 that also ended in death. On June 18 of that year, Sasser and Simpson approached Small for suspected drug use in the Glynn Place Mall parking lot. That led to a 4-mile pursuit, lasting 20 minutes and ending in the Wavely Pines neighborhood. The Buick Century had four flat tires and was hemmed in by three patrol cars and a utility pole when the officers fired eight shots through the front windshield as Small continued rocking the car back and forth against their orders to halt. The 35-year-old mother of two, who struggled with addiction and depression, died a week later from her gunshot wounds in a Savannah hospital.
The police shooting gained national media attention, which is why Lt. Bashlor had ready access to Sasser’s personnel files through 2011. Sasser’s files leading up to and shortly after Small’s death were frequently subject to public records requests from various news media, Bashlor said.
“I have records beginning with his employment date through 2011,” she wrote in the memo about Sasser’s missing files thereafter. “These records were part of a previous Open Records Response which I have scanned for purposes of retention and ease of filling any requests.”
Disciplinary Action a Sign of Red Flags?
The personnel files on Sasser that do exist indicate disciplinary action throughout his first 10 years with the county police department. The incidents continue up until November of 2011, when Sasser was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant for “a pattern of unbecoming conduct,” the report said. The conduct included using “discourteous” and “offensive” language toward a recruit in field training. He also used the word “untouchable” to a “junior officer” and wrote the word “untouchable” on his police computer, later denying to internal affairs investigators that he said or wrote the word, according to the report.
Sasser was later promoted back to lieutenant, but the records of that promotion are missing, Powell said.
At that point, Sasser had not faced disciplinary action since September of 2005. He received a reprimand and a three-day suspension in 2005 for using a police computer to show an “image of another officer engaged in vulgar sexual remarks that were untrue,” records show. In January 2004, Sasser was suspended three days for insubordination because he “willfully” ignored repeated orders from a sergeant to clean his department-issue shotgun.
Sasser received a written reprimand in December of 2001 for playing a prank on an off-duty officer and another reprimand in June of 2002 for missing a court date under subpoena, records indicate. He was issued a one-day suspension without pay in December of 2002 for causing a crash on duty.
In January of 2003, Sasser was issued a reprimand and suspended for a day for insubordination and interference with an investigation of another officer. The issue involved tidiness of a patrol vehicle shared by Sasser and the other officer; Sasser apparently lied to a superior about ownership of a plastic water bottle left behind by that officer.
In October of 2003, Sasser was suspended for three days for apparently withholding information from a fellow officer investigating a motorcycle crash involving a friend of Sasser’s. Sasser was an off duty witness at the time, but was required by sworn oath to cooperate with the investigator.
“In my opinion, intentionally withholding information is just as serious as lying,” then chief William Pittman wrote.
A pattern of dishonesty should raise “red flags” about an officer’s worthiness to serve effectively, said veteran LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar. Dekmar, who also is president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, would not speak directly to Sasser’s case. However, he said internal affairs actions involving dishonesty and untruthfulness can harm an officer’s credibility in court. Testimony of such an officer could be “subject to reversible error,” he said Thursday.
“There is no excuse for keeping someone on after being caught lying,” said Dekmar, who has been Chief in LaGrange for 27 years and has 41 years in law enforcement. “It would be uncommon not to have a system to red flag those behaviors. That’s as serious an issue as you get. Based on an officer’s word, people go to jail. Based on an officer’s word, children are taken from unfit parents. It’s an integrity issue that goes to the veracity of the officer’s word.”
On that night in May when fellow police officers arrived to arrest him outside Katie Sasser’s residence, Cory Sasser was still an officer in good standing with the Glynn County Police Department. The next day, Katie Sasser told police she did not want to damage his career, but added she did not want the previous night’s confrontation to be ignored.
“Mrs. Sasser then said she did not want Mr. Sasser to get in trouble or lose his job, but in return she did not want something to happen and it get brushed under the rug,” Police Chief of Staff Brian Scott concluded in his interview summary. “I told Mrs. Sasser that if Mr. Sasser did something to violate either policy or the law, we have to treat him the same as we would anyone else.”