• 2 Investigates: Prosecutors say DA ‘covered up' unarmed mom's murder

    By: Jodie Fleischer , Brad Schrade

    Updated:

    GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. - The south Georgia prosecutors who gathered to review the fatal police shooting of Caroline Small had more than a century of courtroom experience.

    Still, the violence that unfolded on the screen shocked them into silence.

    The video showed eight police bullets piercing the car windshield of the unarmed Georgia mother as she was pinned against a utility pole and surrounded by police cars.

    The consensus in the courthouse conference room was that the two Glynn County police officers who pulled their triggers had committed a crime.

    "This was a murder, and it was covered up," David Peterson, one of the prosecutors, said.

    Small had committed no crime that morning; she drove off when an officer walked up to check on her in a mall parking lot.

    She drove erratically at low speeds, and was eventually blocked in by a utility pole and several patrol cars.

    On dashcam video, one officer can be heard saying that if she moved again he was going to shoot her, then two of them did.

    "There's two little kids out there that don't have a mama," said Jonathan Miller, who resigned his job as a prosecutor to run against the district attorney, in part because of her handling of the Small case.

    He said the miscarriage of justice still troubles him.

    "I never lost my prosecutorial feelings," Miller said, "She deserves her day in court."

    But that day would never come.

    The prosecutors said what happened instead derailed the case and fundamentally shook their beliefs in the justice system and the rule of law.

    They felt compelled to break ranks after a Channel 2 Action News/Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation in July exposed records showing how their former boss stacked the case in the officers' favor.

    Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson had made a deal with the two police officers whom she was supposed to be considering charging with a crime.

    She took the case to a grand jury but never showed jury members the murder indictment that she had drafted.

    "This makes me angry," said Peterson, hitting the paper records. "She's giving them -- there was no one in our office given this."

    Keith Higgins was a senior prosecutor in Johnson's office. He said he has broken down in tears thinking about how the justice system failed in the case.

    "It has affected me very deeply in that regard in that someone was very brutally killed, unnecessarily, and nothing has been done about it," Higgins said.

    Higgins believes that the officers' claims that they feared for their lives did not hold up against the video and other evidence.

    Plus, he said, the Glynn County Police Department took extraordinary steps to protect its officers, creating an inaccurate animation which shows how Small "could have" run over the officers, which the investigation proved impossible.

    Johnson presented at least part of that animation as evidence to the grand jury.

    She was newly appointed at the time, and the prosecutors said Johnson was overly fearful of anything that might damage the office's relationship with the police department or the law enforcement community in general.

    "A prosecutor should do what's right, do it in the right way and do it for the right reason. Ms. Johnson failed to do any of those in this case," Higgins said.

    Higgins said that with no indictment presented, the officers had no right to be present in the grand jury room. Johnson also allowed their defense attorneys to speak, which is prohibited.

    Records show that she had already given them all the evidence in the case, two months before the grand jury convened.

    "So who the hell is representing the public? Who the hell is representing Caroline Small?" Peterson said.

    The grand jury cleared officers Corey Sasser and Todd Simpson; both are still employed in law enforcement in Glynn County.

    "I think the grand jury here was undercut, misused and abused, and they were lied to," said Peterson, adding that Johnson excluded those who best knew the evidence and fired colleagues who wanted the case prosecuted, even a victim's advocate who questioned the lack of indictment.

    "We were frozen out of it; that was abnormal," Peterson said.

    Peterson, who is also an ex-cop, believes that Johnson violated prosecutorial ethics and betrayed her duty to uphold justice.

    The former prosecutors are calling on Georgia's governor and attorney general to intervene in hopes that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will reopen the case.

    The GBI agent who supervised the initial investigation of the officers' actions characterized Small's killing as the worst police shooting he'd ever seen.

    Johnson has repeatedly declined our requests for an interview, but she sent a statement to our sister station in Jacksonville saying, “As District Attorney, I took a solemn oath to do justice for the citizens of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, and I took that oath seriously when I presented the case to the grand jury.”

    She accused her former employees of “exploiting the case for their own agenda,” but did not address any of the specific findings of this investigation.

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