GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. - A state senator is proposing Georgia's police shooting cases be handled by special prosecutors instead of the local district attorneys, in the wake of a Channel 2 Action News and Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation.
Sen. William Ligon represents Glynn County, where Caroline Small was shot and killed back in 2010. The case recently drew national attention after our investigation raised questions about actions District Attorney Jackie Johnson took to clear the officers.
Four of Johnson's former prosecutors also spoke on camera about the case, one of whom was at Wednesday's Senate committee hearing to support the special prosecutor idea.
"It would remove as much as humanly possible any political pressures with regard to the exercise of prosecutorial discretion as to whether or not to prosecute a case," said former prosecutor Keith Higgins, "It would also make sure the abuses that were committed by the elected DA in the Caroline Small case would never again happen in this state."
Last summer, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation supervisor told Channel 2 the Small case was the worst police shooting he'd ever seen.
Dashcam video show Glynn County police officers Corey Sasser and Todd Simpson firing eight shots into the windshield of Small's car after experts it was already pinned between patrol cars and a utility pole.
Ligon plans to introduce the amendment to a proposed grand jury bill before the next committee hearing on Monday.
"That's problematic," said Prosecuting Attorneys Council Director Chuck Spahos, "The question is who's going to do it and how are they going to do it?"
Spahos told the committee the volume of cases would be too high for his office or the attorney general's office to handle, and that assigning the cases to neighboring district attorneys would take away local control from an elected official.
A total of 15 witnesses spoke at Wednesday's hearing.
Freda Waiters, whose teenage son, Ariston, was shot by a Union City police officer in 2011, also addressed the senators regarding the current language in the proposed bill.
"How can I or anyone else get justice in a system where you have a case go before the grand jury twice... and the officer gets to sit twice and listen to all the evidence and cry at the end of the session, and they let him go?" Waiters emotionally asked the panel.
Waiters opposes the bill, as did several additional speakers who said it does not go far enough.
Currently, Georgia law allows officers facing a grand jury proceeding to sit in the room for the entire hearing, and hear all of the evidence against them, before making a closing statement that cannot be challenged by prosecutors or questioned by grand jurors.
The new bill would allow prosecutors to call rebuttal witnesses after the officer speaks and it would keep the officer out of the room except during the statement.
Georgia Sheriff's Association Executive Director Terry Norris asked the Senate committee to keep one thing in mind as it considers the bill.
"These officers are the only ones that run toward gunfire. They are our protectors, they need a little bit of protection themselves," said Norris.
Rep. Rich Golick, who introduced the legislation, said it was a compromise between many parties, which he thought was the best chance to get a bill passed.
"This is a measured, balanced approach to a difficult issue that first and foremost preserves the integrity of what happens in the grand jury room while at the same time recognizing the special role law enforcement plays in our society," said Golick, "That is a difficult balance to strike, but I think we have struck it here."
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