ATLANTA — A newly filed lawsuit targets many of the leaders and agencies that are being investigated in the Ahmaud Arbery murder case.
But the complaint ties back to what happened between the Glynn County Police Department and one of its rogue officers who murdered his estranged wife and her boyfriend before taking his own life two years ago.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr has learned the victims’ estate believes the Arbery case will play a role in how the wrongful death lawsuit plays out.
The lawsuit takes a look at the same agencies and the history behind handling arrests and cases that involve people who know one another very well.
Channel 2 Action News first showed you Glynn County police’s body camera footage from 2018 that shows then-Lt. Cory Sasser, a suspended Glynn County police officer, seen in a domestic dispute with his estranged wife and her boyfriend.
"You are not allowed in my house. This is not his house," Katie Sasser could be heard saying on the video as Cory Sasser pushed past her.
On the video, the pair at times are begging Cory Sasser’s colleagues to haul him off to jail.
Within two months, the three would be dead in a double murder-suicide at Sasser’s hands.
And given his history with the local district attorney and police, uncovered in a 2015 joint investigation with Channel 2 and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, critics felt there was blood on some Glynn County leaders’ hands for failing to discipline Cory Sasser when it mattered most; he was even coddled by those who knew him even when he killed and was running from police.
"Literally, Cory Sasser was completely out of control. In fact, at one point, he had boasted to people that he was untouchable by the Glynn County Police Department," said Atlanta-based attorney Darren Penn, attorney for the estate of Katie Sasser.
Penn’s amended complaint filed earlier this month targets former Glynn County , and several of its police officer, including former Police Chief John Powell. Powell is facing an indictment in a separate, unrelated case involving witness tampering and sex scandal
The county declined to comment Thursday, citing pending litigation.
The law enforcement and legal leaders from the Sasser investigation is now the center of new investigations into how they handled the early stages of the Ahmaud Arbery murder case and the suspects, which include a former Glynn County police officer turned district attorney investigator and his son.
The allegations are based on those records we reported on in 2018 that the department failed to charge her estranged husband, Cory Sasser, for repeated death threats and stalking her in the middle of the night, even after a police report acknowledged he’d likely done just that.
That’s even after a domestic arrest when he violated terms of the bond and got into a SWAT standoff while carrying weapons.
Instead of going to jail, there was a collective effort between the courts and Sasser’s colleagues to send him to mental health treatment and allow his son to recover the weapons, the suit outlines.
As Channel 2 reported in 2018, the GBI launched an investigation that led to charges against Sasser’s son for providing the weapons used in the murder-suicide.
While Cory Sasser would end up banned from Glynn County in the summer of 2018, he was recorded lying to colleagues while he was on the run from police following the murders.
Mcintosh police dispatcher: "He's at the jail. They don't listen to us."
Glynn County police dispatcher: "He's at the jail, and I’m on the phone with him now."
It takes communication with the deputies chasing him and minutes of back-and-forth for his colleague to realize Sasser has lied to her.
Glynn County dispatcher: "Cory, honey, you need to stop, and you need to stop now."
The calls demonstrating that Sasser was given the benefit of the doubt until the very end when he ignored that plea to end the chase and ended up killing himself.
“Here’s what you see. You see the same exact conduct that you saw in the Cory Sasser matter,” Penn said. “This is a police department where its duty is to protect and serve the public, not to protect and serve those that it knows or those that it has worked with in the past.”
Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson never responded to previous requests to comment on the Sasser case, and she’s not named as a defendant in the new lawsuit.
But our previous reporting revealed years earlier that Johnson had allowed false police evidence to go before a grand jury, suggesting Sasser and a fellow officer were acting in self-defense when they shot through the back of car windshield and killed an unarmed woman named Caroline Small years earlier.
Body camera footage showed that not to be true. That grand jury let the officers off years before the Sasser double murder-suicide.
Johnson is now being investigated by state officials in the Ahmaud Arbery case, alongside a neighboring district attorney, as questions loom about whether they had protected a suspect who worked alongside Johnson and that DA's son in Johnson’s office.
“Do you think everything that’s going on with the Arbery investigation, and a closer look into the department and all of those things, will have any impact on you all’s wrongful death suit?” Carr asked Penn.
“I think it very well could. I think it could have a big impact on it,” Penn said. “You have individuals that are intimately familiar with that department, and they’re also intimately familiar with the district attorney’s office. And you see this huge hesitancy to do anything about it and, frankly, to do their jobs.”
This week, Channel 2 Action News also reported on a lawmaker’s move to let voters decide whether to get rid of the Glynn County Police Department altogether.
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