Troubled officer shot and killed estranged wife, boyfriend

GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. — A recently suspended police officer shot his estranged wife, her boyfriend and apparently killed himself last night.  An Atlanta attorney involved in the case that made the officer’s name notorious said it should never have happened -- that the warning signs were everywhere.

Eight years ago, the officer, Robert "Cory" Sasser, was involved in the brutal police shooting of unarmed Caroline Small. Channel 2 Action News and our investigative partners The Atlanta Journal-Constitution highlighted the case as part of a yearlong investigation into police shootings in Georgia. A former investigator for the GBI said the shooting of Small was "one of the worst [he's] ever investigated."

The investigation found, among other things, records showing how the officers’ former boss stacked the case in their favor, and local district attorney failed to show the grand jury the actual murder indictment.

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A grand jury declined to indict Sasser and another officer, even though Small’s car was pinned between a utility pole and a police car. Sasser and officer Michael Simpson fired several times through the front windshield, killing her. The two were then caught on dash cam video discussing their marksmanship.

And that case wasn’t the first time Sasser had shot someone. Five years earlier he shot and wounded a man in a car at a gas station. It was ruled self-defense.

“The Glynn County Police Department has been protecting Cory Sasser for 20 years. They’ve protected him at every turn. And it sure seems like they did it again here,” said Bill Atkins, an Atlanta attorney who represented Small’s family in a wrongful death suit. The courts ruled Small’s constitutional rights weren’t violated.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND A STANDOFF

Sasser’s latest trouble started in May, when he tried to force his way into estranged wife’s home and threatened her. He was charged with domestic violence against Katie Kettles Sasser. A few days later, he drove his car into the woods and was in an hours-long standoff with police. They heard a gunshot and thought Sasser had killed himself. He hadn’t. But having a gun was a violation of his bond from the domestic violence case.

Still, he remained free on bond.

“It’s just baffling to me that he was still out of jail given all that’s happened over the last month with him,” Atkins said.

On June 26, Sasser was in Brunswick for a court hearing. He saw his estranged wife and her boyfriend, John Hall at a restaurant that day. A police report claimed Sasser made a threatening gesture, but he wasn’t arrested.

Today, in a news conference, Glynn County Police Chief John Powell pushed back against criticism that his department hadn’t done anything about that.

“As a matter of fact, there was a thorough investigation done and we’re working with our partners with the judicial system to try to come up with a resolution for that,” Powell said. He added the investigation into the restaurant incident is ongoing even though all three involved in that case are now dead.

SHOTS FIRED

At 9 p.m. on June 28, authorities responded to a call of “shots fired” at a home in the Tomalto Island neighborhood of McIntosh County. A ranger with the Department of Natural Resources, Jay Bright, saw a vehicle fleeing the scene.

“That vehicle was occupied by Robert Sasser at the time he encountered that vehicle he did not recognize Mr. Sasser. Mr. Sasser gave a decoy story to the DNR about the shots being fired and sped off,” said Brian Scott, chief of staff for the Glynn County Police Department.

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Other officers went to the house and found a male and female shot to death.

“Evidence at the scene suggested that the male victim exchanged gunfire with the offender in that case,” Scott said. He could not say whether the victim, John Hall, had hit Sasser with any of the shots fired until they see the results of an autopsy.

Shortly after that, a sergeant with the McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office spotted Sasser. After a low-speed chase, Sasser pulled into his own driveway. The SWAT team came out.

But unlike eight years earlier, when Small was the one in a car surrounded by police, no one fired bullets at Sasser.

“The only shots that were fired by law enforcement was when they shot CS gas into the vehicle trying to get Mr. Sasser out of the vehicle,” Scott said.

CS is a component of tear gas.

Hours later officers approached the vehicle. Sasser was dead.

Atkins says it all could have been avoided.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that if Cory Sasser is an ordinary citizen and not a police officer, he’s not out of jail. And those two people are still alive," he said.

Atkins says he hopes there will be an investigation into how police and the probation office handled this case. Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson did not return calls to comment on the killings or the potential for such an investigation.

For many, this is a case of lost justice and questions that may never be answered.

“I think everyone’s hearts must go out to the children-both of these victims and Mr. Sasser," Atkins said. “As I understand it there are three little kids who don’t have any parents anymore. That’s tragic.”