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Grand jury indicts former police chief on additional charges

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Aug. 21—A grand jury Friday indicted former Glynn County Police Chief John Powell on additional malfeasance charges, accusing him of failing to act on information of misconduct by the county’s now-dissolved narcotics squad.

Also charged in the indictment handed down by the grand jury in Glynn County Superior Court is Powell’s former chief of staff, Brian Scott, now the police chief in Vidalia. The true bill charges Powell with four additional counts of violation of oath of office and Scott with one additional count of violation of oath of office.

Additionally, the grand jury on Thursday indicted two former top-ranking officers on multiple counts stemming from the initial scandal that toppled the Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team (GBNET) and exposed further misconduct within the undercover drug squad. The grand jury indicted former captain and GBNET commander David Hassler with one count of perjury, one count of making false statements and five counts of violation of oath of office. The indictment charges former lieutenant David Matthew Haney with one count of perjury and three counts of violation of oath of office.

Powell and the three officers were initially indicted on multiple counts by a Glynn County grand jury in February 2020, charges stemming from a scandal involving a married undercover detective’s affair with an informant and alleged attempts at a subsequent coverup. Charges against the four in the indictment included violation of oath of office, influencing a witness and criminal attempt to commit perjury.

Investigations into former GBNET officer James Cassada’s sexual affair with an informant led to still more revelations of wrongdoing by county police officers serving GBNET. These included officers operating without authority in Florida as well as neighboring counties, and one officer’s friendship with a convicted drug dealer. It was further revealed that GBNET officers may have instigated unwarranted traffic stops of a McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office colonel by Glynn County patrol officers.

Composed of county and Brunswick police officers, GBNET conducted narcotics operations in the county for years before the sex scandal emerged in early 2019. GBNET was disbanded shortly afterward.

Former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson would cite Cassada’s illicit relationship with the informant as the reason for the dismissal of dozens of drug cases.

Powell was placed immediately on administrative leave after the original indictments and fired shortly afterward.

South Georgia District Attorney Joseph Mulholland of Bainbridge presented the new charges to the grand jury Thursday and Friday. The Georgia Attorney General’s Office assigned the case to Mulholland in June 2020 after Johnson recused herself.

The new charges accuse Hassler and Haney of failing to take action on information from several sources about Cassada’s affair with the informant. Hassler also is accused of lying to a judge and to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent about his knowledge of Cassada’s affair. Haney additionally is accused of lying to a judge about the scandal.

The grand jury accuses Powell of failing to take action on several occasions after learning of misdeeds by GBNET officers, including undercover officers’ pursuit of a drug suspect that began in Jacksonville and ended in Glynn County with a fatal crash.

Scott is accused of failing to take action on knowledge that former GBNET investigator Dustin Simpson had fraternized with a man convicted of dealing methamphetamine, a violation of policy. Powell also is accused of violation of oath office for failing “to timely conduct an Internal Affair investigation of said allegations” about Simpson and the convicted drug felon, the indictment states.

The grand jury said Powell failed to take action after learning that a fatal law enforcement pursuit on Interstate 95 in Glynn County in February 2018 had originated with a GBNET investigation in Jacksonville, Fla. Katelyn Elizabeth Jones was eluding former Glynn County Police officer Kevin Yarborough while traveling north on I-95 when a Georgia State Patrol trooper intervened and conducted a PIT maneuver on her Chrysler 300. Jones’ passenger, Stephen Wayne Deloach, died after the car hit a guardrail and flipped.

Police charged Jones with vehicular homicide and felony murder, as well as fleeing and eluding and causing serious injury.

During the GBI’s investigation into the Cassada scandal it was learned that GBNET officers had followed Jones from Jacksonville, where they had been operating without authority. GBNET officers contacted Yarborough, a patrol officer, instructing him to intercept Jones’ car as it entered Glynn County. After the resulting deadly pursuit, superiors advised Yarborough not to report that GBNET request the traffic stop.

Jones was released on the vehicular homicide and murder charges and given probation on the lesser charges in October 2019.

The grand jury’s indictment Friday accused Powell of failing to “initiate an Internal Affair Investigation into the conduct of the GBNET officers” or to “take any administrative action against the personnel involved.”

The grand jury alleges Camden County Sheriff Jim Proctor told Powell in August 2018 that GBNET officers were conducting undercover investigations in his jurisdiction without his knowledge. The grand jury accuses Powell of failing to take action or to conduct an internal affairs investigation.

The grand jury further alleges that McIntosh County Sheriff Steven Jessup told Powell about Col. Lowe being stopped twice by Glynn County Police at the behest of GBNET officers. Lowe was stopped twice in one night, while in a marked county sheriff’s office vehicle, apparently in retaliation for complaints about GBNET operating in McIntosh County without authority, investigations revealed.

Again, the grand jury charged Powell with failing to take action or “to initiate an Internal Affairs Investigation into said traffic stop and failing to identify the GBNET officers involved in said traffic stop,” the indictment reads.

The indictment alleges Hassler was told about Cassada’s affair with the informant by Cassada’s wife, a lieutenant, a sergeant and an officer with GBNET. The indictment alleges Hassler not only failed to take action, but allowed Cassada to continue “to interact with confidential informants, make cases against and arrest persons” on drugs charges.

Furthermore, the indictment alleges, Hassler allegedly lied to GBI Special Agent Larry Kelly and to Glynn County Superior Court Judge Roger B. Lane about knowledge of Cassada’s “inappropriate relationship with a confidential informant.”

The indictment alleges Haney learned of Cassada’s sexual misconduct from Cassada’s wife and from Cassada himself. The indictment accuses Haney of failing to notify “a superior officer or Chief John Powell” and of allowing Haney to continue working with GBNET despite knowledge of the affair. Haney is further charged with lying to Judge Lane when asked if he knew of Cassada’s relations with the informant.

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