Corruption At Its Finest: District Attorney Jackie Johnson
“Sometimes the coverup is worse than the crime. And the crime was bad enough.” -David Peterson
[Update: While we’ve done a lot of research on this article about Jackie Johnson, we did not do as much on the circumstances of Amanda Williams other than the facts listed in our article. Whether or not Amanda was guilty of the ethics violations she was accused of, we'll never know. However, we apologize to Amanda and her family for any pain or reopening of wounds this article may have caused.]
[This article will be published in separate parts over the next few weeks. Part 1 will focus on Jackie Johnson’s first days as District Attorney (D.A.) and how her ambition possibly allowed two murderers to go free without trial. Subsequent parts will focus on more recent events.]
In August of 2010, Jackie Johnson of Alma, GA, was sworn in as Brunswick Judicial Circuit's first female district attorney by Amanda Williams, the circuit’s first female Superior Court judge. It was a historic moment, a step forward that should’ve made men and women in the area proud.
Unfortunately, unlike Sandra Day O’Connor, the associate Supreme Court justice who was awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom in 2009, or Madam C.J. Walker, the African-American who was the first female self-made millionaire—both women we can be incredibly proud of—Amanda Williams and Jackie Johnson have brought nothing but shame.
Two years after swearing-in Jackie Johnson, Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams resigned, signing a consent order prohibiting her from ever seeking judicial office. Why? Because of the 14-count ethics violation probe that was launched against her.
And Jackie Johnson?
District Attorney (D.A.) Jackie Johnson’s list of transgressions is impressive. She shamelessly used tragedy and slick political maneuvering to slide into her current position. She has disregarded the testimony of key witnesses. Intentionally held off the court dates of defendants that she had no evidence against (i.e., innocent), costing them their jobs and peace of mind, for the sole purpose of coercing them into a plea bargain. She allowed two killers to go free without trial despite the mountain of evidence against them. And she knowingly allowed a mentally unstable and violent man out on bond, ignoring all the evidence, leading to two foreseeable murders and one suicide.
With all she’s done, how has D.A. Jackie Johnson managed to stay in office?
Jackie Johnson is an elected official with a high conviction rate. A District Attorney who puts away a lot of ‘bad guys’ is a good thing, right? That’s her job, and if she’s doing it well, then why not vote for her?
The problem is, it only seems like she’s doing a good job. Sure, she’s taken some criminals off the streets. But how many innocent people has she intentionally cornered into taking a plea bargain to maintain her high conviction rate? How many people have suffered to bolster her political career? In future articles, we’ll be posting videos, court documents, and sworn statements that show how D.A. Jackie Johnson ruined good people for her own gain.
Why should you care?
Because if you live anywhere near Baxley, Brunswick, Hazlehurst, Jesup, or St. Marys, you fall under her jurisdiction. Her actions, from the beginning of her tenure until today, have ruined innocent lives in your community, and only you have the power to stop her.
Those of you living in D.A. Jackie Johnson’s district—listen up!
Part 1: Jackie Johnson's Political Ambition And How It Set Two Killers Free Without Trial
District Attorney Jackie Johnson started her political career with a bang—literally.
Jackie’s first major case as District Attorney, the case that arguably set the tone for the rest of her career, involved a troubled woman named Caroline Small, who was gunned down by two Glynn County Police Officers in June of 2010.
If you’re thinking this is another article centered on bashing the police, you’d be wrong. We have the highest respect for these officers and the risks they encounter every day. However, we do take issue with the few bad apples in that otherwise honorable group. The officers who abuse their power, the superiors who help them do it, and the District Attornies who make it possible—these are the people we’re targeting with this article. Specifically, District Attorney Jackie Johnson, whose actions in 2010 were deplorable.
Brunswick resident, Caroline Small, a recently divorced mother of two, was sitting in her car in the mall parking lot on June 18, 2010. What Caroline was doing in her car that morning, nobody knows, but a concerned citizen had called the police thinking that Caroline had been doing drugs. When the police approached, Caroline slowly drove away.
The officer called in backup and followed Caroline as she weaved and swerved in a slow-speed chase that never exceeded 35 mph. By the end of that chase, officers had flattened all four of Caroline’s tires and caused her to spin off the road and partially into a ditch.
If you haven’t watched the video near the top of this article, now would be a good time to do so. It shows the conclusion of that twenty-minute chase, where Officers Sasser and Officer Simpson shoot eight bullets into Caroline’s car.
According to court documents, the dash-cam captured the officers’ callous comments about their marksmanship as Caroline lay slumped over the steering wheel.
“I hit her right in the face…right on the bridge of the nose.”
“She’s dead. I shot her in the head. Her head exploded.”
Caroline Small died five days later. Her only crime—reckless driving.
What does any of this have to do with District Attorney Jackie Johnson? Jackie wasn’t the District Attorney in June 2010. In fact, the DA’s office was in the middle of a turnover. The previous D.A. had left, and David Perry was named Acting D.A. until the governor chose a candidate to fill the position permanently.
Acting D.A. David Perry originally intended to treat the Caroline Small shooting as a criminal investigation, and though he inexplicably changed his mind days later, he never handled the Small’s case again.
Three days after Caroline Small was shot, Jackie Johnson announced her intentions for the position of District Attorney for the district. Jackie enlisted the Glynn County Chief Of Police, Chief Doering’s support. Doering wrote a letter of recommendation to the governor, and two months later, Jackie Johnson was appointed the new District Attorney.
Jackie’s appointment to District Attorney forced David Perry into his previous role—Assistant D.A.
One of Jackie’s first official acts—firing David Perry and taking over the Small’s case for herself.
From the moment Jackie was sworn-in and took over the case, it seemed she’d done everything possible to undermine it.
Was this why Chief Doering gave his support? Because Jackie was willing to sweep his officer’s wrongdoing under the rug? Only Jackie Johnson and Chief Doering can answer that question, but the timing and circumstances should raise some eyebrows.
As District Attorney, Jackie’s job was to represent the public’s interests, not the officers’. Caroline Small was shot to death. She was unarmed, hadn’t threatened anyone, and posed little threat. The officers who opened fire on Caroline Small should’ve gone on trial where the evidence could’ve been looked at objectively.
Thanks to D.A. Jackie Johnson, this did not happen.
Two days after Jackie was sworn-in, she delayed taking the Small’s case to the grand jury for a year. She asked Rick Currie, an old mentor and district attorney in a neighboring area, to review the evidence. Currie told Jackie he thought the officers should be charged with felony murder. Instead of listening to his advice, Jackie cut a deal with the two officers and gave the police department all the evidence she had against them two months in advance.
If these actions weren’t unusual enough, what District Attorney Jackie Johnson did at their indictment was unheard of.
To grasp just how outrageous Jackie’s decisions were, understanding the legal process is needed. The general order of events goes something like this:
1. Arrest. The suspect is arrested for a crime and usually bonded out of jail afterward.
2. Evidence Gathering, etc. The D.A. reviews the evidence, and if he/she believes there’s sufficient evidence to bring the case to trial, then an indictment is scheduled.
3. Indictment. The suspect is formally charged with a crime.
4. Entering of Plea. The suspect enters a plea (guilty, not guilty, etc.)
5. Trial. The suspect goes before a judge and/or jury. The District Attorney gives the evidence supporting the conviction, and the defense lawyers defend their client.
6. Judgment and Sentencing. A judge or jury will determine if the evidence supports the charges, and if so, a sentence (punishment) is issued.
During the indictment process, the district attorney lists the charges they intend to file against a suspect, then present the evidence to support their indictment. The district attorney is not required to prove that the suspect is guilty at this time, only that enough evidence exists to show probable cause.
The indictment of Officer Sasser and Officer Simpson was a charade. D.A. Jackie Johnson never listed any charges against the officers. She never asked the grand jury to vote on whether to send the case to trial or even bothered to show evidence to support the need for a trial. From an outside perspective, you would’ve thought that Jackie was the officers’ lawyer instead of the person charged with prosecuting them. The officers had their own lawyers that day, and Jackie basically let them take over.
The officers’ defense lawyers used the evidence Jackie gave them two months before their indictment to create an animated video showing how Caroline Small could have used her car as a weapon to injure the two officers.
That was the officers’ defense—they were afraid for their lives.
Jackie Johnson allowed the defense lawyers to show that animation, despite its inaccuracies. If you watch the animation (shown in WSB-TV2 investigative video below) and rewatch the dash-cam video, you’ll notice a few discrepancies. First, the dash-cam video shows another vehicle that helped box in Caroline’s car, however, this vehicle is not depicted in the animation. Another issue, Caroline’s car was partially in a grassy ditch and on its rims because all four of her tires had been blown out. Caroline wouldn’t have been able to get her car moving at any considerable amount of speed in those conditions, even if she hadn’t been boxed in place by the vehicles and utility pole behind her. Another glaring issue, the cops could have easily stepped out of the way of Caroline’s car. Caroline had no weapon. Her car, if she could move it, wouldn’t have moved fast enough in that short distance to hit them. This appears to be a case of two hot-heads getting caught up in the moment and killing an innocent woman.
Not only did Jackie allow that inaccurate animation to be shown, but she also let the officers give emotional, tear-filled speeches on their own behalf, without any questions, cross-examination, or push-back. Then after this blatant manipulation, the jury was instructed to place their vote on whether the shooting was justified. They were given no time to deliberate. No time to think through all they’d heard. After hearing the officers’ sob-stories, the jury was forced to render their vote immediately.
Why did Jackie Johnson bother with the indictment process if she’d done everything to ensure its failure? Why did she waste the jury’s time? If Jackie believed the evidence didn’t support the crime, then why did she bother bringing the officers before a grand jury if she could’ve chosen to drop the case?
Maybe because of public perception. Because of Jackie’s manipulations, the media would report that the jury decided the Small’s shooting was justified and would assume the officers were innocent. The public wouldn’t know that the Glynn County Police Department interfered with the GBI’s investigation. They wouldn’t be aware of how Jackie bypassed standard procedures, fired prosecutors from her own office who thought the officers should be charged, and withheld evidence from the remainder of her staff.
Or maybe the assumption was that no one would notice how Jackie had announced her interest in the newly open D.A. position just three days after Caroline Small’s murder, enlisted the police chief’s support to get the job, and then seemingly swept the officers’ bad behavior under the rug.
In the investigative video from WSB-TV2 posted above, the four former prosecutors that Jackie had fired when she took over the Small’s case spoke out when shown court documents and evidence that Jackie had hidden from them.
“The jury was lied to.”
“Sometimes the coverup is worse than the crime. And the crime was bad enough.”
-David Peterson, former prosecutor Brunswick Judicial District
“This was the worst cop shooting I’d ever seen.”
-Mike McDaniel, GBI agent who supervised the investigation
“The justice system failed…The officers’ claims that they feared for their lives did not hold up against the video and other evidence.” -Keith Higgins, former prosecutor Brunswick Judicial District
That last quote was from Keith Higgins, one of the prosecutors in Jackie Johnson’s office who opposed her handling of the Small’s case and was fired because of it. As far as we know, Keith is the only candidate running against Jackie in the upcoming 2020 election and will be running as an Independent.
While the Baxley Informer doesn’t endorse candidates, we do believe that people deserve to have a choice. We bring this up because, as an Independent, Keith Higgins will require a petition signed by 5% of registered voters in the Brunswick Judicial District (Appling, Camden, Glynn, Jeff Davis, and Wayne county) by July to have his name on the ballot in November. With the current COVID-19 crisis, it’s highly unlikely he’ll reach that goal. This means that D.A. Jackie Johnson will win by default—again. For those of you who believe the voters deserve a choice this November, you should contact the GA Secretary Of State at https://sos.ga.gov/cgi-bin/email.asp and let him know.
****Interesting side note… during Officer Sasser and Officer Simpson’s indictment, Jackie Johnson attacked the victim’s history but failed to mention the officers’ past. In 2005, Officer Sasser had been confronting a drug suspect when he heard an engine rev and fearing for his life, Officer Sasser shot the suspect. The fact that Officer Sasser was making a habit of shooting first, and asking questions later was never brought to the attention of the jurors. Unfortunately, in Part 2 of this article, Officer Sasser and District Attorney Jackie Johnson, will be featured together again. And like the first time, Jackie Johnson will set Officer Sasser free, this time resulting in two murders and one suicide.
If you want more information on the Caroline Small's case, an incredibly detailed article detailing the events can be found at https://investigations.ajc.com/caroline-small-shooting/ by investigative reporters Brad Schrade and Jodie Fleischer. They did an amazing job putting together a mountain of evidence.