Glynn County cop who asked homeowner to report trespassers to a neighbor was disciplined before

Looking into Ahmaud Arbery’s killing, I-TEAM finds link to previous controversial case

Personnel records obtained by the I-TEAM show that Glynn County police officer who enlisted a retired district attorney investigator help with unwanted visitors in the Satilla Shores neighborhood -- where Ahmaud Arbery was later shot and killed -- was reprimanded for his involvement in a previous highly-criticized case handled by Glynn County Police Department.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – A Glynn County police officer who enlisted a retired district attorney investigator’s help with unwanted visitors in the Satilla Shores neighborhood -- where Ahmaud Arbery was later shot and killed -- was reprimanded for his involvement in a previous highly-criticized case handled by the Glynn County Police Department, according to personnel records obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM.

Officer Robert Rash was disciplined in 2018 for failing to arrest a fellow officer who assaulted his estranged wife in front of Rash and other officers and then tried to break into her home, personnel records show.

Fellow officer Lt. Robert “Corey” Sasser also swung at and slapped at the officers in the incident, which was captured on a body camera.

Officers on the scene, including Rash, failed to arrest Sasser for what then-police Chief John Powell later called “clear criminal violations."

“The oath that each officer on the scene and who work at this department has taken to uphold the laws of the United States and the state of Georgia does not have a caveat that states, ‘unless the offender is a law enforcement officer,’” wrote Powell.

The letter of reprimand also stated that officers were laughing and joking when the situation de-escalated and officers referred to Sasser as a lieutenant during the domestic violence call.

Sasser later killed his estranged wife, her male friend and himself.

RELATED: Arbery case not 1st time Glynn County police hesitated to arrest one of their own

Over the weekend, the I-TEAM obtained a text message from Officer Rash to the owner of a Satilla Shores home under construction where Arbery was seen in surveillance video the day he died. In December, Rash encouraged the property owner to contact Gregory McMichael, a resident of the Satilla Shores community and a retired district attorney investigator, if anyone trespassed on the property.

A text message from Larry English, the construction site owner's, phone from December suggests Gregory McMichael was deputized prior to the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. (WJXT)

Earlier this month, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated battery in Arbery’s death.

The attorney for Larry English, the homeowner, said English texted Robert Rash video that surveillance cameras captured Dec. 17 of an unknown person coming into his home under construction.

At 9:40 a.m. on Dec. 20, Rash replied to English: “Your neighbor at 229 Satilla Drive is Greg McMichael. […] he said please call him day or night when you get action on your cameras.”

The officer also texted the homeowner McMichael’s phone number.

“As an attorney, I look at that. I think the Glynn County Police Department cloaked Greg McMichael with authority to enforce the law and that is a tremendous amount of power to place in the hands of a private citizen,” said Beth Graddy, English’s attorney.

Lou Dekman, the chief of police in LaGrange, Georgia, and past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said the request in the text message is not standard policy or procedure for police officers.

“As we see in the result of this incident, it’s dangerous,” Dekman said. “It’s dangerous for the citizen that is maybe representing the neighborhood and making the confrontation. It’s dangerous for the person who’s being confronted. In addition, police chiefs and departments and law enforcement agencies, they make decisions about the allocation of resources based on calls for service. So, if we’re not getting those calls, we’re not responding to them and we’re not documenting them.”

The Dec. 20 text message is the newest in a timeline of contacts between the McMichaels and people who trespassed on English’s home under construction.

In a 911 call from Feb. 11, an out-of-breath Travis McMichael can be heard calling police around 7:27 p.m. about a person he’s spotted coming out of the construction site.

“We have had a string of burglaries,” the younger McMichael said. “I was leaving the neighborhood and I just caught a guy run into a house being built ... two houses down from me. When I turned around, he took off running inside the house. ... There’s about four of us over here right now.”

Attorneys for English said the motion-activated cameras capture seconds of video every time there’s motion happening in front of it. Graddy said English was only alerted that someone entered the house once.

“I believe he only entered the house one time … and that was according to Travis McMichael in response to the confrontation," Graddy said.

According to the human resources office for Glynn County, Rash is still an active employee with the county. County officials and the police department would not comment and forwarded our questions to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which was assigned earlier this month to look into not only Arbery’s death, but also the 10-week delay between his killing and the McMichaels’ arrest.

The county spokesman did say that stories about the text between their officer and Greg McMichael back in December surprised them.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.