Oct. 02--BRUNSWICK -- Seconds after two veteran Glynn County police officers fired eight bullets into the car of an unarmed woman they had been following in an erratic, low-speed pursuit, neither officer checked to see whether she was alive.
Instead, they talked about their marksmanship in what would become the fatal shooting of Caroline McGehee Small, a 35-year-old mother who had struggled with drugs much of her life.
"I hit her right in the face. ... Right on the bridge of the nose," the senior officer said.
"I think I fired twice," the other officer replied.
Later, that same officer told a former firefighter, "She's dead. I shot her in the head. Her head exploded."
Small was still alive, but barely. She died a week later when taken off life-support.
Those details, and more about the controversial June 2010 shooting of the unarmed woman, are among the evidence contained in a 540-page case file the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released to the Times-Union in response to an open records request.
Sgt. Corey Sasser and Officer Todd Simpson were cleared of criminal wrongdoing by a county grand jury in a split decision. Both also were cleared by an internal Glynn County Police investigation.
County Police Chief Matt Doering asked the GBI to investigate the shooting by Sasser and Simpson -- a common practice in officer-involved shootings in Georgia.
Then, as now, Doering maintains Sasser and Simpson acted reasonably and within department policy in the situation, which they perceived as life-threatening and endangering public safety. Officers considered Small's car a deadly weapon.
Police and state patrol car cameras recorded the chase, shooting and immediate aftermath. Sasser and Simpson were side-by-side off-camera, so none of the videos show either pulling the trigger.
"What a person looking at the videotapes can't see is the fear the officers felt," Doering said last week. "They can't see the same thing the officers saw because they are not looking at things through their eyes. The videotapes are not their [officers] perception."
The cameras did, however, record the officers' comments.
GBI officials declined comment about the findings, which offer no conclusions nor interpretation of the evidence.
The findings, however, raise issues sure to be the focus of a wrongful death lawsuit two Brunswick lawyers are preparing on behalf of Small's daughters, ages 5 and 12, and her estate.
"It's our opinion that the shooting was so far outside the realm of reasonableness that these officers need to be held accountable," one of the attorneys, Nathan Williams told the Times-Union.
Sasser, Simpson and a state trooper who tried to snatch Small out of the car right before the shooting, separately told GBI agents they believed she was a threat.
Simpson said it was a miracle that Small didn't kill someone. Sasser said he was scared for himself and Simpson, so he fired his weapon at Small, who had ignored repeated commands to surrender.
Trooper 1st Class Jonathan Malone of the Georgia State Patrol said he felt the Glynn officers and the public were in danger immediately after the chase. The danger, Malone said, was due to Small's unwillingness to stop and from her reckless driving.
Both Sasser and Simpson remain with the Glynn police department. Neither returned Times-Union telephone and email messages seeking comment. The lawyers who represented them when a Glynn County grand jury reviewed the shooting did not respond to Times-Union requests for comment.
Road of No Return
At the wheel of a battered 1991 Buick, Small had cocaine in her system, a half-empty bottle of vodka among several syringes in her car, and a history of running from police.
Heroin was Small's drug of choice, her father told GBI agents as she lay in a coma from which she would never awake. The Rev. Michael L. McGehee said his daughter was in and out of drug treatment programs much of her life.