invisible hit counter
No judgment issued in case
Dashboard video taken from a Glynn County police cruiser clearly showed in U.S. District Court Friday in Brunswick that two officers shot and killed Caroline Small as she sat behind the wheel of her Buick Century after leading police on a 4-mile-long slow speed chase.

Attorneys representing the police officers and attorneys representing the family of Caroline Small do not dispute that officer's Robert Corey Sasser and Todd Simpson used deadly force on June 18, 2010 after Small, 35, led police on a chase from a parking lot at Glynn Place Mall to the Waverly Pines subdivision while never reaching speeds higher than 35 mph.

Attorneys disagree on whether deadly force was necessary.

Arguments on both sides were made Friday before Chief Judge Lisa Godbey Wood of the U.S. District Court's Southern District of Georgia during a hearing on motions from both sides for full or partial summary judgments in the wrongful lawsuit filed in June 2012 by members of Small's family.

A summary judgment is a procedural motion used to settle all or part of a lawsuit without a trial when facts are not in dispute and the party making the motion would prevail when the law is applied to the facts.

Attorney Steven Blackerby told Wood that his clients, Simpson and Sasser, used deadly force because there was reason to fear for their safety when Small attempted to drive at them after her car became hemmed between three patrol cars and a pole. The tires of her vehicle had been shredded by police stop sticks.

Blackerby admitted the officers had no way of knowing what Small's intentions were, but that does not matter, he added.

"(Using deadly force) is about whether the officer has reasonable apprehension for his safety," Blackerby said. Not knowing her intentions means the officers could very well have feared for their safety.

Blackerby also argued that Small had committed at least two felonies - aggravated assault and fleeing and eluding police - during the chase.

Doing so gave officers reason to believe Small was going to put the officers in danger if she was able to drive her car through a gap between Sasser's patrol car and the Georgia State Patrol cruiser where the two officers were standing with their guns drawn, Blackerby said.

In addition to the officer's safety, he said Small was endangering others as well.

"The general public was placed at risk throughout the chase," Blackerby said.

Attorney William Atkins, who represents Michael McGehee, Small's father, and Keith Small, the father of one of her children, disagreed that Small had committed any felonies during the chase and argued that the officers took too long to decide to shoot if their lives were in immediate danger.

He said Small had no clear intent to do any harm to officers because during the slow speed chase she turned her car away from officers rather than toward them, indicating she was not trying to use her vehicle as a weapon.

"There is no question (Small's) actions gave officers probable cause to end the chase," Atkins told Wood. "The question here is whether that gave probable cause to kill her."

Atkins said that in the roughly 27 seconds between when the chase ended and the shooting, the officers had ample time to find an alternative to using deadly force.

He said his point is proved by the fact that an officer can be heard on a video saying, "If she moves the car, I'm going to shoot her."

"It absolutely appears they had a choice," Atkins said. "That is the exact opposite of a split second decision. That's a choice made among reasonable alternatives."

Using deadly force should be reserved only for split second decisions, he said.

"If these defendants truly feared for their lives, we would have seen behavior consistent with that," Atkins said.

Wood did not issue a summary judgment Friday and said attorneys had 14 more days to file arguments. She said she will study the video and case law argued by the attorneys before making a decision.

"I think one thing that nobody disputes is that it was a tragic, tragic result," Wood said in closing.

* Reporter Michael Hall writes about public safety, environment and other local topics. Contact him at, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 320.

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