Woman shot dead as she is cornered by cops, guns drawn
from various sources – December 2016
submitted by – Neelam Bi
Updates on this case listed at the foot of this item
On 18 June 2010 mother of two, Caroline aged 35, was sat behind the wheel of her Buick with nowhere to turn after a car chase with law enforcement. Police vehicles flanked her on both sides of a shallow ditch. She was unarmed at the time but she was very distraught, she had been recklessly driving and leading police on an erratic low speed chase that ended when her car tyres had punctured and she and spun out on a suburban street.
Sirens blared and two officers stood ground near their cars with their guns drawn. “If she moves the car, I’m going to shoot her,” an officer had yelled. Caroline pulled forward and eight bullets tore through the windshield, striking her in the head and the face. The shooting was captured on police dash cam video. Caution : graphic footage.
But was deadly force reasonable? The disturbing dash cam footage of the shooting shows Caroline, who was unarmed, locked in by police vehicles. The two Glynn County officers were said to have jokingly compared their marksmanship and one told a witness how he saw Caroline’s ‘head explode.’ Their words were as callous as Caroline’s death was unnecessary.
“This is the worst one I’ve ever investigated,” said Mike McDaniel, a retired GBI agent who supervised the 2010 criminal investigation into the officers’ actions. “I don’t think it’s a good shot and I don’t think it’s justified.”
Caroline’s death has also haunted Byron Bennett, who as a member of the Grand Jury that considered the officers fate and voted to clear them of wrongdoing. Bennett now regrets that decision he made. “I felt like I let that lady down,” he said. “I felt like they killed that lady. They didn’t give her a chance.”
The grand jury Bennett served on found that the two Glynn County officers who fired the shots (Sgt Robert C. Sasser and Officer Michael T. Simpson) were justified in pulling the trigger. A federal judge also threw out the Small family’s wrongful death lawsuit saying the two officers killed her lawfully because they thought that she posed a threat. Neither officer was ever disciplined.
What happened in Caroline’s case demonstrates the broad powers police in Georgia have to shoot and kill unarmed citizens and to influence the outcome of their cases in the legal process. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation of the case found that Glynn County police officers interfered with the GBI’s investigation from the start, seeking to protect the officers.
Also the department were alleged to have tampered with the crime scene and created misleading evidence that was presented to the Grand Jury. In addition, the local district attorney shared the state’s evidence with the officers nearly two months before the Grand Jury convened and cut an unusual deal with them just before it met.
Amidst a national debate over police body cameras, Caroline’s case also highlights how limited video can be when matched against the wide latitude afforded police and the public’s predisposition to believe officers when they say their lives are in danger, no matter the circumstances.
Moreover the officers’ defence was simple. They believed Caroline was using her car as a weapon and intended to run them over. They feared for their lives and the public safety. The argument rested on the implausible notion that Caroline, resting on her wheel rims, had enough room to drive through a narrow gap and run them down.
Five years later, Sasser and Simpson were both still certified officers in Georgia with their police powers intact. The case is one of at least 150 fatal police shootings in Georgia since 2010 identified by an AJC/Channel 2 investigation.
Caroline died a week after the shooting and never regained consciousness to tell her side of the story. She had also struggled for years with drug and alcohol addiction as well as mental health problems. Caroline’s ex-husband, Keith Small said he loved his wife dearly and remembers her as a caring mother to their daughter, Analiese, who was 3 years old at the time when her mother was killed, and an older daughter from another relationship.
Caroline had relapsed in the months leading up to the shooting and she had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Dissociative Disorder. Keith Small believes her mental health issues played into her actions on the day of the chase. “She needed help from police, he said, not to be shot. Justice was not served”, he said.
Keith Small has never spoken about the case before but he is speaking out now, in part, to help clear his wife’s name. he explained that the public discussion about her had drifted to her troubled history with addiction which distracted from the officers’ actions.
“She wasn’t a junkie,” Small said. “She was a mom. She was a college student. She loved painting. She loved to read… I do want more people to understand that she wasn’t just some horrible person running away from the police, because that’s not who she was at all.”
For five years, Karen McGehee of Tallahassee knew almost nothing about how her daughter really died. Consumed by grief, she had put the exact manner of her daughter’s death aside. “Truthfully, I was in a state of shock and grieving,” said McGehee. “I didn’t know – might not have wanted to know – exactly what happened. When you lose a child, you’re thinking about so many other things than these details.”
Since then, McGehee and family friends have joined in a crusade to bring light to the case, forming a group called Justice for Caroline Small and Children. They’re pressing state and federal officials to conduct new investigations into the shooting and the subsequent actions of police and prosecutors.
“This was a brutal, completely unnecessary killing of a young woman who had no weapon, who posed no threat to any police officer or anyone else,” said Bob Apgar, a Tallahassee attorney who along with his wife Drin helped organise the group. “An injustice was done in this case, and it’s been swept under the rug. And it’s time to face the truth about what happened.”
Mother who sought justice in Caroline Small police shooting dies
22 October 2019
Police officer who shot Caroline Small has died
9 March 2016
Mom seeks justice for daughter killed by police
15 January 2016
Did Caroline Small have to die?