Not a Tragedy, a stinking Mess

Dear Mr. Leavy and Mr. Hall:

In his July 3rd front page story in the Brunswick News about Cory Sasser’s last days in and around Glynn County, Larry Hobbs, a seasoned reporter, wrote that “the wheels of justice were still trying to determine if Sasser had violated his bond when violent tragedy struck.” Note how that sentence ignores any mention of the humans who failed to lock Cory Sasser up for his own good and that of the public, and how Sasser is left out of the process “when violent tragedy struck”. What struck and killed three people last week was not “violent tragedy” but bullets fired by Cory Sasser.

Perhaps I am overly sensitive to the misuse and abuse of the word “tragedy”. The first signs of that sensitivity showed up on the morning of Sunday, July 1st, 1956. The morning before, two airliners had collided over the Grand Canyon, killing everyone aboard. That night, I was called by my boss, a lieutenant colonel who was the public information officer for the Arizona National Guard, and told to report to the office by seven on Sunday morning.

Even before joining the Guard on my seventeenth birthday in 1954, I had begun working part time in the AG’s office after school and in the summer. My jobs included typing or mimeographing or photostatting documents, sending and receiving teletype messages, and running errands.

When I got to the office the morning after the two planes crashed into the Grand Canyon, my boss handed me a legal pad with the text of a press release he and the adjutant general had crafted about the National Guard’s recovery efforts. I sat down at the typewriter, began to type, stopped, and took the draft back to the colonel. “Sir,” I told him, “the general keeps referring to this disaster as a ‘tragedy’, but it seems to have been a stupid accident caused by careless pilots who both departed from their flight plans to give their passengers a look at the canyon.”

The colonel took me into the general’s office, told me to tell the general, an avuncular old-timer who had joined the territorial militia and ridden with Blackjack Pershing in pursuit of Pancho Villa before the first world war. The general heard me out, ordered me to type the press release without revisions, then had me drive him to the canyon, where he assigned me to join other guardsmen recovering remains from the south side of the Grand Canyon.

Several days later, when he encountered me on duty in the National Guard Armory in Flagstaff where families of victims tried to identify torn remains sprinkled with quicklime, he asked me if I would now agree that the mid-air collision was a tragedy. “No, sir,” I said. “It was a stinking mess.”

My apologies for inflicting that bit of personal history on you, but as someone experienced in picking up the pieces, I’ve been finding various pieces of the Sasser story that amount to a stinking mess that no amount of quicklime can hide.

Let’s consider what the Brunswick News did in response to the shooting of Caroline Small by Cory Sasser and another Glynn County Police officer in June, 2010. The BN assigned young Louie Brogdon, a rookie or cub reporter only a year out of journalism school, to “cover” the story—which he seems to have done by regurgitating the information fed him by the the Glynn County Police. Here’s a prime example: the morning after Caroline Small died in Savannah a week after being shot, Brogdon reported she died “after staying in the intensive care unit for a week” and that “The injury was reported as not life threatening, but Small’s condition remained critical and stable until her death.”

What’s my point? It’s very simple: the BN hired a kid out of college, turned him loose, and let him report on the basis of what he learned from Doering or some other spokesperson for GCPD. The result was that Brogdon wrote a series of articles that came across as saying, like a cop at an accident scene telling the lookie-loos, “Move on, folks—there’s nothing to see here”.

Let’s turn back to a story published in the Brunswick News on Thursday, 27 January 2005, five a a half years before the shooting of Caroline Small:


The Brunswick News

A Brunswick man was shot by a Glynn County police officer Wednesday night when he came toward a bike patrol officer in the vehicle he was driving, county police said today.

Darnell Pickens, 28, was shot “multiple times,” Glynn County Police said in a report released today.

Pickens was taken to the Brunswick hospital, where he was listed in stable condition today.

The incident began around 8:30 p.m. near the Conoco gas station at 3879 Altama Ave., where two bike patrol officers were investigating a suspicious incident.

When police motioned for Pickens to stop in the 1996 Mercury Sable he was driving, he slowed down before allegedly driving the vehicle directly toward a police officer in the parking lot of the Conoco, police said.

Police said the officer in the line of the vehicle, in fear for his life, drew his .45-caliber service weapon and fired three shots at Pickens.

Police did not disclose how many of the bullets hit Pickens.

Pickens drove over the median on Altama Avenue and through the shrubbery at Coastal Georgia Community College, where he was stopped by police in patrol cars in the back parking lot of the campus.

County police did not release the names of the bike patrol officers or the officer who discharged his weapon.

No police officer was injured.

City and county police blocked off the entrances to the college on Altama Avenue and Fourth Street during the investigation Wednesday night.

In Pickens’ vehicle, police discovered 6.3 grams of crack cocaine and 1.5 grams of marijuana, according to the police report.

Police said charges are forthcoming for aggravated assault on a police officer and various drug charges, including possession with the intent to distribute crack cocaine.

This was not Pickens’ first run-in with the law. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, Pickens has three prior drug convictions for the sale and possession of cocaine. He was paroled in 2003.

The incident is under investigation by the Criminal Investigative Division, Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team and Internal Affairs and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Searching the BN on-line, I could find no follow-up to this story. Several credible sources tell me that Cory Sasser was the officer who fired through the windshield and wounded Pickens, who survived and still lives in Brunswick.

Will the Brunswick News start asking hard questions of former GCPD Chief Doering about why Sasser was promoted and put in charge of the county SWAT team? And will BN reporters be asking some of the questions now being asked by Brad Schrade at the Atlanta Journal Constitution?

Julian Smith