John Powell

John Powell sworn in as police chief of the Glynn County Police Department in 2018. Following a 2020 indictment and protracted legal case, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a decision on April 30, 2024 invalidating a decision by a trial court judge, effectively leading to Powell's criminal charges to be dismissed.

Credit: Glynn County Board of Commissioners Facebook

Jake Shore, The Current

The Georgia Supreme Court issued a ruling in the four-year legal case against former Glynn County Police Chief John Powell, reversing a decision by a trial judge and setting the stage for Powell’s criminal charges to be dismissed. 

The unanimous decision issued on Tuesday morning took aim at the indictment against Powell and his former chief deputy, Brian Scott, who were accused of ignoring reports of narcotics unit misconduct. The state’s highest court said the indictment provided details that did not line up with the crime the men were accused of. 

“It is legally impossible to commit the crimes in the way the State alleged in the indictment,” Justice Shawn LaGrua wrote in the opinion.

In January 2020, Powell, Scott and two other officers were accused of violating their oaths of office by failing to investigate misconduct within the Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team (GBNET). Since then, the case has gone through two prosecutors, another indictment, guilty pleas from two officers, and multiple court challenges by Powell and Scott before reaching the Supreme Court for oral arguments in February 2024. 

This decision is likely the final word for any criminal proceedings against Powell and Scott. Since August 2021, the case has been handled by an outside district attorney, DA Mulholland of the South Georgia Judicial Circuit District Attorney, whose interests lie in another circuit. Mulholland did not return a call for comment. 

There are no plans to re-indict the case from the current Brunswick Judicial Circuit DA Keith Higgins. Because his predecessor, Jackie Johnson, recused the office from the case in May 2020, “the office remains recused even if a new district attorney is elected,” Higgins said. 

“We’re both very happy and believe that justice has been done,” Thomas Withers, Powell’s defense attorney, told The Current

Thomas Withers

Thomas Withers, a Savannah-based criminal defense lawyer, appealed his client John Powell’s case up to the Supreme Court. He argued that the charges against Powell were “constitutionally vague” and criminalized administrative functions of a supervisor.

Credit: Screenshot

The state Supreme Court decision focuses on the legal specifics for why the case should be dismissed and, much like the indictment and entire court case thus far, does not delve into the actual facts of Powell’s role overseeing the GBNET scandal. The GBNET case resulted from a narcotics officer who slept with informants and supervisors who covered for him.

What we know about Powell’s role comes from 2020 grand jury testimony reviewed by The Current, which alleged that Powell implicitly approved of the “cowboy culture” at GBNET. This culture relied heavily on the use of confidential informants and netting drug users in Glynn County with arrests and little recourse. 

In fact, a wide-reaching investigation this month by The Current found that more than 400 drug-related convictions stemming from compromised GBNET officers were flagged for review by the former DA’s office but that many cases and defendants were never given a comprehensive second look.

In that 2020 grand jury testimony, Powell hotly disputed that he did anything wrong. Allies of Powell have claimed for years that the GBNET criminal case and indictment was a plot by former DA Johnson — now indicted for her role in Ahmaud Arbrey’s death investigation — to get rid of the police department and put Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump in charge of county law enforcement.

“Some who work for the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff that are upset at what was going on in the Police Department when John Powell came in and to further the political push for consolidation of the Glynn County Police Department and the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office,” Scott told grand jurors on Feb. 27, 2020. “That is all this is about, ladies and gentlemen.”

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with The Current.