Three years ago, accusations of sleeping with informants, lying and coverups led to criminal charges against three Glynn County narcotics officers and their former chief of police and to the unit’s disbanding.
Now, two of those officers have accepted plea deals for misdemeanor obstruction of an officer. Neither man will see prison time. Instead, their only punishment was to give up their Georgia police certifications.
Former Glynn County Police Department Captain David Hassler, 52, and the former drug unit commander, pleaded guilty at the Brunswick courthouse on Thursday, while former sergeant David Haney pleaded guilty on Feb. 21. The two men admitted they did not report to their superiors after learning another officer, James Cassada, in the Glynn/Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team was sleeping with confidential informants and continuing to make cases.
As part of the deal with South Georgia District Attorney Joe Mulholland, Haney and Hassler were allowed to plea under the Georgia First Offender Act, which means no convictions will appear on their records. Glynn County Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison sentenced the men, accepting the recommendations made by Mulholland.
In a statement to The Current, DA Mulholland said the pleas were appropriate.
“My ultimate goal when undertaking this case from the Attorney General was to make sure that these individuals weren’t in law enforcement anymore so that this can never happen again,” Mulholland said.
“Both individuals had long careers in law enforcement, and it is a shame they had to end this way,” he said. “In the end I hope that Glynn County can move forward.”
Cassada pleaded guilty to two counts of violating his oath of office on July 19, 2019. Judge Harrison sentenced him to 10 years probation, and Cassada indicated he would testify in the investigation into GBNET misconduct.
While Haney and Hassler are now discharged from the case, former Glynn County Police Chief John Powell and his chief of staff Brian Scott still face prosecution by DA Mulholland. Indictments accuse them of ignoring different instances of misconduct in GBNET and, in one instance, allegedly assisting in covering up illegal actions.
Powell and Scott are awaiting a hearing in the Georgia Court of Appeals. Their lawyers argue that the men’s rights to a speedy trial have been violated, as their case has spanned three years, two DAs and two sets of indictments. They’ve denied the charges against them.
Despite the cases being intertwined, there was no requirement in Hassler or Haney’s plea deals that they be required to testify against Powell and Scott.
“Either side could call them if they wanted to,” Mulholland told The Current.
Haney and Hassler cannot work as police officers in Georgia after surrendering their certifications, which POST considers the same as their credentials being revoked. They could apply to work for law enforcement in other states, but if the prospective employers were to check with Georgia’s POST – the surrendered certification would show up.
However, their convictions won’t show up on a background check.
Haney and Hassler originally faced 10 indicted charges between them – including violation of oath of office, perjury, and making a false statement – they each pleaded to a single charge of misdemeanor obstruction of an officer.
Both men also entered a so-called “Alford plea,” which allowed them to plead guilty while at the same time asserting their innocence.
Hassler, approached by a reporter for The Current after pleading guilty, declined to comment. Haney’s Atlanta-based attorney, Don Samuel, did not respond to requests for comment.
Drug unit misconduct spills into view
Haney and Hassler were a part of GBNET, a unit targeting narcotics crimes in Glynn County that was in operation since at least 2004.
GBNET used confidential informants, some paid and others incentivized by reducing their sentences, to make drug purchases in order to arrest drug dealers and users. GBNET officers had policies about not fraternizing socially with informants, whose identities need to be kept secret and integrity intact to make successful prosecutions, according to 2020 grand jury documents reviewed by The Current.
Cassada violated those policies by having sex with two informants, according to his plea agreement and public court documents. He struggled with alcoholism and depression at the time.
At Thursday’s court hearing, DA Mulholland voiced the violation that Hassler was being convicted of was the same charge that Haney pleaded to two weeks prior. They “knowingly and willfully” obstructed law enforcement by failing to immediately notify a superior officer that James T. Cassada was engaging in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a confidential informant, Mulholland said.
A Brunswick police officer discovered information about Cassada’s sexual relationship with an informant on Feb. 1, 2019, and she reported it, according to then-Chief John Powell’s 2020 testimony to the grand jury.
When former GCPD chief Powell learned of wrongdoing within the drug unit is the heart of his pending trial. Powell has said that he learned of the Cassada’s wrongdoing in 2019, and immediately called the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate. A month later, he dissolved GBNET altogether.
However, testimony to the grand jury reviewed by The Current stated Powell potentially ignored other illegal acts by GBNET prior to that. Powell and his former chief of staff, Brian Scott, have pleaded not guilty.
In March 2019, these allegations spilled out into public view when a defense attorney sought to have his clients’ guilty plea for selling drugs withdrawn due to discovered GBNET misconduct. The attorney put Haney and Hassler on the stand to ask them if they had learned about Cassada’s relationships with informants. They said they had not or did not remember.
Soon after, then-Brunswick Judicial Circuit DA Jackie Johnson’s office secured a guilty plea from Cassada and his cooperation to testify against former chief Powell.
Johnson appointed a special prosecutor, a retired Clayton County prosecutor, to stand up a grand jury. The body handed up indictments against all four officers on Feb. 27, 2020, four days after Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, was killed in Brunswick.
In June 2020, Attorney General Chris Carr’s office assigned Mulholland, a southwest Georgia DA, to prosecute the ex-Glynn County police officers, after he indicted Johnson on criminal charges for alleged interference on behalf of Arbery’s killers.
Mulholland reworked the original charges against all four former officers and brought new indictments against them with a different grand jury in August 2021.
At Thursday’s guilty plea, Judge Harrison declined to impose a fine on Hassler in addition to his sentence.
“He’s already surrendering his POST certification, his ability to be a law enforcement officer,” Harrison said. “So I’m not going to do that.”
“You will be discharged without having a record of this conviction,” Harrison said. “Mr. Hassler, that’s the judgment of court. Good luck to you.”