Three applicants for Glynn County Police chief who sued the county over its hiring process one year ago have agreed to drop their lawsuit.
On Mar. 24, a federal judge dismissed the case brought by Mario Morales, Marissa Tindale and Angela Smith, which originally alleged that Glynn County only meaningfully considered Black men for the job of police chief in 2021 and excluded others.
Morales, now undersheriff at the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office, said they decided to drop the case because they felt the county sufficiently changed its hiring process to make it fairer. He said all applicants get vetted the same before the list of applicants is culled, ensuring everyone gets a fair shot.
“They now actually have panels, and the panels vet the applicants,” Morales said in an interview. “The process is a lot more competitive, and they don’t take your race into consideration.”
Glynn County has defended the process it took to select a police chief in 2021, arguing it never discriminated against any applicant.
“We had full confidence in our defense for the lawsuit,” County spokesperson Katie Baasen said. “We were fully prepared to move forward with this case with the expectation of a positive outcome.”
The July 2021 hiring of Jacques Battiste, Glynn County’s first Black police chief, occurred in the backdrop of Glynn County’s racial reckoning after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, and the inequities that allowed Arbery’s killing to go unprosecuted for months. The job became vacant after Glynn County’s then-police chief, John Powell, was indicted for ignoring officer misconduct on Feb. 27, 2020, four days after Arbery’s death. It followed years of allegations of corrupt police officers and fights over whether to merge the department with the sheriff’s office.
The fight over hiring processes is pertinent as Glynn County again finds itself looking for a new police chief. Battiste resigned on Dec. 16, telling The Current he faced criticism for instituting reforms.
The interim chief is O’Neal Jackson, a 30-year veteran of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in the area of Tampa, Fla. Jackson’s tenure is being tested as scrutiny again falls upon the department with the high-profile investigation of a teenager’s so-called “hazing” last week.
Hiring of Glynn’s first Black chief
Battiste came recommended through a process of recruiting and vetting by Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, GACP, with help from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, known as NOBLE.
County commissioners originally rejected NOBLE’s help. The officials pivoted after lobbying from a group of Black pastors, Community First, and community group A Better Glynn.
The fruits of that collaboration led to Battiste. He was seen as an accomplished former federal law enforcement executive with 22 years of experience with the FBI and had also worked as Deputy Constable/Training and Tactical Coordinator for a New Orleans police agency.
Some in Glynn County’s Black community found Battiste to be the right direction for the department, where a gap in trust between local police and the community existed. Commissioner Alan Booker, the only Black member of the Board of Commissioners, has been supportive of Battiste since he was hired.
“As an African-American resident who grew up here, that was a big deal and certainly went a long way to say, maybe when I see a county officer then I can feel – whether white or Black – that he’s really going to protect and serve,” Booker said.
Battiste’s resume was dinged, however, for having little experience in community policing. Difficulties occurred right out of the gate when officials discovered Battiste’s Louisiana law enforcement certifications would not transfer to Georgia. He had to go through the academy with Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, and he was sworn in officially in December 2021 after being hired in the summer.
The lack of certification was a major point in the lawsuit brought by Morales, Tindale, and Smith: “Plaintiffs were at least as qualified for the position, if not more qualified, than Battiste was. Plaintiffs were Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) qualified, while Battiste was not,” the lawsuit said.
According to Baasen, the search for Battiste’s successor is still ongoing. Applications have been received and interviews are being conducted. Baasen did not immediately have information on how many applicants there were.
The interview process includes one-on-one interviews as well as panel interviews with members of the Police Advisory Panel, county commissioners, county executive staff and the county manager, she said.