John Powell in 2017 at a law enforcement training weekend. Credit: Glynn County Police Department

The criminal misconduct case against Glynn County’s former police chief, John Powell, was moved up to the Supreme Court of Georgia this month. 

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On Oct. 12, the Georgia Court of Appeals transferred Powell’s case to the state’s top court in order to address his attorney’s claim that Powell’s charged offense, violation of oath of office, is unconstitutionally vague, therefore he and his chief deputy Brian Scott shouldn’t face those charges, according to the court order.

The Floridian and former Dothan, Ala., chief came to Glynn County in 2016 with the mission to institute broad reforms at the police department, but instead, he led the force into a steeper tailspin. Two grand juries indicted Powell on charges he covered for the misdeeds of his drug unit and overlooked alleged corruption.

He has pleaded not guilty and said he is the subject of a witch hunt. His allies claim he was targeted by former district attorney Jackie Johnson. 

In January 2023, Powell’s lawyer appealed a ruling in the ongoing criminal case, alleging his client’s speedy trial rights were violated.

Once the case reached the appeals court, Powell’s lawyer, Tom Withers of Savannah, shifted the main argument in the appeal to dispute Powell’s central criminal charge – violation of oath of office – as too constitutionally vague and that it should be thrown out. Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison, of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, initially ruled against Team Powell, leading to the appeal.

Powell’s legal argument hinges on whether a police officer’s mistakes — like failing to investigate misconduct — amounts to a crime, according to Withers.

“The trial court has set a dangerous precedent that could allow hind-sight review of discretionary actions by law enforcement personnel, resulting in prosecutions of well-intentioned officers,” Withers wrote in the appeal.

police car GCPD
Glynn County Police Department cruiser Credit: Justin Taylor for The Current

District Attorney Joe Mulholland, who was assigned the case by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, argued that Powell’s lawyers are using the appeal process for speedy trial to back-door a way for the court to throw out the charges. Mulholland wrote that the charges’ validity was already settled by Judge Harrison.

“A police officer is under a more compelling obligation than a private citizen when it concerns knowledge of, or duty to prevent commission of crime,” Mulholland argued. “It has been the consistent holding of our courts that a police officer who fails to perform his duty in the prevention of crime is in violation of the office entrusted to him.”

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court approved in-person arguments in front of the justices. No date was included in the order. The case is docketed for February 2024, according to the court’s website.

The Tide brings news and observations from The Current staff.

Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Email him at Prior to joining The Current,...