One police officer who fatally shot Caroline Small died last year. Another officer involved in the dramatic shooting captured on video received a promotion.
And now the south Georgia police chief who took extraordinary steps to defend the officers’ actions in the 2010 killing is leaving his post at Glynn County Police Department.
Chief Matt Doering announced his retirement earlier this month, effective Sept. 30. Doering leaves after 33 years with the coastal Georgia police agency, including nearly 14 in the top job overseeing a jurisdiction that includes St. Simons Island. The Small shooting was a black eye during his tenure even though a local grand jury determined the shooting to be justified.
Doering and his department came under scrutiny as part of a 2015 investigation of the Small case by the AJC and Channel 2 Action News. The report revealed that Doering had thrown political support behind Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson in the weeks after Small’s death and his agency created a misleading animation of the shooting that was shown by Johnson to the grand jury.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation supervisor who oversaw the case said it was the worst police shooting he’d ever investigated. The GBI later changed its policy on police shooting investigations after interference from Doering’s department in the Small case.
Small’s family in Tallahassee launched a campaign to reopen the case after the 2015 AJC investigation, but suspended the effort in May after their efforts stalled. Her mother’s reaction to Doering’s retirement speaks volumes about the group’s view of his handling of the case.
“I certainly hope Glynn County will get someone who is honest and who looks out for the welfare of the citizens in the community,” said Karen McGehee. “I can’t help but wonder how Caroline’s case would have been handled by a different police chief.”
Doering stands by his actions and maintains support of his officers who fired eight bullets through Small’s windshield and afterward compared their marksmanship. The agency promoted Robert C. Sasser to lieutenant last year. And Michael Todd Simpson died in early 2016 after a bout with brain cancer.
The chief says he regrets Small’s death, but there is nothing he would do differently and maintains that her actions forced his officers into a very difficult decision.
“It’s bad,” he said. “It’s not something that any community would want to go through….It’s not like the officers involved knew what (Small) was going to do. She did; we didn’t.”
Doering said a multitude of factors contributed to his decision to retire, including his age (55), his pension formula and his desire to spend time with his family. The Glynn County Commission’s move in July to audit the police agency had no bearing on his decision, he said.
“I’m glad we’re doing that,” Doering said. “To me this is a good thing. That’s just going to make us better.”
Glynn County Commissioner Bob Coleman said he has never been satisfied with the officials story told about the Small case. Still, he has not been able to get a majority of his fellow commissioners to approve a review of the case. He said he hopes the audit will help identify problems that he thinks have been lingering in the agency for years.
“There was no question in my mind that was cold, blooded murder on that girl that day,” Coleman said. “I think sooner or later somebody is going to have to step up to the plate on that. I just feel like it’s not over.”