An embattled Georgia county central to the state’s revision of its citizen arrest and hate-crimes laws is poised to get its first Black police chief.
Glynn County commissioners announced they have narrowed their search to Jacques S. Battiste, a retired FBI agent with roots in Louisiana. Battiste is scheduled to meet with residents Monday in a public forum, the Brunswick News reported.
The Glynn County Police Department has been through three police chiefs since early 2020, rising from a scandal that involved the arrest of the department’s top cop along with several other high-ranking officers.
Along the way, the controversies included a connection to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery — which fueled a summer of Black Lives Matter protests — and the introduction of legislation that briefly caused a rift in Floyd County between its state senator and local officials.
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, was the cosponsor of a 2020 bill brought by Glynn County’s Sen. William Ligon Jr., R-Brunswick, that would have let any county with both a police department and sheriff’s office call a vote to disband the police.
Floyd County is one of about 14 counties that has both agencies. Hufstetler said the legislation was meant only to target “a situation in Glynn County.” The bill was ultimately changed to call for a nonbinding referendum in Glynn.
“I got some heat from my local police department, but we weren’t going after them. They’re a great department. We need to keep them,” Hufstetler said that fall.
An overhaul of the state’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law, however, remained on his radar and the General Assembly overwhelmingly passed legislation this year. Inspired by the 2020 murder of Arbery, it followed the enactment last year of Georgia’s first hate-crimes law.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was gunned down while jogging near Brunswick in February 2020 by two white men. The two, now facing murder charges along with a third white man, have claimed they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest.
Federal investigators are separately probing potential conflicts of interest stemming from the past employment of one of the men, in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office and the Glynn County Police Department.
A state investigator testified at a hearing last year that Gregory McMichael was armed with the same Smith and Wesson revolver that he carried as a police officer when he and his son pursued Arbery.
A new chief
Battiste’s selection as chief ends a months-long search conducted for the county by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
In his more than 20 years as an FBI special agent, Battiste worked out of Washington, D.C., and Quantico, Virginia. He retired from the FBI to become campus police chief at his alma mater, Xavier University in Louisiana. He is currently with the Orleans Constable Office in New Orleans, where he serves as tactical and training coordinator.
Acting Glynn County Police Chief Rickey Evans will remain as interim police chief until Battiste takes the department’s helm. Evans was serving as assistant police chief when the county manager promoted him to interim chief.
The turnover in that position started when then police chief John Powell was arrested Feb. 27, 2020, on malfeasance charges over an alleged coverup of a narcotics investigator’s affair with an informant.
The captain of the narcotics squad, a lieutenant and the department’s chief of staff also were charged in a Glynn County indictment. The scandal, which broke a year earlier, led to the implosion of a long-running multi-agency drug squad, the Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team.
Powell was placed on paid administrative leave and later fired. He has pled innocent to charges of violation of oath of office, perjury and influencing a witness.
Glynn County Emergency Management Agency Director Jay Wiggins was named interim police chief the day after Powell’s arrest, but left the department earlier this year.