The Georgia Supreme Court has thrown out an indictment charging an ex-police chief with misconduct

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Georgia's highest court on Tuesday threw out an indictment that charged a former police chief and a top aide with felonies for failing to investigate allegations of misconduct within their department.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the 2021 indictment against former Glynn County Police Chief John Powell and Brian Scott, his former chief of staff, was fatally flawed by technical errors.

A grand jury in coastal Brunswick, 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah, indicted Powell and Scott in August 2021 on felony charges of violating their oaths of office. The indictment accused both men of failing to investigate one of their drug task force officers after being shown evidence that the officer had an improper relationship with a man convicted of drug crimes.

The indictment also charged Powell with three additional oath violations, alleging he didn't investigate other narcotics officers accused of making harassing traffic stops and conducting investigations outside their jurisdiction.

In a unanimous ruling, the state Supreme Court said the indictment's flaw was that it charged both men with violating a specific part of their oath: to uphold due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. Turning a blind eye to police misconduct, the justices said Tuesday, isn't a due process issue.

“It is legally impossible to commit the crimes in the way the State alleged in the indictment,” Justice Shawn Ellen LaGrua wrote in the court's ruling.

The decision could mark the end of efforts to prosecute Powell and Scott. Oath violation charges against both men were dismissed by the trial judge in September 2020, and prosecutors indicted them a second time almost a year later. Georgia law prohibits indicting the same person more than twice for the same “offense, charge, or allegation.”

“Mr. Powell and I are both grateful to see that justice has been done,” said Powell's attorney, Tom Withers.

Scott's lawyer, Tracy Alan Brown, said they were "likewise just as pleased.”

District Attorney Joe Mulholland of the South Georgia Judicial Circuit was assigned to the case after Glynn County prosecutors recused themselves. Mulholland did not immediately return phone and email messages.

The allegations of scandal involving Powell and Scott ultimately led to the dismantling of Glynn County police’s drug task force. It also prompted a failed attempt by Georgia lawmakers to abolish the county police department and hand law enforcement in parts of Glynn County outside the city of Brunswick back to the elected county sheriff.

Powell was indicted for the first time and placed on administrative leave in February 2020 just days after Ahmaud Arbery was chased and fatally shot in Glynn County by white men who spotted the young Black man running in their neighborhood.

Glynn County police made no arrests, which came only after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case more than two months later. None of the misconduct charges against Powell stemmed from his department's handling of Arbery's killing.

Glynn County commissioners fired Powell in 2021. Scott was fired from his job as police chief of Vidalia, Georgia, a few months later when the second indictment was issued.