GEORGIA – As many as five Georgia cops are likely to stand trial in the deaths of three black men next year.
Reports refer to the decedents as “unarmed.” Yet as police officers know, the term is subjective. While the men did not possess a firearm, the officers reportedly perceived danger. However, investigators along with prosecutors have concluded their perceptions were without merit to justify the level of force that was used. Consequently, this is a noteworthy number of prosecutions in a state, which has historically had a high bar for trying cops.
Moreover, Law Enforcement Today generally does not refer to race when it is not germane to the story. Yet in this instance, it is unavoidable. All five police officers are white, while the three deceased men are black. Nevertheless, the merits of each case should play out regardless of race, not because of it, unless cause can be shown that it played a factor.
New grand jury rules
All five officers—including DeKalb County Police Officer Robert Olsen who used deadly force against Anthony Hill in 2015—were indicted under new state grand jury rules that went into effect in 2015, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The new rules no longer allow officers to look at the prosecution’s case and then testify—without being cross-examined—privileges historically available only to cops in Georgia.
“There was a long period where there weren’t any [prosecutions of police officers], so five is worth noting,” former DeKalb District Attorney Robert James told the newspaper.
The new rules, he said, “somewhere leveled the playing field,” in getting a murder charge against Olsen and the other police officers.
“There were some incidents that I thought were wrong, that I was very upset about, but under the laws at the time, the officers were protected and there was no way we were going to win those cases,” James added.
Olsen’s trial is expected first. He is accused of shooting Hall on March 9, 2015, while responding to a call about a naked man behaving erratically outside a suburban Atlanta apartment complex.
Earlier this year, during an immunity hearing, Olsen claimed self-defense and that he believed he was going to get “pummeled and pounded” by the man—a USAF veteran—armed with nothing more than fists and feet.
Three police officers—Washington County deputies Michael Howell, Henry L. Copeland, and Rhett Scott—were indicted after reportedly deploying the Taser on Eurie Lee Martin, 59, in July 2017. He subsequently died, but the report did not indicate the actual cause of death.
According to the newspaper, the fatal incident began with a request for water on a hot July afternoon.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigations concluded that Martin, who suffered from schizophrenia and was walking some 20 miles to see relatives in Sandersville, broke no laws when Howell questioned him.
Cellphone video recorded by a passing motorist showed Martin face down, handcuffed, and having difficulty breathing, according to the Journal-Constitution.
Meanwhile, former Atlanta Police Officer James Burns was re-indicted in September for the death of Deravis Rogers.
Prosecutors say Burns was responding to a suspicious person call in June 2016 when he fired shots into a car driven by the 22-year-old Rogers, killing him.
Investigators said they concluded the officer wasn’t in danger when he opened fire, and that he had no way to identify Rogers as the reported suspicious person.
Trial dates have not been set for the officers, but prosecutors expect them to happen sometime in 2019.
The AJC report concluded that convictions are no longer unprecedented in Georgia. In December 2016, a Fulton County jury took only 30 minutes to find former East Point police Sgt. Marcus Eberhart guilty of felony murder for the 2014 Tasing death of 24-year-old Gregory Towns. Eberhart stunned Towns, who was handcuffed, 14 times. Eberhart was sentenced to life in prison. Cpl. Howard Weems was sentenced to 18 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter of Towns.