Prosecutors in DeKalb County, Georgia said at a press conference on Thursday that they are seeking indictments by a grand jury for two counts of murder and other charges for an officer that shot and killed an unarmed and naked Afghanistan Air Force veteran last year.
Officer Robert Olsen was responding to a call about a suspicious person on March 9, 2015 and found 27-year-old Anthony Hill behaving erratically. Videos and photos taken from the scene showed a completely nude Hill hanging from a balcony, and walking and crawling around outside of his apartment building.
Police claim when Hill spotted Olsen, “he charged, running at the officer,” before he was told to stop and Olsen, “while stepping back… drew his weapon and fired two shots” – which killed the man.
Following the incident, Hill’s family said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder, and was experiencing an emotional breakdown. They filed a wrongful-death lawsuit and asserted that they do not believe their loved one was “charging” at the officer. Instead, they say he was likely approaching for help.
They also want to know why Olsen immediately resorted to firing his gun instead of using pepper-spray or a less-lethal device like a stun gun.
“We have three eyewitnesses to the shooting who say he never got within 3 to 5 feet of the officer,” Hill family attorney Christopher Chestnut said. “He’s a veteran. He respects and honors and entrusts the uniform.”
DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James said Thursday that he will ask a criminal grand jury – which will begin hearing evidence on January 21 – to indict Olsen on two counts of felony murder, two counts of violation of an officer’s oath, aggravated assault and making a false statement.
“Our decision is that we’re going forward on an indictment. Ultimately it is going to be up to a grand jury as to whether or not Officer Robert Olsen is charged with felony murder,” James said. “Our position is that the facts and the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Anthony Hill warrant a charge for felony murder.”
Watch Thursday’s press conference:
If indicted, Olsen would become the first police officer in Georgia to stand trial for a shooting death in at least the last six years.
Last month, it was revealed that roughly half of the 184 individuals killed by Georgia police since 2010 have either been unarmed or shot in the back. Every single one of these shootings were deemed lawful in the states criminal justice system without a single officer being successfully prosecuted.
Many blame the special privileges cops receive in the state, as Georgia officers are the only ones in the country that are allowed to be in the grand jury room throughout the entire proceedings against them.
As such, this allows them to hear all of the evidence presented in the case and to close out their proceedings with a statement that can not be questioned by prosecutors or grand jurors – which some prosecutors say hinders the justice process. Private citizens do not enjoy such privileges.
A proposal expected to head before the state General Assembly this year will seek to hamper some of these special privileges by allowing officers to be questioned and cross-examined after testifying.
“This has to do with the integrity of the grand jury process,” said State Rep. Rich Golick, who chairs a judiciary committee in the General Assembly, in reference to the proposal. “Right now, we have a framework that allows for the possibility, the potential, for that process to be compromised or unduly influenced in one direction. That’s something we can’t live with.”