ATLANTA (Tribune News Service) — As she prayed that charges would be brought against the officer who shot and killed her boyfriend, Bridget Anderson knew the odds were not on her side.
In five years, out of 184 police shootings, none has been prosecuted, according to an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News. The AJC has learned DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James will seek to buck those odds by presenting a criminal indictment against Officer Robert Olsen, who shot Anthony Hill last March outside the Afghanistan War veteran’s Chamblee apartment.
Chris Chestnut, the attorney for Hill’s parents, said he was notified Wednesday about James’ intention to seek an indictment but does not know which charges will be presented. The DA’s office declined comment but is holding a news conference Thursday morning to discuss “developments regarding the Anthony Hill case,” according to a statement.
Efforts to reach Olsen, who has defended his actions, or his attorney were unsuccessful.
Hill, unarmed at the time, was wandering naked outside his residence, driven by an adverse reaction to medication he was taking for bipolar disorder, friends told the AJC.
“I feel relieved, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much until there’s actually an indictment,” Anderson said Wednesday.
Such caution is warranted. While grand juries typically act as a rubber stamp for prosecutors, a special exemption granted to law enforcement in Georgia makes it more difficult to bring charges against an officer. Additionally, prosecutors are often reluctant to criminally charge police officers.
Georgia is the only state in the nation that permits police officers facing possible criminal indictment to be inside the grand jury room for the entire proceeding. The officer also gets to make a statement at the end of the proceedings, one that can’t be challenged by a prosecutor. Private citizens do not enjoy such privileges.
“If I shot a naked guy in self-defense I wouldn’t get a chance to present my case before a grand jury,” said Marietta defense attorney Philip Holloway, a former prosecutor.
Lance Lorusso, a lawyer who often represents police officers, said the exemption is warranted.
“Name another profession where you may have to take a life and you’re being judged for it by civilians who have never been in that position,” he said. “At least if you’re in the military you’re judged by your peers.”
Last month, before a civil grand jury impaneled to offer a recommendation on whether to prosecute, Olsen said he believed Hill was high on either bath salts or PCP and he spent more than an hour detailing several other incidents where police were attacked by suspects under the influence, said Chestnut, who observed the testimony.
Olsen said his Taser or baton would have been ineffective in subduing Hill because suspects high on PCP or bath salts don’t feel pain.
The veteran officer was dispatched to the scene after a concerned neighbor called 911 seeking medical assistance for Hill, according to Chestnut, though the call was dispatched as a suspicious person.
The shooting occurred within five minutes of Olsen’s arrival. No one disputes that Hill ignored the officer’s commands to stop, but there is much debate whether his approach warranted deadly force.
During the civil grand jury prosecutors said Olsen told the second officer to arrive on the scene that Hill charged and attacked him. Olsen’s presentation did not mention his colleague’s account.
Chestnut said Hill was struck by two bullets about three to five feet away from Olsen’s police cruiser.
Prosecutors also called on an expert witness who testified that he could find no justification for the shooting.
The civil grand jury was split evenly on whether Olsen should be charged, though they recommended further investigation. At the time, James told the AJC he had “serious concerns” about the shooting.
DeKalb Public Safety Director Cedric Alexander said he is willing to “let the justice system work and see what the grand jury decides.”
“This was a challenging and difficult case for the officer and the community,” he said.
Chestnut said he thinks James will present a strong case before the criminal grand jury.
“I know they have some very compelling evidence that this shooting was more a result of predisposition than an accident,” he said.
James is “aware the country is watching. But I think this issue resonates with him,” Chestnut said.
Anderson said she had almost given up hope after the recent decisions not to prosecute officers in a string of fatal police shootings of unarmed suspects. A week ago, Cleveland prosecutors declined to charge the police officers who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
“It restores some faith in the justice system,” she said.
James has not announced whether he will seek charges against the officer who shot Kevin Davis, killed in his apartment while on the phone with 911 seeking help for his injured girlfriend. A civil grand jury recommended against charges, but James said he planned to review that case as well.
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