Quantcast

Bound by tragedy, families hope for justice in ex-cop's murder trial in death of unarmed veteran

Former police officer Robert Olsen attends a court hearing on June 6, 2016, in Decatur, Ga.

BRANDEN CAMP/AP

By CHRISTIAN BOONE AND BILL RANKIN | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Published: September 21, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Anthony Hill returned home from the Afghanistan war feeling like damaged goods.

His Air Force unit had been bombarded by rocket attacks, exposing horrors that continued to haunt him. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder but struggled to find the right medication to treat it.

All that seemed behind him when he spoke on the phone with his mother on March 8, 2015. Hill appeared to have turned the corner – he was in love with a woman who accepted him for who he was and was seemingly on the cusp of becoming a producer in Atlanta's competitive music scene.

"I was just filled with joy," Carolyn Baylor Giummo said, recalling her mood that Sunday when she hung up the phone. "I thought, he's on his way. I was so happy I was just grinning."

It was their last conversation. The next day, Hill, 27, ran naked through his apartment complex in the middle of the day. He would eventually run toward a police officer who'd been dispatched to the scene because of his highly erratic behavior.

That officer, Robert "Chip" Olsen, twice ordered Hill to stop. But when Hill kept approaching, Olsen fired two shots – one at Hill's chest, the other into his neck. Hill died moments later at the scene.

On Monday, more than four years after the fateful encounter, Olsen will stand trial, charged with Hill's murder. The case is a rarity in Georgia and beyond: A police officer being prosecuted for a fatal shooting in the line of duty. It could send a strong signal as to how jurors react when a cop is prosecuted for murder – whether they give him the benefit of the doubt or hold him criminally responsible.

But for the two families at the center of the tragic encounter, it looms as the final leg of a painful journey. Both view it with equal parts dread and anticipation.

"I would not wish this on anybody," Kathy Olsen, the defendant's wife of 16 years, told the AJC. "And people say, well, life's not fair, and okay, well, maybe that's true. Life isn't always fair, but it doesn't necessarily have to be quite so hard, you know?"

Olsen fears an uncertain future. If found guilty her 57-year-old husband could spend the rest of his life in prison.

"I hope that people realize the severity and the seriousness of the situation, that his life is in their hands," she said of the jurors to be selected over the course of the next few days.

"I'm just praying they'll see the truth," she said. "If that was your child that was killed what kind of justice would you want?"

'It's just a rollercoaster'

Kathy Olsen didn't know what she was getting into when her husband, who was in his mid-40s, told her he wanted to change careers. Having spent most of his work life behind a desk, Chip Olsen was ready to fulfill a long-held dream of becoming a police officer.

Part of it came from a sense of duty. He never served in the military, like his father and uncles had, and felt an obligation to give something back.

"And so I think this was his way of playing that part, but also on a local level, being able to interact with people on a daily basis," his wife said. "So when he was on his beat, being able to see the same shop owners, have relationships with them, so that they know that he's going to be there that day or that time, and developing that rapport with people."

She supported his dream, but worried if he was capable of keeping up with recruits up to 25 years younger.

"The physical-ness and all the homework that they had to do, and it's something that you would not expect a 40-, 50-year-old person to take on," Kathy Olsen said. "Not that people don't, but it was something he really wanted. And I guess when you really want something, you dedicate yourself to it. And so that's what he did."

The transition was tough, in more ways than one. She worried when he started picking up night shifts, "because that's when people are out that probably shouldn't be out."

All along Chip Olsen remained a doting father.

"He will do anything for our son," Kathy Olsen said. "I would like to say he would do anything for me, but our son is his world."

Olsen, on the advice of her husband's attorney, declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding Hill's death. But she did detail the toll the indictment has taken on the former officer's family. The wait has been excruciating. Olsen's trial was supposed to begin in February. But a few days before it was to start, Judge J.P. Boulee recused himself after a potential conflict of interest emerged. A new judge was picked, and she postponed the trial for another six months.

The delay was almost too much to bear.

"It's just a roller coaster, just a complete roller coaster," Kathy Olsen said. "You're like, what's going to happen next?"

The Olsens tried to shield their son from the high stakes of the trial. How do you tell a 9-year-old his father could be taken away from him?

"So we need to prepare him, but we don't want to scare him," she said. "And it's like, how do you do that when I can't even do that for myself?"

<gallery>

'I can't be angry and hateful'

Earlier this year, Hill's mother, Baylor Giummo, assembled family members and friends to share memories of her late son. They gathered at her mother's home in tiny Moncks Corner, S.C., where the Baylors have lived for generations.

"I don't want to forget what he looks like," Baylor Giummo said. "And I listen to his music because I don't want to forget his voice. Sometimes when we're around people we'll say Tony would've done this and we'll laugh and cry. We'll reminisce because we have a lot of good memories. But we all ache."

Eventually, talk turned to Chip Olsen. And forgiveness.

"I never hated the officer and a lot of people don't understand that," Baylor Giummo said. "I can't pray to God for justice if I have hatred in my heart. I got to love myself and love people in general. And pray for people not on the right track. But I can't be angry and hateful."

For Hill's sister, Tamara Giummo, the path to absolution has been a difficult one.

"I can't say I necessarily hated him," she said of Olsen. "But was I close? Probably."

Her mindset changed when she read some of her brother's final Facebook posts.

"And one of those posts was all this world needs is love and forgiveness," Giummo said. "And when I did read that ... that message was meant to be there and it was something I needed to see in the moment. And that's when I was able to start doing what she did."

Baylor Giummo empathizes with Olsen's family.

"I feel sorry for his wife and his child, they have to go through this," she said. "Because as a mother, they didn't do this, so I have compassion for them. Because they're going to lose somebody, or afraid to lose somebody. I've already lost somebody. You know, so that's a child who may not have their dad."

'Just to be found guilty'

Chip Olsen, says his wife, isn't big on nuance.

"He's a pretty black and white person, in terms of it's either right or wrong or it's a one or a two," Kathy Olsen said. "It is what it is. And there's a little gray area when it comes to doing things. Like he's always been very definitive."

But the gray area may be Chip Olsen's saving grace as he prepares to go on trial Monday for the murder of Afghanistan War veteran Anthony Hill. The black and white of the case: Olsen shot an unarmed man in the midst of a mental health crisis.

The defense will say it's much more complicated than that. Olsen didn't know Hill was a war veteran who once thought about a career in law enforcement. He didn't know Hill was an all-around good guy who played soccer with the kids in his apartment complex. All he knew was that Hill had stripped off all his clothes and was running towards him, ignoring his commands.

They'll argue it was perfectly reasonable for their client to have perceived Hill a threat to his safety and that he acted in self-defense.

"I would just like to think that if anybody, whether they're on the jury, whether they're looking at this situation, just understand that every situation is different, every situation is unique, and you can't possibly know what the other person is going through – has going through their head," Kathy Olsen said.

Baylor Giummo said whatever punishment Olsen may receive is not her main concern.

"Just to be found guilty," she said. "And send the message, to those who are going to do wrong, now you are going to be held accountable."

Both women – Hill's mother and Olsen's wife – believe there's a reason for everything – even this tragedy that has forever altered their lives.

"I just think that ... when one window closes, a door opens. So there's always an opportunity for good to come out of anything, out of a bad situation," Kathy Olsen said. "I don't know what that is, but I got to hold on to something."

Anthony Hill

Hill grew up in Moncks Corner, a town near Charleston, S.C. His grandfather, who owned a farm, was a strong influence and always told him, "Be sensible," which Hill later had tattooed across his chest. Hill had a fine singing voice and an excellent ear for music.

He enrolled at the University of South Carolina but dropped out to join the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed in Afghanistan's Kandahar province where he loaded bombs onto planes. He returned home with bipolar disorder but worked hard to combat the stigmas sometimes associated with his diagnosis. Hill fell in love , moved to Atlanta and began producing music out of his homemade studio. At his apartment complex, Hill was well-liked by many of the Hispanic kids who lived there. He joined their soccer games and they taught him to swim.

Robert "Chip" Olsen

Olsen was not your typical cop. After graduating from UNC Greensboro, Olsen worked for the Marriott Corp. and then for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He has described himself as "a suit and tie guy," working mostly behind a desk.

In 2007, he decided he wanted to be a police officer, and he joined DeKalb County force the following year in his mid-40s. As a cop, Olsen rotated between holding desk jobs and working a beat. He was a member of the color guard and spent a lot of time in training, accumulating 1,948 hours – about a full work-year's worth during his seven years on the force. The day he shot and killed Anthony Hill was the first time Olsen had fired his weapon in the line of duty. He and his wife, Kathy Olsen, were married in 2003. They have a young son.

Pete Johnson

For almost 15 years, Johnson tried some of Fulton County's most high-profile cases. Aggressive and effective, Johnson can get emotional and confrontational in the heat of a trial. In 2013, he helped obtain a death sentence against Jeremy Moody, a rapist who'd murdered two teenagers.

Three years later, Johnson's anger flashed after a jury acquitted a daycare worker charged with second-degree murder when a 3-year-old boy accidentally hung himself while in her care. Johnson strongly criticized the trial judge for the way he instructed the jury before it began deliberations. In early 2017, Johnson left Fulton to become chief assistant DA in DeKalb. He will be assisted by fellow prosecutors Lance Cross and Buffy Thomas.

Don Samuel

Samuel, who has authored books on criminal case law, is regarded as one of Atlanta's top defense attorneys. Over the years, he has been in the thick in some of the state's most sensational cases. He's represented rapper T.I., Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and former NFL star linebacker Ray Lewis.

Samuel helped negotiate the plea agreement that all but resolved the racketeering case involving the Gold Club, the infamous Atlanta strip club that attracted star athletes. More recently, he was co-counsel to Tex McIver, the Atlanta lawyer who was convicted of felony murder for shooting his wife Diane in the back as they drove down Piedmont Road in September 2016. He will be joined by law partner Amanda Clark Palmer and investigator Richard Hyde.

LaTisha Dear Jackson

When she was assigned the murder case against Chip Olsen, Dear Jackson had been a Superior Court judge for only five weeks. Before taking the bench in DeKalb, she served more than a decade as a Municipal Court judge in the city of Stone Mountain.

In 2008, she made history by becoming both the first woman and youngest person to serve on that city's court. In 2018, she became one of six candidates trying to win the Superior Court seat vacated by Judge Dan Coursey, who retired. She ultimately won the race in a runoff.

___

(c)2019 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)
Visit The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at www.ajc.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

Airman Anthony Hill.
U.S. AIR FORCE

from around the web