A Georgia prosecutor is seeking an indictment against a cop who fatally shot a naked and unarmed Black veteran on March 9, 2015.
Robert D. James Jr., district attorney of DeKalb County, announced he will present to the grand jury charges against Officer Robert Olsen on Jan. 21. The charges include felony murder, aggravated assault, violation of oath of office and making a false statement.
Anthony Hill, 27, was an Air Force veteran who had completed a tour in the Kandahar Providence of Afghanistan. Upon his return, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and eventually bipolar disorder.
On the day of the shooting, Olsen responded to a call at an apartment complex where a man, 27-year-old Anthony Hill, was reportedly naked and acting erratically. According to Olsen, Hill lunged at him and did not retreat when Olsen told him to. Olsen had a taser on him but chose instead to fire two shots at Hill. He tried to provide Hill with medical assistance after the fact but was unsuccessful, and Hill died from his injuries.
Investigators did not recover a weapon at the scene of the crime.
While the decision to pursue an indictment ultimately belongs to the DA, James’ office presented the case to a grand jury in October because all police-related shootings receive a civil review, after which the grand jury makes a recommendation. At the time, the grand jury was split and recommended the case be investigated further.
Given that Hill was unarmed, James found Olsen’s use of excessive force unjustified.
“I look at the facts and the evidence and justice requires this is the decision I need to make,” he said.
An indictment could be difficult, though — especially in Georgia, which is the only state that allows cops to be in the room during the grand jury proceedings. Georgia also permits police officers to deliver a statement after the proceedings, and prosecutors are not allowed to challenge the statement.
According to J. Tom Morgan, who used to serve as DeKalb County’s DA, the odds are stacked against Hill: “It is going to go in the way of the police 99 times out of 100 if it’s a close call, or not even a close call,” he said.
Maj. Stephen Fore, a spokesman for the DeKalb County Police Department, could not comment on what is still an ongoing investigation.
Olsen said he did not use his taser in the situation because he believed Hill was on PCP or bath salts at the time, so a taser would have been ineffective. However, DeKalb County officers undergo required training to handle situations involving the mentally ill. The training includes teaching officers how to identify PTSD and bipolar disorder. According to his file, Olsen received 40 hours of this training in 2009.
The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) administers the training and has trained over 9,000 officers since its inception in 2004. Debbie Shaw, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) special agent and the program administrator for the CIT, said the training is not “foolproof.” “But if the training is followed it’s effective 80 to 90 percent of the time,” she added.
“We try to switch the thought process to be more communicative and less authoritative,” Shaw said. “You want to try and get a two-way interaction. The more you allow the individual to talk, the more you can learn.”
Witnesses at the scene the day of the shooting said that Olsen made no attempt to engage Hill. He ordered Hill to stop twice but Hill continued jogging towards him. But witnesses questioned why an officer felt he had to use lethal force against a man who was undoubtedly unarmed.
“Maybe the police felt overpowered by him, but if that’s the case they should get better policemen that don’t feel overpowered by someone that doesn’t have a gun,” one neighbor said at the time of the shooting.
Bridget Anderson, Hill’s girlfriend, expressed her happiness at the news of the possible indictment.
“I just want everyone to know that Anthony Hill was a veteran, he was completely naked and unarmed,” she said, “and I’m glad the DA came to this decision.”
The question the grand jury must consider, Morgan said, is, “Did that officer, in that moment of time, have a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was warranted”
Past grand jury decisions cast a shadow of doubt on Hill’s case, though. The cases of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, for instance, did not see an indictment for the officers responsible for their deaths.
But James said of his decision, “We don’t seek indictments when we don’t believe the facts and circumstances are present and the information is available for us to present to a grand jury to have a positive outcome.”
The Hill family filed a wrongful death suit in November, which is still pending.