An Atlanta grand jury found that Robert Olsen will face charges of felony murder. Olsen was indicted this week in the latest prosecution against a white police officer accused of using excessive force and violating the rights of a black victim. A grand jury returned the indictment on Thursday – a rare move in a state where few indictments against police officers involved in shootings are ever made.
Reports the NY Times on Jan. 21: “The indictment of Officer Robert Olsen of the DeKalb County Police Department came about two weeks after the district attorney said he would ask a grand jury to pursue criminal charges in the death of Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran.”
On March 9 of last year, seven months to the day after a former Ferguson, Mo. police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, touching off nationwide protests and national debates over race and law enforcement practices, seven-year DeKalb County police officer Robert Olsen shot a man who was reportedly “deranged.”
The victim, identified as 27-year-old Anthony Hill, was found naked by responding officers and was reportedly banging on apartment doors in a suburban Atlanta area. According to reports, Hill was crawling on the ground, screaming out, climbing and jumping off of porch railings. Olsen claimed Hill, who was unarmed, “lunged” at him, causing him to fire multiple shots.
Police Chief Cedric Alexander at the time said Hill was “acting in a deranged manner” before Olsen shot him. “When the male saw the officer, he charged, running at the officer. The officer called on him to step back, drew his weapon, and fired two shots.” Olsen was armed with a Taser, but instead opted to draw his service weapon to take Hill down.
Witness accounts of the incident diverge; according to reports, some witnesses said Hill didn’t appear to mentally comprehend Officer Olsen’s commands to halt, and that Hill was approaching the officer with “open arms.” Other witnesses said that Hill’s approach was indeed more of a charge or an “aggressive lunge.”
A grand jury that reviewed the evidence ruled that Olsen will be tried for murder.
Christopher M. Chestnut, who is representing Hill’s family, said, “This is a day in history. Hopefully, this will set a precedent for discouraging paramilitary policing.”
Officer Olsen’s lawyer on the other hand said he was disappointed at the ruling and expressed confidence that Olsen would be exonerated at trial.
“The defense, of course, was not permitted to present any of the witnesses who were present at the scene, or any expert witnesses who would testify that Officer Olsen’s reaction to the threat of violent injury was reasonable,” said attorney Don Samuel. “When this case is presented in a fair manner to a jury in an open courtroom, Officer Olsen will be fully exonerated.”
A wrongful death lawsuit filed against Olsen and the county says Hill suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and that when Robert Olsen arrived, Hill was in the middle of a “a nonviolent mental episode.”
Hill “was unarmed, unclothed and displaying no signs of aggression at the time of the shooting, and he presented no threat to Officer Olsen or anyone else,” the suit reads.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the state of Georgia has logged more than 170 fatal police shootings since 2010. Out of those incidents, only one officer was ever charged – and in that case, the officer was ultimately acquitted.
What are your thoughts? Do you think Robert Olsen should have been indicated for murder?