DECATUR, Ga. – An Atlanta area grand jury on Thursday indicted a police officer who fatally shot an unarmed naked man on charges including felony murder, aggravated assault and violating oath of office.
The decision came after DeKalb County prosecutors presented their case against Officer Robert Olsen, who fatally shot Anthony Hill on March 9 while responding to a call of a naked man behaving erratically outside a suburban Atlanta apartment complex.
The family of the 27-year-old Hill says he was a U.S. Air Force veteran who struggled with mental health problems.
DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James said a warrant had been issued for Olsen’s arrest and he expected the officer to be taken into custody Thursday evening. After announcing the indictment, James said prosecutors presented evidence for eight hours but declined to give many other details.
Olsen was indicted on two counts each of felony murder and violating oath of office and one count each of aggravated assault and making a false statement.
The felony murder counts do not indicate malice, but rather that Olsen killed someone during the commission of another felony, in this case aggravated assault or violation of his oath of office, James said. Olsen violated the department’s use of force policy and lied during the investigation, James said.
Olsen’s attorney, Don Samuel, said they are disappointed in the grand jury’s decision, but he noted that the defense was not allowed to present any of its witnesses, experts or evidence and was not allowed to challenge any of the prosecution’s evidence.
“The prosecutors chose not to present all the witnesses who clearly observed what occurred, including the one witness who told the police that Mr. Hill was ‘attacking’ and ‘charging’ at Officer Olsen,” Samuel wrote in an email. “When this case is presented in a fair manner to a jury in an open courtroom, Officer Olsen will be fully exonerated.”
Georgia law allows police officers to be present during grand jury proceedings when they are being accused of committing criminal acts in the course of their official duties and to make a statement at the end of the proceedings that the prosecution cannot question or challenge. Samuel said Olsen spoke before the grand jury for about 20 minutes.
Olsen is white and Hill was black. Tensions between police and minorities have risen across the country in the aftermath of a series of shootings mostly involving white law enforcement officers and unarmed African-American males. An unwillingness by grand juries to indict the officers in many cases has sparked protests in cities around the country.
Christopher Chestnut, an attorney for Hill’s family, said it was an historic day and that he hopes the indictment in this case sets a precedent.
A crowd of several dozen outside the courthouse burst into cheers upon hearing the decision and repeatedly chanted, “All six counts.”
Hill’s mother, Carolyn Giummo, thanked the crowd, some of whom had camped on a patch of grass outside the courthouse for several days to show their support. She said she’s grateful the grand jury reached the decision it did.
“The message is that you have to be accountable for your own actions,” Giummo said. “When you decide to do something, if it’s not right, there are consequences and you have to be held accountable for it.”
James’ office takes the somewhat unusual step of presenting every case involving a shooting by an officer to a grand jury for civil review, and the grand jurors recommend whether the case should be considered for criminal prosecution. Ultimately, the district attorney decides whether to seek indictment.
Grand jurors in October heard evidence in Olsen’s case but said inconsistencies and contradictions prevented them from being able to recommend whether or not the district attorney should pursue indictment. The grand jurors said more information was needed.
Additional investigation into the circumstances surrounding the shooting led James to conclude that there was enough evidence to support charges on the six counts, he said earlier this month when he announced his decision to bring the case before another grand jury for criminal consideration. James was also allowed to proactively argue for indictment during the criminal presentation, something he wasn’t allowed to do during the civil review.
Hill’s family in November filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the DeKalb County Police Department, Olsen, the county and its board of commissioners.