No indictment for Georgia officer who killed Black driver

·3 min read

ATLANTA (AP) — A grand jury has declined to indict a former Georgia state trooper who shot and killed a Black man last year after trying to pull him over for a broken tail light.

Jacob Thompson, who worked for the Georgia State Patrol, had been arrested on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault in the Aug. 7 death of 60-year-old Julian Lewis. After the case was presented to a Screven County grand jury Monday, the grand jurors did not indict Thompson on any of the charges.

Francys Johnson, an attorney for Lewis' family said they want to see video from shooting. He also called on District Attorney Daphne Totten to empanel another grand jury to try again to get an indictment.

A woman who answered the phone in Totten's office on Tuesday said the district attorney was in court in another county. Totten did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.

A lawyer for Thompson did not immediately respond Tuesday to phone and email messages seeking comment on the grand jury's decision.

Lawyers for Lewis' family had been encouraged by Thompson's arrest a week after the shooting and subsequent firing by the Georgia State Patrol. They were further heartened when Screven County Judge F. Gates Peed initially denied bond for Thompson in September, saying it “would be inappropriate” to allow bond at that moment given the facts in the case. Peed granted a $100,000 bond in November after seven witnesses, including four law enforcement officers, testified on Thompson's behalf.

Lawyers for Lewis' family expressed disappointment Tuesday with the grand jury's decision, saying the system fails to provide justice for Black people.

“Make no mistake about it, we believe that this was a very strong case," Johnson said during a livestreamed news conference in Savannah. "The evidence was there. It still is.”

Thompson, who is white, tried to pull Lewis over for a broken tail light in rural Screven County, near Georgia's border with South Carolina. When Lewis didn't immediately stop, the trooper pursued him and forced his car into a ditch, then shot Lewis in the head.

Thompson wrote in his incident report that he shot Lewis as Lewis was revving his engine and turning his steering wheel, as if he was trying to ram the trooper. But Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Dustin Peak testified in September that was impossible, because Lewis’ car battery disconnected when it hit the ditch, leaving the vehicle inoperable.

Peak testified that dash camera video shows one second elapsed between the time the trooper got out of his patrol vehicle and when he fired the shot that killed Lewis.

Johnson noted that district attorneys have great power in the indictment process and essentially can present what they want to present how they want to present it. The evidentiary standard of “probable cause” required for an indictment is much lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" required to convict someone at trial.

While grand jury proceedings are secret and people accused of crimes do not generally get the opportunity to appear before grand jurors to present their side, Georgia law does have an exception that allows police officers accused of crimes to testify before a grand jury.

Johnson said he wants to see the transcript of the grand jury proceedings: “If the presentation went like the prosecution has gone thus far, we will not be surprised by what we see if there is underzealous prosecution.”

Kate Brumback, The Associated Press

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