DA to seek murder indictments against 3 Washington County officers

It was a long walk, some 20 miles from his home in Milledgeville to relatives living in the rural community of Deep Step. But 58-year-old Euree Martin made the trek routinely, without incident.

But on July 7, someone observing Martin just walking down the street thought he was acting suspiciously and called 911. Three Washington County deputies responded and attempted to take him into custody, despite no evidence that Martin had broken any laws, according to the GBI.

Video showed the deputies hovering over Martin, deploying their Tasers to get him to submit. After multiple shocks, Martin went into respiratory distress and died.

Now, Heyward Altman, district attorney for Georgia’s Middle Judicial Circuit, says he will seek indictments of the three ex-lawmen on charges including felony murder, involuntary manslaughter, false imprisonment and aggravated assault.

Altman announced his intentions Friday, and the former deputies — Henry L. Copeland, Michael Howell and Rhett Scott — were subsequently fired by Washington County Sheriff Thomas Smith for violating several of the office’s standard operating procedures.

Soon they could join the ranks of only a handful of other Georgia peace officers charged with murder in a use-of-force case since 2010:

» Former East Point police Sgt. Marcus Eberhart was sentenced to life in prison in 2016 after being convicted of murder in the 2014 Taser death of Gregory Towns.

» DeKalb County Police Officer Robert Olsen was indicted in January 2016 for the fatal shooting of an unarmed Afghanistan War veteran who was nude at the time.

» Nine months later, Atlanta Police Officer James R. Burns was charged after a grand jury disputed his claim that he was in danger when he left his patrol car and fired a single shot at an unarmed civilian.

Martin was also unarmed. And, as was the case in the previous murder indictments, neither of which has yet to go to trial, video played a major role in the decision to pursue charges against the Washington County deputies.

Still, Altman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “(It was) one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make in my life.”

He declined to discuss specifics about the case, but said the facts presented to him by the GBI compelled him to act.

Martin’s death sparked outrage in Washington County, located a little more than two hours south of Atlanta near Milledgeville. But even though each of the deputies is white and Martin is black, community activists and lawyers representing the victim’s family were wary of making race an issue.

“We don’t know if it’s a part of it or not,” said Benjamin Dotson, immediate past president of the Washington County NAACP. “What we do know is Euree Martin should still be alive.”

Still, in a county whose population is divided almost evenly among African-Americans and whites, Friday’s developments felt like progress, Dotson said.

“People feel relieved that this is a step toward justice,” he said. “But justice will require the officers be indicted and stand trial. These officers violated their trust. The evidence is not in doubt.”

Altman will make his case to a Washington County grand jury convening Dec. 19.

Martin’s death also underscores the potential lethalness of Tasers. Since 2010, at least 14 people, now including Martin, died following altercations with law enforcement that involved Tasers.

A recent investigation by Reuters found that at least 442 wrongful death suits — all but seven targeting police departments and the municipalities they serve — have been filed over fatalities that followed the use of a Taser. Almost all of those were filed since the stun guns began gaining widespread popularity with police in the early 2000s, according to Retuers.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Wangari Maathai: Africa’s first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize
Wangari Maathai: Africa’s first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize

Born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940, Wangari Maathai — born Wangari Muta — loved playing by the stream near her home, where she would go daily to fetch water. The sight of frog eggs floating in the stream captured her imagination, with her young mind believing she could grab the “beads” and make a beautiful necklace. Years later, the...
Fulton police seek help identifying homicide suspect
Fulton police seek help identifying homicide suspect

Fulton County Police are currently investigating a homicide committed Tuesday afternoon. A man was killed about 4:18 p.m. at the Country Squire apartments, police spokesman Patrena Smith said. “The suspect in this case was seen running from the scene He is described as about 6-foot-1 to 2 and between 170 and 180 pounds.  “He is considered...
‘Super-potent’ hash, marijuana seized in North Georgia bust
‘Super-potent’ hash, marijuana seized in North Georgia bust

A 35-year-old Jackson County man was arrested after authorities discovered a cache of drugs Monday. Nikki Nelson Allen of Commerce faces drug distribution charges in connection with about 5.5 pounds of marijuana, a large quantity of butane honey oil and $7,462 in cash, Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office spokesman Mitchell Posey...
3 arrested after children found with flea bites in Clayton County home
3 arrested after children found with flea bites in Clayton County home

Three people, who were initially wanted on outstanding warrants, were arrested on child cruelty charges after four children were found with flea bites, Clayton County authorities said.  Nicole Tarney Hunter, 26, Chantrell Marlon Mitchell, 33, and Michael Gamal Mitchell, 58, remained in the Clayton County jail Tuesday night, according to records...
Cops: Man threatened to kill woman who accused him of touching her son
Cops: Man threatened to kill woman who accused him of touching her son

A Roswell man remains in the Fulton County jail weeks after police say he threatened a woman with her son at a gas station.  Allen Drew Robinson, 28, faces a misdemeanor terroristic threat charge after allegedly threatening to kill the woman, who accused him of touching her child, according to a Roswell police report.  The 7-year-old boy...
More Stories