AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

After Ga. cop indictment, a reality check: Convictions rare in shooting cases

Activists who say a DeKalb County police officer committed a crime when he shot a naked veteran last year applauded District Attorney Robert James after a grand jury indicted the officer last week.

“When push comes to shove, I think that jurors and even judges are very reluctant to second-guess police officers for split-second, life-or-death decisions," said Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a nationally recognized expert on police shootings.

Still, Stinson noted that the grand jury's return of an indictment was itself remarkable. The AJC's 2015 series, Over the Line, examined six years of shootings and found that most were cleared without ever being presented to a grand jury.

In the rare case where a criminal indictment was presented, Georgia's unique grand jury law that allows an officer to sit in on the entire preceding and give a statement at the end that can't be challenged by prosecutors helped officers avoid charges. Only one was charged, but the local DA had the case thrown out the day after grand jurors issued an indictment.

In the Hill case, Olsen may have been tripped up by telling different stories about what led him to shoot the unarmed veteran. Read more about the case in the AJC's exclusive report, and find profiles of the officer and Hill.

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About the Author

Brad Schrade is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on the AJC’s investigative team.