DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James said Thursday he still had “serious concerns” about the police-involved shooting of unarmed veteran Anthony Hill after a civil grand jury split on recommending whether charges should be pursued against the officer.
James said he will take up the grand jury’s recommendation that a follow-up inquiry be conducted with the officer who arrived on the scene after Hill’s shooting along with a “more thorough interview” of the officer who fired the lethal bullets.
The same grand jury Thursday unanimously recommended against charges for the officer who fatally shot Kevin Davis in his apartment after he had called 911 for help.
The shootings of Davis, 44, last December and Anthony Hill, 27, in March sparked widespread local protest amid a national debate over police use of force. A recent investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that not one of the 171 police shootings in Georgia since 2010 has gone to trial.
Davis was armed with a loaded shotgun when he came face-to-face with responding DeKalb police officer Joseph Pitts, who had just shot Davis’ pit bull. Davis had called 911 to report that his girlfriend, April Edwards, was stabbed by a roommate and was not told by the emergency operator that police had arrived.
“I see now that the scales of justice are not balanced,” said Delisa Davis, Kevin Davis’ sister. “The grand jury heard only one side of the story. We need to get Kevin’s side of the story out there.”
James is not bound by the recommendations of the civil grand jury, which does not have to power to indict.
“I need people to understand this isn’t a process to let me off the hook,” he said. “This process is to inform the D.A.’s office, not supplant it.”
James said he has not decided whether prosecute either case but strongly hinted that if any charges are forthcoming they’re more likely to be filed against Hill’s shooter, Officer Robert Olsen. During Hill’s hearing prosecutors called an expert witness who testified he could find no justification for the shooting.
Olsen, during testimony given last week before the grand jury, said he feared for his safety, pointing to several other incidents where police were attacked by suspects under the influence of bath salts or PCP. Hill was nude at the time, likely due to an adverse reaction to medication he was taking for his bipolar disorder diagnosed after he fought in Afghanistan, according to friends.
“Obviously it’s something that concerns me greatly,” James said. “We’re going to look at the things the grand jury recommended.”
At issue, said attorney Christopher Chestnut, who represents Hill’s family, are contradictions in Olsen’s statements immediately after the shooting and what he told GBI investigators a few weeks later.
Olsen initially said Hill was “pounding on him” prior to the shooting, an assertion disputed by witnesses and eventually discarded by the officer in his interview with the GBI. Then, Olsen said didn’t remember telling a colleague that Hill had attacked him.
“It was a concerted effort at a cover-up,” Chestnut said. “The D.A. has more than enough compelling evidence to charge (Olsen) with murder.”
Hill’s girlfriend, Bridget Anderson, said after speaking with James she’s optimistic charges will be forthcoming.
“I’m feeling numb and anxious because I expected to hear something definite today,” Anderson said. “But I’m feeling optimistic for sure that there will be justice.”
“At the same time I’m deeply saddened that the officer in the Kevin Davis shooting did not get indicted.”
Attorney Mawuli Davis, who represents Kevin Davis’ family, said the grand jury’s decision underscores the need for reforms. James is among a number of prosecutors who say the special privilege that allows law enforcement personnel facing indictment to testify before a grand jury without cross-examination needs to be changed. Georgia is the only state that affords such an exemption to police, one not granted to private citizens.
“The grand jurors were left to rely on the word of the officer,” said Mawuli Davis, no relation to his clients.
Noah Pines, the lawyer for Officer Pitts, said witnesses testified they heard him identify himself to Kevin Davis. Pitts said he believes he ordered Davis to drop his weapon three times. Both sides agree that Davis was not pointing his gun at the officer.
“If he allows (Davis) to pull that gun up, he’s dead,” Pines said. “If Mawuli Davis believes this case is one-sided it’s because the evidence is one-sided.”
“This isn’t anything like the naked guy walking down the street who got shot,” Pines said.
Activist Aurielle Marie, executive organizer of #ItsBiggerThanYou, part of the Black Lives Matter movement, said she was “extremely disappointed” with the grand jury’s presentment.
“This is just another example of the bias in the system against those victimized by police,” she said.
James said he will determine whether to file charges in both cases “expeditiously.”
“We’re going to do what’s right,” he said. “This process is not over.”