Three former Washington County deputies were indicted for murder Tuesday, more than five months after Tasing to death a 58-year-old black man who had asked for water from a stranger.
A GBI investigation had concluded Euree Lee Martin broke no laws when he was questioned by Deputy Michael Howell, the first to respond to a 911 call from a homeowner who had shooed Martin away in the early evening hours of July 7. Martin, who suffered from schizophrenia and lived in a group home in Milledgeville, was walking some 20 miles to see relatives in Sandersville for his birthday, according to his niece, Elaine Brown. He had asked the homeowner for a drink of water.
Howell and Deputies Henry L. Copeland and Rhett Scott were charged with felony murder, false imprisonment and aggravated assault, said Mawuli Davis, the attorney for Martin’s family. District Attorney Hayward Altman did not respond to calls from The AJC seeking comment.
Howell was the first to spot Martin, writing in his incident report that he “pulled alongside the black male with my passenger window down and asked the male subject, ‘Are you OK, and what’s your name. And he looked at me and asked, ‘Who are you?’ and he walked off … toward Sandersville.”
The written narrative ends there. Deputies Henry L. Copeland and Rhett Scott were next on the scene. But so far there’s nothing on the record — at least nothing that’s been made available to the public — about what prompted them to deploy their Tasers. Altman said in recent press conference Martin did nothing to provoke them.
Cell phone video shot by a passing motorist showed only the disturbing aftermath — Martin, face down on the ground, handcuffed, dying of respiratory distress.
Brown, Martin’s niece, told The AJC she believes race was a factor in her uncle’s death. Each of the officers indicted are white.
“You see on the news all the time white men walking down the street carrying guns and nothing happens,” she said. “My uncle wasn’t armed. He wasn’t hurting anyone. He wasn’t a threat.”
Martin’s is the fourth police use of force case in Georgia since 2010 to result in prosecution.
In 2016, a former East Point police officer was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murder in the death of Gregory Towns, a 24-year-old unarmed black man who died after being Tased more than a dozen times while handcuffed. Former sergeant Marcus Eberhart’s co-defendant, corporal Howard Weems, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct.
The murder cases against former Atlanta Police Officer James Burns, charged in the June 2016 fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, and former DeKalb County Police Officer Robert Olsen, who shot U.S. Air Force veteran Anthony Hill, naked and unarmed at the time, have yet to go to trial.
Bench warrants have been issued for the ex-Washington County deputies, attorney Mawuli Davis said, and their arrests are expected shortly. Washington County is a rural area some two hours southeast of Atlanta.