BREAKING: Georgia police officer cleared by Fulton grand jury in shooting death of teen

UPDATE: A Fulton County grand jury cleared former Union City Police Officer Luther Lewis in the shooting death of teenager Ariston Waiters. The decision comes after two days of testimony before the grand jury.

Sources say Waiters' mother, Freda, is devastated by the news that was delivered in a personal call from Howard Thursday evening.

No one from Howard's office would speak publicly about the decision, but he offered the following statement in a press release:

"I believe “police use- of-force” cases should only be presented before Grand Juries when the evidence clearly indicates criminal culpability. In this instance, to present a case for a second time requires extraordinary circumstances. Those extraordinary circumstances we felt existed because of newly discovered statements from fellow officers and the revelation of an additional police/citizen confrontation by former Officer Lewis.

I would like to thank the Union City Police Officers who came forward and testified in this case. I believe such testimony was not only brave but historic as well. Our system of laws demands with the ‘No Bill’ by the Grand Jury that we move on from this case and focus on the job of keeping our community safe.”

A Fulton County grand jury this morning entered its second day of witness testimony in the controversial 2011 police shooting death involving former Union City officer Luther Lewis.

grand jury photo

Howard reopened the case in May following an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation that raised questions about the justification for the shooting. Howard in an interview expressed concern that some of the information uncovered by the reporters didn't make it to the grand jury in 2012.

The AJC/Channel 2 investigation found key witnesses in the case who were never interviewed by the GBI in its original investigation. One witness, the supervising lieutenant the night of the shooting, told reporters that Lewis told a different story to him just after the shooting about why he pulled the trigger. He didn't mention a struggle for his gun and said he shot Waiters while he was on the ground because he wouldn't show his hands.

Howard's investigator had spoken to McElroy in 2012 but the officer was never called before the original grand jury. He was outside the grand jury area this morning waiting to testify.

A sergeant on the scene that night, Windell Adams, was also waiting outside the grand jury room. Private Investigator TJ Ward, who the Waiters family hired to investigate the case earlier this year, was also seen entering the grand jury waiting area.

McElroy told reporters in May about a incident that he witnessed involving Lewis months before the Waiters shooting. McElroy said he was alarmed when he found Lewis with his gun drawn on a young man during a traffic stop. That young man was in the waiting area this morning to testify to the grand jury. Lewis resigned from the Union City department last year.

Since the Waiters shooting, McElroy was demoted to patrol officer. Adams is now a MARTA police officer. The AJC/Channel 2 investigation into the Union City case is part of a broad examination of police shootings in Georgia. Go to this link to read other stories in the series.

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About the Author

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