The GBI has charged a Georgia State Patrol trooper with murder in a driver’s death, and the victim’s family attorney says a federal civil rights investigation has been launched.
On Friday, Jacob Gordon Thompson, 27, was fired and charged in the Aug. 7 shooting that killed 60-year-old Julian Lewis last Friday in Screven County. Lewis family attorney Francys Johnson said he also learned Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice had approved his request for the civil rights investigation, which Johnson asked for because of other allegations against Thompson.
“We got lots of messages from people in the community that the habit of ex-trooper Thompson was to racially profile and harass Black and brown people on the highway,” Johnson, former head of the Georgia NAACP, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This was not shocking to them that this happened.”
Authorities have said the shooting took place after Thompson attempted to stop a Nissan Sentra for a broken taillight on Stoney Pond Road in Screven County.
After a brief chase down several county roads, the trooper initiated a PIT maneuver, and the car came to a stop in a ditch, the GBI said. The trooper fired one round, fatally striking Lewis.
In an incident report, Thompson wrote that he shot Lewis in the forehead because he thought Lewis was going to run him over.
“At some point, I heard the engine on the violator’s vehicle revving at a high rate of speed,” he wrote in the report. “I saw him wrenching the steering wheel in an aggressive back and forth manner towards me and my patrol vehicle. It appeared to me that the violator was trying to use his vehicle to injure me. Being in fear for my life and safety, I discharged my weapon once.”
The family attorney said the PIT maneuver was unnecessary. PIT maneuvers, in which an officer uses his or her car to push a vehicle off the road, can be dangerous and are generally only done to eliminate any risk to public safety. Johnson contends there was no risk to public safety on the rural dirt road.
The GBI was requested that day to investigate the officer-involved shooting. The agency has opened 59 such investigations this year.
Thompson, who was hired as a state trooper in July 2013, will be booked into the Screven County Jail, the GBI said. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney.
According to his Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) file, he underwent his firearms re-qualification three days before the deadly shooting. His POST record showed no prior disciplinary history.
Lewis’ wife, Betty, was walking out of the funeral home when she learned of the charges. The funeral for her husband, a carpenter who had recently been helping repair a local church, is Saturday. When the woman heard about the charges, she dropped to her knees and thanked God.
“I want justice for Julian. He was too good to die as he did. This is one step towards justice,” the widow said in a statement.
An FBI spokesman said he couldn’t confirm or deny a federal investigation, but said the bureau is in contact with state and local authorities on the case.
Family attorney Johnson, a longtime civil rights activist, said the charges and the speed at which they were brought was a clear indication that national outrage over police misconduct has been working. He credited GBI Director Vic Reynolds, the local district attorney’s office and other officials for their swift handling of the case so far.
“It’s rare that I’m able to say that all the agencies involved have done the right thing,” Johnson said.
The Screven NAACP is holding a public candlelight vigil for Lewis at 7:30 p.m. Friday. It will take place at Sylvania City Hall at 104 South Main Street. A GoFundMe page was also created for Lewis.