A former DeKalb County Police Officer of the Year faces possible prison time following his indictment Thursday on two felony charges stemming from a 2017 incident with a mentally ill female suspect.
The announcement by DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston marked the latest chapter in a stunning fall from grace for Officer P.J. Larscheid, who just five years ago was honored as the county’s top officer. He was 24 then, just starting his career.
Larscheid is 29 now, confined to desk duty after a death threat forced his removal from the streets, according to his attorney, Lance LoRusso. Larscheid is charged with assault and violation of his oath of office, penalties that require no less than two years and up to 25 years in prison if convicted. He has until 5 p.m. Saturday to turn himself in at the DeKalb jail.
“If you violate the law we will prosecute you whether you wear a uniform or not,” Boston said during a Thursday news conference. “Every day we have to make sure our police officers are acting within the duties they are given.”
The road to indictments was a painstaking one, coming nearly two years to the day of the Larscheid’s encounter with Katie McCrary inside a Decatur gas station. Larscheid had been dispatched to the location following a call to police accusing McCrary of shoplifting and loitering.
Prosecutors say McCrary was attempting to leave the station when the officer arrived. Larscheid told her he needed to speak with her and she responded by pushing him in a second attempt to exit.
A customer’s cell phone captured what happened next, and the video went viral. LoRusso said it shows Larscheid following standard procedure but the sight of a white, male officer beating a black female sparked outrage.
“If she were an animal…if she were a dog, the officer would have already lost his job,” then-Georgia NAACP President Francys Johnson said at the time.
In his written report, Larscheid said his baton struck her head accidentally.
“I continued my baton strikes to her legs and forearms instructing her to stop resisting and to lay down with her hands behind her back,” he wrote. “One strike inadvertently struck the side of her head as she was moving around.”
In the video Larscheid is seen striking McCrary at least a dozen times before pinning her head to the floor with the baton. She continues to grasp the baton; Larscheid tells her, three times: “Let it go, or I’m gonna shoot you.” Onlookers are overheard urging McCrary to stop resisting the officer’s commands.
“What did I do?” she is heard asking after Larscheid snaps on handcuffs.
“An officer using a baton is never going to look good,” LoRusso said. “The problem with video is you don’t see the officer’s point of view.”
McCrary had been arrested at least seven times in DeKalb, mostly on drug and prostitution charges, in the years before her confrontation with Larscheid. She was arrested again one month after the incident at the gas station. After bonding out, she became difficult to locate, hindering investigators assigned to Larscheid’s case. Relatives have said she struggles with mental health issues.
Larscheid went back to work, though he longs to be back on patrol, LoRusso said. It’s unclear whether the indictment will result in his dismissal. Former officer Robert Olsen, indicted in 2016 for the fatal shooting of Afghanistan War veteran Antony Hill, resigned four days later. A police spokesman said he likely would have been fired had he not turned in his badge.
The AJC reached out to several police and county officials inquiring about Larscheid’s job status but received no response. He is more worried about avoiding prison that his future in law enforcement, his attorney said.
“He’s examining his options,” LoRusso said.
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