It was a good job — important, too. As an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Robert Olsen was an advocate for healthier school lunches.
“You know,” said Tim Pletcher, “the type that kids would actually eat.”
And it was while working in food-preparation and delivery for hurricane victims that Olsen, the DeKalb police officer now indicted for shooting an unarmed and naked Air Force veteran, considered a career change. Pletcher, Olsen’s brother-in-law, witnessed the transition.
“He got an appreciation for law enforcement,” Pletcher said Friday. “He’s always been passionate about community (service).”
Pletcher spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution just hours after his brother-in-law posted bail in the fatal shooting of Anthony Hill. A DeKalb County Grand Jury indicted him Thursday night. Olsen turned himself in to authorities Friday.
Olsen, trained in nutrition, began training for a different service after leaving the USDA. He enrolled in the Police Academy, and has been with the DeKalb department eight years.
Those years have not been without incident. According to police records, five civilians have filed complaints about Olsen, 53. The complainants range from a retired teacher who accused Olsen of haranguing her husband during a traffic stop to a cab driver who predicted the officer one day would shoot someone.
Three of those complaints led to sensitivity training. He received 72 hours during a four-year period, records show. A superior officer recommended that he get “verbal judo” — intense training to enhance personal skills.
Now, Olsen is the first Georgia law enforcement officer in five years to be prosecuted for fatally shooting a civilian.
The DeKalb Fraternal Order of Police is watching the case closely, said Jeff Wiggs, the organization’s president. The lodge issued a statement Friday urging people to let the courts — not public opinion — determine who is at fault in the fatal encounter.
“Things can go bad very quickly” when an officer is called to handle someone acting erratically, said Wigg, a retired DeKalb sergeant who spent 28 years on the force. “We can’t do anything at this point but hope that the judicial system … is fair and impartial.”
Olsen’s family, meantime, is holding close to the knowledge of the man it knows — fund-raiser, animal rescuer, dad and husband.
Olsen, said Pletcher. has raised funds for the Shepherd Center, the renowned Atlanta facility that specializes in spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation. He and his wife, Katherine, are devoted animal lovers, providing a foster home for discarded dogs.
Pletcher chuckled. “Foster pets,” he said, “have a way of becoming permanent pets.”
His brother-in-law, he said, has a weakness for a certain breed of spotted dog. “There always seems to be a Dalmatian in the house,” he said.
On top of that, “he’s a devoted dad and husband,” Pletcher said. A native of central North Carolina, he has a six-year-old son, Max, who celebrated a birthday party Saturday.
Those qualities are at odds with the guy Pletcher has seen depicted in news stories, whose unsmiling mug shot has commanded space on front pages and TV screens.
“He’s a good man. He’s kind,” Pletcher said. “I can tell you that this is the man I know.”
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