Officer who shot nude veteran says he believed man was high on PCP

The DeKalb County police officer who fatally shot unarmed veteran Anthony Hill testified Thursday that he believed the man was high on either PCP or bath salts.

Officer Robert Olsen took advantage of a special privilege that allows officers involved in a civilian shooting to hear all the evidence against them and then make a statement before a grand jury that can’t be cross-examined by prosecutors. Georgia is the only state that affords police such immunity, one not available to private citizens.

Utilizing a power point presentation, Olsen spent more than an hour detailing several other incidents where police were attacked by suspects under the influence, according to attorney Christopher Chestnut, who represents Hill’s family.

DeKalb District Attorney Robert James could not be reached for comment. He has previously declined to discuss the case with the media, which is barred from observing grand jury proceedings.

Hill’s struggles to find the right medication for bipolar disorder, diagnosed while the airman was serving in Afghanistan, likely led him to wander nude outside his apartment, friends told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A concerned neighbor called 911 seeking medical assistance for Hill, but the call was dispatched as a suspicious person.

Olsen was the first to respond. Approximately five minutes later, Hill, still naked and unarmed, was shot twice after ignoring the officer’s commands to stop. Both sides agree that Hill didn’t stop when told to, but the manner in which he approached the officer remains in dispute.

Prosecutors said Olsen told the second officer to arrive on the scene that Hill charged and attacked him. Olsen’s presentation did not mention his colleague’s account, said Chestnut, who noted that Hill collapsed three-to-five feet away from the police cruiser.

As to why he didn’t utilize his Taser or baton to subdue Hill, Olsen said he felt they would be ineffective because suspects high on PCP or bath salts didn’t feel pain, according to Chestnut.

Chestnut’s investigator, Eric Echols, said he interviewed three witnesses who told him Hill initially trotted toward Olsen’s patrol car. Those same witnesses observed the officer exit the vehicle and retreat to its rear, gun drawn. Hill’s pace slowed as he neared the officer. None of them described Hill as angry or violent, symptoms noted by Olsen on Thursday.

Though initially critical of DeKalb District Attorney Robert James’ decision to take all police-involved shootings before civil grand juries, which cannot issue an indictment, Chestnut said prosecutors presented a thorough, compelling case. An expert witness testified that he could find no justification for the shooting, Chestnut said.

“I’m cautiously optimistic” Olsen will be indicted, Chestnut told The AJC. “There’s more than enough evidence, but the system is unfair to citizens and to the D.A.”

James is among a number of prosecutors who have criticized the special privileges granted to police officers. The Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia (PAC), which represents Georgia’s district attorneys, and State Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, who chairs the House Judiciary-Non Civil Committee, have initiated discussions with top law enforcement officials and lawmakers to require officers to face the same rules of cross examination other witnesses face.

A recent investigation by The AJC and Channel 2 Action News found that out of 171 police shootings in Georgia over the past five years, not a single case went to trial.

Chestnut said the grand jury’s opinion on the Olsen’s case will be announced next Thursday. A civil grand jury cannot issue an indictment, only a recommendation. It will be up to James to decide whether to pursue criminal charges against the officer.

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