Opening statements are set for Thursday in the murder trial of former DeKalb County police officer Robert “Chip” Olsen.
But first, a 12-person jury will be seated from a pool of 42 prospective jurors who were qualified Wednesday after three days of questioning. Based on their answers, the defense faces a significant challenge.
“From what I’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t call this the best defense panel I’ve seen,” said former DeKalb District Attorney Jeff Brickman, who is now a private attorney and sat through a good bit of jury selection. “It seems like there are a greater number that the state would be tickled to have sitting in the jury box.”
A majority of those in the pool, regardless of their race, said they believe law enforcement treats whites more favorably than blacks. Surprisingly, more blacks than whites said they think police officers treat everyone the same.
There was widespread criticism of law enforcement in general among the jurors who were qualified. Juror 55, a graphic designer, wondered why Olsen, who is white, decided to shoot Anthony Hill, a black man who was nude and unarmed.
“If someone’s pointing a gun at you and about to shoot, standing your ground makes sense,” said Juror 55, adding he believes law enforcement should be held to a higher standard. “But if someone was unarmed, there are other measures that could have been taken besides ending someone’s life.”
Olsen, 57, has been charged with two counts of felony murder and, if found guilty, faces a life sentence. The then-cop had responded to a 911 call outside a Chamblee apartment complex where Hill had disrobed in the middle of the day. Hill, a veteran of the Afghanistan War, had stopped taking his medication for mental illness.
Upon spotting Olsen, the 27-year-old Hill began running in his direction, telling a witness the police were his friends. Olsen got out of his car, pulled out his handgun and twice yelled at Hill to stop. When Hill kept advancing, Olsen began firing.
“It was a naked guy. He probably could’ve been restrained in a different way rather than being shot,” said Juror 56, whose brother and daughter-in-law are in law enforcement.
Even jurors who were sympathetic to police could prove problematic to the defense.
“A lot of times we’re asking police officers to do impossible jobs,” said Juror 52, a paralegal who lives in Sandy Springs. “A lot of time they have to react in a split second and we ask them to do a lot, almost the impossible.”
But Juror 52 also said she believes persons of color do not receive fair treatment from police or in the courts.
“I don’t think our penal system works,” she said.
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