Judge moves task force killing case to federal court

Jamarion Robinson was shot nearly 60 times during a shootout with U.S. Marshals
Eric Heinze and Kristopher Hutchens

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

Eric Heinze and Kristopher Hutchens

Two members of a multi-agency fugitive task force, facing murder charges in Fulton County stemming from a 2016 shooting, can have their case tried in federal court, a U.S. District Court judge has ruled.

Judge Victoria Calvert ruled Monday that Eric Heinze and Kristopher Hutchens were acting within the scope of their federal duties when Jamarion Robinson was fatally shot six years ago while they were trying to arrest him at his girlfriend’s East Point apartment.

Robinson, 26, was shot nearly five dozen times on Aug. 5, 2016, while exchanging gunfire with members of the U.S. Marshal’s Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, authorities said.

Jamarion Robinson was killed during a 2016 shootout with members of a U.S. marshals fugitive task force.

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The task force members did not have a warrant for the home, but confirmed Robinson was inside after sending in a maintenance man from the complex to see if he was there.

Fulton County prosecutors later brought murder charges against two of the task force members, accusing Heinze and Hutchens of violating Robinson’s Fourth Amendment rights when they entered the apartment that day and killed him in the shootout.

The defendants’ attorneys had asked that the case be transferred out of Fulton County Superior Court, arguing Heinze and Hutchens were acting within the scope of their federal duties in trying to capture a suspect wanted on felony charges.

State prosecutors argued in a September hearing that the courts were open the day of the shooting, and said the task force could have easily obtained a search warrant before entering the apartment with their high-powered guns, shields and bulletproof vests.

Prosecutor Natalie Adams said the rarely used removal act is not intended to protect officers “who violate state and federal law.”

“They made violent entry into the home of a third party to execute an arrest warrant without a search warrant,” she said. “The defendants did not wait for the authority to move forward. They violated the law.”

Police had been searching for Robinson after he poured gasoline outside his mother’s bedroom door on July 11, 2016, and weeks later aimed a gun at two Atlanta police officers responding to a call about a suspicious person at an apartment complex, records show.

“He was unstable. He was violent and they were anxious to take him into custody before anyone was injured,” Heinze’s attorney, Lance LoRusso, told the judge at last month’s hearing. “They were under attack and they fired their weapons to prevent the loss of their lives and the lives of their federal officers.”

A U.S. Marshals shooting review board later determined the officers’ use of force was authorized, and the Justice Department declined to open an investigation into the shooting. John Martin, a Justice Department attorney from the civil division, said task force officers are authorized to execute state warrants and that the group acted under the color of federal law.

“The state’s argument is quite perilous to federal interests,” Martin told Judge Calvert at the September hearing.

Heinze was employed full-time by the U.S. Marshals Service. Hutchens, a Clayton County police officer, was there because he served on the fugitive task force.

Heinze and Hutchens were indicted last October on charges of felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary, making false statements and violating their oath of office. Daniel Doyle, another task force member who opened fire that day, died of cancer in March 2020 and was never charged.

The GBI, which investigated the shooting, said a handgun and multiple spent rounds “believed to be associated with Robinson” were recovered from the scene. He had been shot 59 times, with 17 of those bullets exiting his body, said his mother, Monteria Robinson.

Monteria Robinson, the mother of Jamarion Robinson, poses in from of a mural dedicated to her son’s memory. Ms. Monteria is relieved that the officers who shot her son are facing multiple charges related to his shooting.  Wednesday, November 10, 2021. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

She has called the officers’ use of force excessive and said she just wants them held accountable.

Attorneys for the defendants, however, said they were simply protecting themselves and their colleagues during a dangerous situation.

“These men were engaged in a federal operation,” said Hutchens’ attorney Don Samuel, noting Robinson was accused of pointing a gun at police officers days earlier. “They were acting reasonably. The believed they were dealing with someone who’s dangerous, who potentially posed a danger to them.”

In her order, Calvert determined that removing the case to federal court was the appropriate action and notified the Superior Court of Fulton County that “it shall proceed no further with the prosecution” of the defendants.

The judge also scheduled a pretrial conference to be held Nov. 15 in federal court.