The blue wall of silence, rarely pierced, was shattered Wednesday as a DeKalb County police officer testified that former colleague Robert “Chip” Olsen lied about events leading up to the fatal shooting of a mentally ill Afghanistan War veteran.
Officer Lyn Anderson’s testimony capped an intense day of questioning as the state rested its case against Olsen, charged with two counts of felony murder for killing Anthony Hill on March 9, 2015. It also violated a purportedly informal code among law enforcement not to report any misconduct by a fellow cop.
Anderson was the second officer to respond that afternoon to the Heights at Chamblee apartments, where Hill, off his meds, had disrobed. Anderson testified that Olsen, his gloved hands drenched in blood, said a rapidly approaching Hill “started pounding” on him before he fired his gun.
“I was waiting to hear that Anthony Hill had some type of weapon in his hand, whether it was a stick … a knife, something, because he had to be justified as to why you shot somebody,” Anderson said. “And I didn’t see any object around his body.”
He would soon discover that Hill was unarmed. Anderson, questioned by prosecutor Lance Cross, testified he saw no evidence of a physical confrontation, as Olsen had described.
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“Is there any doubt — any doubt — in your mind that the defendant told you Anthony Hill was pounding on his chest?” Cross asked. “That’s what he told me,” Anderson replied. “There’s no doubt.”
Prosecutors say cellphone video of their conversation — in which Olsen is seen raising his hands, fists clenched — corroborates Anderson’s testimony.
But defense co-counsel Amanda Clark Palmer noted that Olsen had lined up eyewitnesses to be interviewed. And Anderson acknowledged, under questioning from Clark Palmer, that it didn’t make sense for Olsen to secure eyewitnesses who might contradict his account.
Moments after the shooting, Olsen made a similar claim to a police dispatcher that Hill had attacked him. Yet there’s no evidence the 26-year-old victim ever touched the officer. Olsen, testifying last year during an immunity hearing, said he didn’t recall what he said to Anderson.
Asked by Clark Palmer if he might have misheard Olsen or misremembered their exchange, Anderson stood firm.
“I remember what he told me,” he testified. “It was not a mistake … because I knew how serious this case was going to be.”
That was evident from the beginning of Wednesday’s testimony, by far the most intense session yet in this highly scrutinized trial. Emotions are raw on both sides. Hill’s family has been present throughout, and Olsen, facing the possibility of life in prison, has appeared alternately ashen and emotional.
Anderson was preceded on the stand by another DeKalb officer, J.K. Walker, who trained Olsen. Walker testified his former pupil could’ve stopped Hill with nonlethal force.
“If there is a nude individual coming at you with no weapons whatsoever, would shooting that individual be within the use of force policy, with your service weapon?” asked lead prosecutor Pete Johnson.
“No,” Walker responded.
Walker’s testimony showed why the defense fought so hard against any mention of the DeKalb Police Department’s use of force policy. Its inclusion bolsters the state’s unstated contention that law enforcement officers should be held to a higher standard than rank-and-file civilians when deadly force is applied.
In an interview recorded one week after Hill’s shooting, Olsen told GBI investigators that training had informed his decision to reach first for his gun. ”
Walker, however, disputed Olsen’s claims that time and space constraints prevented him from deploying less lethal force.
During his cross, lead defense attorney Don Samuel attempted to persuade jurors that Hill posed a threat even though he was naked and unarmed. Walker agreed with Samuel that fists can be deadly weapons. Samuel also got Walker to acknowledge that police officers are sometimes killed with their own weapons after an assailant wrestles it away.
“If someone is threatening physical force or violence against any person, deadly force is permitted?” Samuel asked.
Walker responded, without pause, “Yes.”
After the jury was dismissed, Samuel went after the use of force policy one more time. Asking Judge LaTisha Dear Jackson for a directed verdict, he argued the state never demonstrated how Olsen violated the policy and, in turn, his oath of office.
Violating his oath of office is the underlying charge to one of the felony murder counts against Olsen.
Jackson said she’ll rule Thursday. Assuming she rules no, the defense will begin presenting its case. It seems increasingly likely that closing arguments will be made before the court adjourns for the weekend.
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