Family of man killed by state trooper demands dashcam footage be released to public

Attorneys want state officials to get more involved in the case

It’s been more than 16 months since a Georgia State Patrol trooper shot and killed Julian Lewis during a traffic stop in South Georgia.

His widow, Betty Lewis, drives past the Screven County cemetery where he’s buried every day. It’s just down the road from their Sylvania home, a daily reminder of her husband’s death.

“Hopefully we get some justice for Julian,” Betty Lewis said Friday. “I’ve spent 16 months waiting now, and nothing has been done. They have not done one thing in 16 months for my husband’s case.”

Credit: Handout photos

Credit: Handout photos

Julian Lewis, 60, was unarmed when Trooper Jacob Thompson opened fire and shot him Aug. 7, 2020, according to attorneys representing the slain man’s family.

The trooper tried to pull Lewis over for having a broken taillight, but after a chase, Thompson performed a PIT maneuver on the man’s vehicle. Thompson said he felt threatened and thought Lewis was going to run over him, so he fired, striking Lewis in the forehead.

Akil Secret and Andrew Lampros, a pair of Atlanta attorneys working together, said they plan to file a civil lawsuit on Betty Lewis’ behalf, alleging her husband’s civil rights were violated that night.

So far, they say the family’s demands for justice have fallen on deaf ears. So they took their efforts to downtown Atlanta on Friday, staging a news conference at Liberty Plaza just outside the Georgia State Capitol.

The Lewis family and their attorneys have grown impatient with state officials and brought their fight to Gov. Brian Kemp’s doorstep. They intend to put more pressure on the Georgia Department of Public Safety to release dash camera footage from Thompson’s cruiser at the time of the shooting. Lampros and Secret have seen the footage, but they had to travel to the Ogeechee Circuit District Attorney’s Office in Statesboro to view it.

The DPS has not released the dashcam footage publicly, citing the ongoing investigation. Thompson was not wearing a body camera.

In addition to being a crucial piece of evidence, the attorneys contend the dashcam video could draw public attention to Lewis’ death.

“One of the ways to do that expeditiously, that really seems to encourage law enforcement and other government agencies to then begin to listen, is if the public sees that video,” Secret told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And we want the public to see that video.”

Credit: Diane Crow Photography

Credit: Diane Crow Photography

The GBI determined Thompson gave inconsistent statements about the events that led up to the shooting.

The trooper said he thought Lewis was going to run over him because he revved the engine. But Secret said the PIT maneuver disabled the vehicle’s battery and rendered it disabled, a finding that authorities also made. The collision also spun Lewis’ vehicle around and left it facing in the opposite direction of Thompson’s patrol cruiser, according to the attorney.

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Lampros and Secret said the dashcam video showed Lewis motioning to Thompson, appearing to point to a house down the street where he planned to pull over. The video didn’t show the shooting, but a gunshot can be heard about two seconds after Thompson’s cruiser stopped, the attorneys allege.

The GSP fired Thompson and GBI investigators charged him with felony murder and aggravated assault days after the shooting. But a grand jury found no merit for the charges and declined to indict Thompson.

“These cases happen too often. But nothing ever happens until the video is made public,” Lampros said. “And without video, oftentimes there would be no justice.”

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The attorneys also said they want prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office to take the case more seriously. Lampros said he and Secret have met with reps from Chris Carr’s office to discuss the looming civil case and state litigators have been less than cooperative, failing to disclose basic information.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment Friday, but indicated records cannot be released due to the pending investigation. The spokesperson noted that DPS possesses the records being sought.

Betty Lewis is still adamant that Thompson needs to be tried criminally and wants anyone with information that could lead to his arrest to come forward. Her voice trembled as she recalled the moment officers came to her front door the night of the shooting to notify her about Julian’s death.

“I hope nobody ever has to feel that,” she said. “It could’ve been anybody’s husband, son or brother. But unfortunately, it was my husband. I’m his voice. And I don’t care what it takes, I’m not going to stop fighting for justice for my husband.”

Credit: Diane Crow photography

Credit: Diane Crow photography