DeKalb cop charged in unarmed vet’s slaying wants case thrown out

The attorney for a former DeKalb County officer charged with killing a mentally ill veteran argued in court Friday that the indictment against the officer should be dismissed because the prosecution violated the principle of grand jury secrecy.

Arguing against the notion that police have a significant advantage when testifying before a grand jury, Don Samuel, the lawyer for former DeKalb officer Robert Olsen, said an overwhelming prosecutorial presence may have had the reverse effect. Olsen shot and killed Anthony Hill, who was naked and unarmed at the time, outside a Chamblee apartment complex in March 2015.

“I’ve never seen a case where they’re allowed to have 12 (prosecutors) just sitting there, watching,” Samuel said. “I have never seen a case where you get to keep witnesses in grand jury for the course of the proceedings. Or court reporters not taking notes.”

Samuel, whose past clients have included football stars Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger and rapper T.I., said he could not prove prejudice but that wasn’t necessary.

“The grand jury is not an arm of the prosecution. They work for the court,” he said. “Grand jurors were outnumbered by non-grand jurors at times.”

The challenges in securing an indictment against an officer necessitated the "full-court press," countered DeKalb Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Chris Timmons. Olsen in January became the first police officer in Georgia in more than five years to be prosecuted in the fatal shooting of a civilian.

Previously, officers who appeared before a grand jury had the privilege of observing the entire hearing and testifying without cross-examination. But Georgia lawmakers passed a bill in March that allows the officer in the grand jury room only to give testimony. And they can now face questions from prosecutors or jurors.

Olsen, who said he was in fear for his life when he shot Hill, testified for about 20 minutes. Hill had ignored the officer’s commands to stop, advancing towards him in an allegedly threatening manner.

“We had to put up half to three-fourths of our case,” Timmons said. “When you have a police officer get to go last, our chances of getting (no indictment) increase. There is an inclination by jurors not to charge police officers.”

According to Timmons, five assistant district attorneys, three investigators and District Attorney Robert James were in the courtroom at various times, along with an expert witness.

“Everyone there had a purpose,” Timmons said, adding the expert, along with the court reporter, were sworn to secrecy.

But Samuel argued limits were necessary to ensure a fair process.

“If you accept the state’s argument, there is nothing that prohibits anyone from coming into the grand jury at their invitation,” he said.

DeKalb Superior Court Judge J.P. Boulee said he would rule on the motion to dismiss after further study.

Olsen resigned from DeKalb police in lieu of termination and is free on bond. No trial date has been set.