10/14/2019 — Decatur, Georgia — Robert “Chip” Olsen is escorted out of the courtroom after being found not guilty of felony murder for his trial in front of DeKalb County Superior Court Judge LaTisha Dear Jackson at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Decatur, Monday, October 14, 2019. The jury did reach guilty verdicts on four lesser charges: two counts of violation of oath of office, aggravated assault and making a false statement. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
“There has been considerable outcry from some portions of the community that Olsen’s sentence should be imposed in a way to ‘send a message’ to police officers in general (or to white police officers in particular),” the memo said.
Olsen, the memo continued, “does not deserve to be pilloried in an effort to appease a segment of the community that is upset with the verdict and seeks vengeance and utters bloodthirsty entreaties to the court.”
About 40 activists and protesters gathered early Thursday evening outside the DeKalb County Courthouse, hoping to pressure Judge LaTisha Dear Jackson to impose the maximum sentence on Olsen.
“Remind the judge with your presence that we are the voters of DeKalb County. And we remember,” said Decatur lawyer Gerald Griggs, an official with the local chapter of the NAACP. He is asking people to pack the courtroom for the sentencing hearing.
Dear Jackson will have great discretion in deciding the ultimate sentence. The former municipal court judge took the Superior Court bench in January after winning election for a vacant seat.
So far in Olsen's case, Dear Jackson has shown an impartial streak. She issued critical rulings against the defense before trial. And after Olsen was found guilty, she allowed him to remain free on bond, despite strong arguments to the contrary from the prosecution.
The 26-year-old Hill, an aspiring musician, was off his meds on March 9, 2015. He was acting so erratically, the manager of the Heights at Chamblee Apartments where he lived called 911.
Anthony Hill, who was 26 when he was shot and killed by a DeKalb County police officer on March 9, 2015. (Family photo)
By the time Olsen arrived, Hill had stripped naked. And when Hill saw Olsen’s patrol car pull up about 150 feet away in the parking lot, he began running toward it. Olsen pulled out his handgun and twice yelled out for Hill to stop. Although witnesses say Hill slowed down, he kept advancing on Olsen, who fired two fatal shots.
It’s all but certain that Friday will be Olsen’s last day in the free world for a period of time. At trial, he was acquitted of two felony murder charges that would have brought automatic life sentences. But the jury convicted him of aggravated assault, one count of making a false statement to a police officer, and two counts of violating his oath of office — one for using excessive force and one for making the false statement.
The aggravated assault charge has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and the three other felonies can each bring five years. But Olsen’s lawyers are arguing that, under Georgia law, one violation of oath count should merge with the false statement count because the same elements had to be proven for each offense. If Dear Jackson agrees, Olsen faces no more than 30 years in prison.
Before trial, Olsen turned down a plea deal of 15 years in prison. So if prosecutors believed that was a reasonable sentence at the time, they could ask Dear Jackson to impose even harsher punishment because Olsen went to trial.
Marietta lawyer Lawrence Zimmerman, president-elect of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the state should ask for no more than 15 years.
“Asking for more time when you go to trial is an injustice,” he said. “That’s because you have a Sixth Amendment right to go to trial. In Chip Olsen’s case, he was actually acquitted of the main charges — all the murder counts. … There should not be a trial penalty at all.”
Protesters participate in a “Die-In” outside of the DeKalb County Courthouse on Wednesday. The protestors, who are in support of a maximum sentence for former DeKalb County Police Officer Robert “Chip” Olsen, laid on the ground as passerby’s viewed them for 26 minutes. The 26 minutes represented the 26 years that Anthony Hill lived. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)
In their sentencing memo, Olsen’s attorneys included a sworn statement from Phillip Stinson, a Bowling Green State University professor who tracks police shootings. Since 2005, he said, 107 state or local police officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings.
Four who were convicted of murder received average sentences of about 12½ years in prison. The 34 officers convicted of lesser offenses got average sentences of 5.3 years behind bars, Stinson said.
In a series of sit-ins and protests, although relatively few in number, local activists have been trying to apply pressure on Dear Jackson. On Wednesday, almost 20 people showed up in front of the DeKalb courthouse for a “die-in.”
With the rain coming down, many of them lay flat on the ground at 5 p.m. for 26 minutes — for each year of Hill’s life.