DeKalb County police Officer Robert Olsen, indicted Thursday night on murder charges in the shooting death of an unarmed civilian, turned himself in to the DeKalb jail this morning and was later released on $110,000 bond.
Olsen becomes the first law enforcement officer in more than five years to be prosecuted in the fatal shooting of a civilian.
After an eight-hour presentation by prosecutors, a grand jury on Thursday took less than an hour to indict Olsen on six counts, including felony murder, District Attorney Robert James said.
Olsen shot and killed Anthony Hill, a mentally ill military veteran who was naked and unarmed at the time, outside a Chamblee apartment complex in March 2015. The officer has said he was in fear for his life when he shot Hill, who was advancing on Olsen and who ignored Olsen's commands that he stop.
Cheers and chanting erupted Thursday night among dozens of demonstrators, some of whom had camped outside the courthouse since Monday awaiting the grand jury’s decision.
Olsen was formally charged with two counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, two counts of violating his oath of office and one count of making a false statement, DA James said Thursday night.
In a statement, Olsen’s attorney Don Samuel said the prosecution failed to call witnesses who had told the police Hill was “attacking and charging” at the officer.
“The defense, of course, was not permitted to present any of the witnesses who were present at the scene, or any expert witnesses who would testify that Officer Olsen’s reaction to the threat of violent injury was reasonable,” said Samuel. “The defense could not cross-examine any of the prosecution witnesses at the grand jury.”
Samuel is a prominent Georgia defense attorney whose clients have included football stars Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger and rapper T.I.
Olsen testified for 20 minutes Thursday, taking advantage of a special privilege, allowed only in Georgia, that lets officers present their case without cross-examination.
“He was not allowed to answer any questions from the jurors (or me, or the prosecutor) and was not allowed to introduce any evidence, even a diagram, or picture,” Samuel said. “… Grand juries, in short, are not really fair fights. They are completely one-sided.”
Prosecutors have argued the opposite is true, at least in cases involving police. Since 2010 Georgia law enforcement officers have been involved in 187 fatal shootings, according to a broad examination of police shootings in the state by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Olsen is just the second officer to be indicted; charges were dropped in the other case.
Olsen is white and Hill was black. The shooting came at a time when many across the country were already protesting the shootings of black men by white police officers who, in some cases, were not prosecuted. James was under significant pressure from the community, exemplified by the protesters camped out at the courthouse, to obtain an indictment in the case.
It’s unclear what Olsen told grand jurors when he spoke to them on Thursday. Last fall, he told a civil grand jury that he believed Hill was high on PCP or bath salts and posed a threat to his safety.
The felony murder charges against Olsen stem from two separate felonies: Aggravated assault and violating his oath as a certified Georgia peace officer. He is accused of violating DeKalb police’s use of force policy and falsely claiming, to another officer, that Hill physically assaulted him prior to the shooting.
“My job is to uphold the laws of Georgia and prosecute anyone who violates them. This case is no exception,” James said. “The facts and circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Anthony Hill warranted felony murder charges.”
Hill’s family was greeted Thursdsy night as conquering heroes by the 100 or so protesters — chanting “all six counts!” — who waited outside the courthouse in the chilly rain.
“I’m on top of the world,” Hill’s girlfriend, Bridget Anderson, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She said she was confident an indictment was forthcoming because “it was such a blatant use of excessive force.”
Her late boyfriend’s character also played a role, she said.
“Everyone could see what a good person he was,” Anderson said.
Hill, 27, was an Air Force veteran of the war in Afghanistan who was diagnosed while in the service with bipolar disorder, his family has said.
“If they saw it with their heart I knew they’d come to the right conclusion,” Hill’s mother, Carolyn Baylor-Giummo said in an exclusive interview with The AJC. “Hopefully (the indictment) will at least send a message that if you do wrong you’re going to be held accountable for it.”
Her son’s shooting raised questions from the beginning. Olsen was dispatched to the Chamblee Heights Apartments after a neighbor called 911 to express concern after Hill had stripped naked, a reaction to medication he was taking, Anderson said.
When he noticed the officer, Hill began running toward him, slowing to a trot, witnesses say, when the officer ordered him to stop. After a second command to stop, Olsen shot Hill, who died at the scene.
Samuel said he believes his client will be exonerated.
“Officer Olsen is a distinguished member of the police department who has never been accused of using excessive force and has never previously discharged his firearm in the line of duty,” he said.