DECEMBER 16, 2016: Former police Sgt. Marcus Eberhart (right) was found guilty of felony murder in the April 2014 stun-gun death of Gregory Lewis Towns Jr., according to Channel 2 Action News. His co-defendant, former police Cpl. Howard Weems (left), was found guilty of lesser charges. (Channel 2 Action News)
Photo: Channel 2 Action News
Photo: Channel 2 Action News

Jury: Former police officer guilty of murder in Taser death

A former East Point police officer was found guilty of felony murder Friday in the death of a black man who was shocked 14 times with a Taser stun gun while handcuffed.

Former police Sgt. Marcus Eberhart was convicted of felony murder in the April 2014 death of Gregory Lewis Towns Jr., 24, according to Dontaye Carter, a spokesman for the Fulton County district attorney’s office.

His co-defendant, former police Cpl. Howard Weems, was found not guilty of the felony murder charge but was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, reckless conduct and violation of an oath by a public officer. Both officers are also black.

“This has to stop,” said Towns family attorney Chris Stewart on Friday. “Police officers need to know that if they abuse someone, they are going to go to jail.”

He added that these two officers were “bad apples” and not typical of other police.

“We’re very proud of the outcome,” Towns’ sister, Tiara Towns, told Channel 2 Action News. “One was found guilty (of murder). I believe he was fully responsible for everything.”

The convictions come at a time when police are coming under increasing scrutiny, particularly in regard to their treatment of black men. Convictions of officers remain rare. An AJC/Channel 2 analysis of fatal police shootings from 2010 through 2015 found that no officer had faced a criminal trial in more than 180 shootings.

Friday’s convictions come more than a year after the two officers were charged in the deadly Taser incident. Jurors took about 30 minutes to deliberate.

Officers were called to the home of Towns’ girlfriend on April 11, 2014, about a domestic incident. Towns then ran and led police on a chase before sitting down to catch his breath, according to records.

Officers caught up to Towns, who begged them to let him rest before arresting him, according to records. But officers arrested, handcuffed and shocked Towns’ 281-pound frame with a Taser stun gun 14 times for 30 minutes before he died.

The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Towns’ death was a homicide due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease complicated by the use of a Taser.

A witness photographed former East Point police officers, Cpl. Howard Weems and Sgt. Marcus Eberhart, as they tried to get Gregory Lewis Towns Jr. to stand after they chased him. (HANDOUT photo provided by Chris Stewart)
Photo: Handout photo: Chris Stewart

“Gregory Towns was a father,” Assistant District Attorney Brett Pinion said. “He was a young man, he was 24 years old. He did not deserve to die like this.”

District Attorney Paul Howard said, “We have said all along that this did not have to happen. This young man was handcuffed in the rear. He was not resisting.”

During the GBI’s investigation, officers said Eberhart and Weems used the Taser to get Towns to stand up and walk.

Then-police Chief Woodrow Blue fired Weems after the incident, while Eberhart resigned in lieu of termination after the GBI released a report on Towns’ death. In August 2014, Blue resigned for personal reasons.

Friday’s conviction also follows a lawsuit settled in November 2014 by Towns’ family and the city of East Point. The money from the suit was awarded to Towns’ then 7-month-old son. The attorney in the case did not say how much the family received, but said the family was getting the maximum amount allowed by the city’s insurance carrier.

City officials confirmed their maximum payout was $1 million at the time, but declined to comment any further.

Defense attorney Sandra Michaels said, “There is no known death from an X-35 Taser in drive-stun mode and there’s no reason to believe this is the first case ever.”

In addition to felony murder, Eberhart was convicted of aggravated assault, reckless conduct and three counts of violation of oath by a public officer. Felony murder occurs when someone kills another person in the commission of a separate crime.

Attorneys for both officers said they intend to appeal the convictions. Eberhart was immediately taken to jail following the guilty verdict. Weems was released.

The two will be sentenced Wednesday, Channel 2 reported. Eberhart could face life in prison.

Towns’ girlfriend, Aisel Smith, told Channel 2, “It just really restores my faith in the justice system.”

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