Past complaints emerge against officer as DA seeks to indict him

A taxi driver, recounting an allegedly ugly encounter in 2009 with DeKalb County Police Officer Robert Olsen, told investigators in a written statement that it wouldn’t be long before Olsen shot someone.

Mercedes Lewis described the incident as the "craziest, freakiest thing that ever happened to me as a cab driver" during an interview with an investigator for the attorney representing the family of Anthony Hill, who was shot and killed by Olsen last March.

Lewis alleged that Olsen followed her, passed her cab and threatened her with a traffic ticket on his speaker, prompting her to call 911 to report Olsen's behavior. Hers was one of five civilian complaints lodged against Olsen, four of which alleged rudeness and/or profanity.

On Thursday, DeKalb District Attorney Robert James announced he will seek a six-count indictment, including two counts of felony murder, against Olsen. James will present his case on Jan. 21 to a grand jury, which will then decide whether to indict the seven-year veteran of the DeKalb force.

If indicted, Olsen would become the first Georgia law enforcement officer in five years — a period that spans 184 cases — to be prosecuted for fatally shooting a civilian. It comes amid a series of high-profile police shootings nationally, many of which were not prosecuted, drawing widespread protest.

A special exemption granted to law enforcement in Georgia — allowing them to observe all of the grand jury testimony and make a statement without cross-examination — makes it difficult even to obtain an indictment. That has happened only once in the past five years, and that indictment was dismissed the next day by the district attorney.

Last October, a civil grand jury impaneled to offer a recommendation on whether to prosecute Olsen returned a split decision though they urged further investigation.

Olsen was the first officer on the scene after a caller to 911 reported Hill had stripped naked outside his Chamblee apartment complex. Hill, who was unarmed at the time, was being treated for bipolar disorder diagnosed while he was serving in Afghanistan during the war. He likely had an adverse reaction to his prescribed medication, friends told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But after he twice refused Olsen’s commands to stop, the 27-year-old South Carolina native was fatally shot by the officer.

James said he will be presenting a more thorough case this time around: “I’m no longer neutral. I’ve become an advocate.”

He hinted that testimony from Olsen might come back to haunt the officer. Olsen told the civil grand jury that when he shot Hill, he believed that Hill was under the influence of PCP or bath salts and posed a threat to his safety.

In addition to the two counts of felony murder, Olsen is also charged with aggravated assault, two counts of violating his oath and one count of providing false statements.


Taking questions from reporters Thursday, James repeatedly struck a confident tone. Asked whether this decision was one of the more difficult ones he has made as district attorney, he replied, without pause, “No.”

Some of that confidence might be because of Hill’s background. Besides his service in the Air Force, Hill interned with the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina and was a staunch defender of law enforcement.

“If 99 out of 100 cops (are) killing black men like it’s hunting season, that leaves 1 just doing his job, ” Hill, an African-American, tweeted two months before his death.

The AJC sought a comment from Olsen’s defense team. Attorney Donald English, provided through the Police Benevolent Association, referred The AJC to co-counsel Bill McKenney. But McKenney said he was no longer representing Olsen.

English did not respond to a second request for comment, but told Channel 2 Action News that James’ decision was “not unexpected, given it’s an election year.”

James faces a primary challenge in May from DeKalb Solicitor Sherry Boston.

Attorney Chris Chestnut, who represents Hill’s family, said he believes James’ motivations are pure in pursuing an indictment against Olsen.

“He’s a father, too,” Chestnut said. “I think he feels very strongly about this case.”


Unlike most of the recent officer-involved shooting cases that have attracted national attention, Chestnut and Hill’s family have downplayed race as a factor, even though Olsen is white.

Instead, Chestnut said, he believes Olsen’s short fuse is the major reason he faces murder charges.

In three of the complaints lodged against the officer, internal affairs investigators recommended or required sensitivity training for the officer. He received 72 hours of such training from 2009-13, according to his personnel file.

Still, in 2011, one of his superiors told a training commander, “I have a guy that I need to get into a verbal judo or something similar for people skills.”

That recommendation followed a complaint from Kathy Mitchell, a retired schoolteacher who said Olsen pulled over her husband for running through a traffic signal as it was changing to red. She wrote in a statement that Olsen needed “some kind of people skills course or a anger management course.”

“As soon as my husband rolled down the window (Olsen) started shouting, ‘Did (her husband) think he was above the law,’” Mitchell told The AJC. I didn’t think what he did warranted that kind of reaction.”