Tuesday, for the first time, jurors in the murder trial of former DeKalb County police officer Robert “Chip” Olsen heard from the 57-year-old defendant.
He wasn’t called to testify — it remains to be seen if that’ll happen. Instead, the prosecution played Olsen’s March 2015 interview with GBI investigators, recorded one week after he shot and killed Afghanistan War veteran Anthony Hill.
Olsen held little back, relaying a tense showdown with life-and-death consequences. He said he believed Hill was on drugs.
He also said Hill was uncooperative and, in Olsen’s mind, a threat. That contrasted greatly with the testimony of other witnesses — none of whom said they felt threatened by Hill.
Olsen had been dispatched to the Heights at Chamblee apartments, where Hill, off his meds, had stripped nude in the middle of the day.
“I remember thinking when he started sprinting to me … I’m thinking, ‘This guy is big,’ ” Olsen said. “This guy looks like he’s muscular, like a football player. Kind of built. I noticed that when he was running I saw muscles pumping.”
Olsen was 5 inches taller than Hill and 40 pounds heavier. Hill was 26 when he died.
The former cop said he was still in his police cruiser when Hill first spotted him. The aspiring music producer immediately began “sprinting” in his direction, though other witnesses described Hill’s gait as something between running and jogging.
“I remember seeing his left hand … and it was opened and empty,” Olsen told the GBI. “I do not recall seeing his right hand. He was still closing distance on me. I exited my vehicle and began backpedaling from him as quickly as possible. He was closing distance on me next to my unit. I yelled at him to stop. He did not. Kept closing distance. I drew my weapon. I yelled stop again and fired two rounds.”
Olsen did most of the talking during the 47-minute sitdown. He volunteered an explanation for why he didn’t opt for non-lethal responses.
“I guess there was some speculation and individuals asked, ‘Well why didn’t you Tase him?’” Olsen said. “Based on my training, the situation, what I observed this individual, that was not a viable option.”
Assuming Hill was high on drugs, he might also be impervious to any pain, Olsen said.
“The ASP baton and OC spray in all likelihood if I had encountered would be ineffective and ground fighting would be severely hampered with a subject under such drugs,” he said. “The fact that he was nude — grappling with a nude individual is not a wise decision in these circumstances. And I have some specialized training.”
There was little to no pushback by the GBI agents to Olsen’s claims. Prosecutors, challenging the defendant’s claim that he feared for his safety, noted that Olsen never said he was afraid during the interview. But he wasn’t asked. He wasn’t even asked the most obvious question: What made this unarmed, unclothed young man such a dire threat?
Hill was unarmed as he advanced on Olsen, witnesses have testified.
It’s a tragedy that still affects those who were there on that late winter afternoon. Araceli Vega was overcome with emotion as the state played video she had recorded showing Hill’s lifeless body, shrouded in blood, lying flat in a parking lot below her apartment.
Vega testified she had just returned home from the grocery store when she heard “shouts and shots.”
She was not able to comprehend what was said. Vega said she does not speak English well. The shouts were likely Olsen yelling at the advancing Hill to stop. The shots were the two bullets Olsen fired from his 40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun.
“I ran to the window and saw what was happening below,” Vega said through an interpreter. She said she observed Olsen lowering his gun and Hill falling to the ground, his hands outstretched in front of him.
Vega, who had a bird’s-eye view from her porch on the third floor, grabbed her phone and began taking video.
She captured Olsen talking and gesturing to Lyn Anderson, the second officer to arrive at the scene. Olsen can be seen raising his hands above his head, fingers clinched into a fist. Anderson, expected to testify on Wednesday, previously said that Olsen told him he was attacked and “pounded” by Hill.
Prosecutors believe the video showing Olsen’s raised hands will corroborate Anderson’s testimony. No witnesses saw Hill attack Olsen or even touch him. Olsen later confirmed as much with investigators.
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