An eyewitness to the fatal shooting of Afghanistan war veteran Anthony Hill testified Friday that he believed Hill was going to attack ex-DeKalb County Police Officer Robert "Chip" Olsen before Olsen shot and killed him.
The testimony by maintenance worker Pedro Castillo Flores is important because it bolsters Olsen's contention that he believed Hill was about to do him harm. It came on the second day of Olsen’s murder trial.
Olsen, 57, shot and killed the 26-year-old Hill on March 9, 2015 after responding to a 911 call from a manager at the Heights at Chamblee Apartments. The manager was concerned about Hill’s erratic behavior and called again when Hill reappeared on the grounds completely nude.
When Olsen arrived at the scene, Hill began running at him and refused to halt even though Olsen pointed his handgun at Hill and twice yelled for him to stop. Witnesses say Olsen fired two fatal shots when Hill was about five or six feet away.
Olsen is charged with two counts of felony murder and other offenses. He contends he acted in self defense. Hill had stopped taking the medications he used to treat his bipolar disorder. But Olsen’s defense team said he didn’t know that at the time.
Castillo Flores, speaking through an interpreter, was asked by defense attorney Amanda Clark Palmer if he thought Hill was going to attack Olsen when he ran at him.
"That's what I thought that day," Flores said.
When prosecutor Pete Johnson later tried to lessen the blow of Castillo Flores' testimony, he didn't get the answer he was hoping for.
"Did the officer have to shoot Anthony to stop him?" Johnson asked.
"Yes," Castillo Flores said. "He was running towards him."
Johnson also asked Castillo Flores whether Olsen could have used other means at his disposal — such as his hands, his baton or a Taser — to stop Hill. "Yes, that's possible," the maintenance worker replied.
But the damage had already been done, said Atlanta lawyer Esther Panitch, who was in court Friday to observe the proceedings.
PHOTOS: The Robert Olsen Murder Trial
PODCAST: ‘BREAKDOWN’ Episode 1 Launches
"Mr. Castillo Flores' testimony just devastated the state's case," she said. "The defense was able to get the witness, a friend of Mr. Hill and an eyewitness, to concede that Robert Olsen had to shoot Anthony Hill given Mr. Hill's behavior that day."
At the close of testimony on Friday, the state had presented eight witnesses, including three eyewitnesses who saw Hill run at Olsen before being shot and killed. Those three — two maintenance workers and a resident of the complex — all seemed to agree on several key points:
- When Olsen arrived at the scene and stopped his squad car in the parking lot, Hill was nude and in a crouching position a good distance away.
- When Hill saw the police car, he got up and began running toward it.
- Olsen, upon getting out of the car, drew his weapon and pointed it at the advancing Hill.
- When Olsen twice yelled at Hill to stop, he slowed down a bit but kept advancing at Olsen, who began backing up.
- Olsen shot Hill when he was about five to six feet away from him.
Prosecutors have repeatedly asked witnesses if Hill had been acting aggressively, had a weapon or was threatening anyone at the scene. All of the witnesses said that was not the case.
Castillo Flores, who was standing off to the side in the parking lot when the shooting occurred, said Olsen looked surprised when Hill began running at him. He admitted he also was surprised by Hill's actions.
When asked by Palmer, Castillo Flores acknowledged that he told police in an interview after the shooting that he thought Hill was trying to scare Olsen. He also testified that Hill was trying to challenge the officer.
When asked if Hill could have been running at Olsen to seek help, Castillo Flores said he didn't think that was the case. "If I was going to ask for help, I wouldn't run," he said.
After Olsen fired the fatal shots, he looked "desperate" and was crying, Castillo Flores testified. Olsen crouched down and put his head in his hands and then directed the two maintenance workers to stay at the scene, wait for more police officers to arrive and to not talk to one another.
An apartment resident, Miguel Medina, testified that he followed Olsen's squad car into the complex. When he saw the naked Hill, Medina said, he drove on wanting to see what was about to happen. Because he stopped his truck about 15 to 20 feet behind Olsen's car, Medina may have had the best vantage point of any eyewitness.
Medina pretty much corroborated the prior witnesses' testimony. But he also said Hill was running "like a disoriented person — not like he was drunk, not like he was okay either. ... He was running a little bit fast, not real fast, but not real slow."
After Olsen fired the shots, he cried out, "Oh my God, what have I done?" said Medina, who will continue his testimony when the trial resumes on Tuesday.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.