A rookie police officer who caused an uproar when she said she’d been shot without warning, at a time when shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge had the nation on edge, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, followed by 23 years of probation.
The initial report by Officer Sherry Hall, now 43, in September 2016 sparked an intense manhunt in the area of Jackson, Ga., about 50 miles southwest of Atlanta. She said that a black man, 6 feet, 250 pounds, wearing a green shirt and black jogging pants, had suddenly opened fire on her and that she had fired back. A bullet was found in her protective vest, and a shell casing was found in the nearby woods, in addition to two casings found near Hall’s police cruiser.
Two months earlier, five police officers had been killed in Dallas during an unprovoked attack, and soon after that, three officers were killed without warning in Baton Rouge. Was this another random attack on a law enforcement officer?
Hall then fanned the flames of unrest by giving a television interview to the local CBS affiliate, describing the shooting in detail. “He was sitting down and come up to a standing-up position,” Hall told CBS46 while the manhunt for her attacker was underway. “And at the time he was coming up to a standing-up position, that is when I believe he drew the weapon.” She added, “As I was coming up from the ground I began to fire back.”
Hall added, “For him to have such a disregard to human life really angers me and upsets me. . . . If he’ll do this to an officer, how much more will he do to a citizen on the street?”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation began looking into the shooting, which happened shortly after midnight Sept. 13, 2016. Investigators found that Hall made inconsistent statements about the evidence and, when confronted with video from her in-car camera, she stopped talking. The camera captured only two shots being fired, not three, and Hall didn’t immediately radio for help, instead sending text messages.
Ten days after Hall reported the shooting, she was charged with multiple felonies, including witness tampering, making false statements and multiple counts of violating her oath as an officer. She was also fired, about three months after she’d joined the police force in Jackson, a town of about 5,000.
Hall’s family told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that prosecutors in Butts County, Ga., offered her a plea deal that would have given her a five-year prison sentence. But she feared prison and rejected the offer.
Hall went to trial in late August. When she took the stand, according to the Jackson Progress-Argus, Hall testified, “I don’t recall a whole lot, because I’ve spent two years in therapy trying to suppress it.”
But she maintained there had been another person out there that night, and that person shot her. Prosecutors summoned a forensic pathologist who said Hall’s wound was superficial and not caused by the impact of a bullet hitting a protective vest. They did not offer an explanation for who shot Hall, or how. James Moss, the Butts County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, did not return a call seeking comment.
The jury took less than an hour to convict Hall on all 10 counts Aug. 30. Moss then asked Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson to sentence Hall to 30 years in prison. Wilson imposed a 15-year term, but not before scolding the former officer.
“Ms. Hall, I’m not sorry for you one bit,” the judge said, according to the Progress-Argus, “and I’m going to tell you what. One percent of the police officers in the United States are ruining it for 99 percent of the others. What you’ve done, you’ve put such a black eye on law enforcement, it’s hard for them to overcome it. We’ve got so many folks fighting us nowadays, and you just added to it.”
James Morgan, chief of the Jackson Police Department, told the Progress-Argus: “It’s hard. Sometimes you make a mistake, but this was not a mistake. … This case here, it shows as long as we do the right thing and pay attention to the evidence and follow the facts, justice will prevail.”