The victim’s family says in a wrongful death lawsuit against Olsen that, at the time of the incident, Hill was experiencing a “non-violent mental episode” resulting from psychological traumas sustained during his military deployment in Afghanistan.
Olsen has been indicted on two counts of felony murder, two counts of violation of oath of office, and one count each of aggravated assault and making a false statement. The charges were announced by DeKalb District Attorney Robert James during an evening news conference.
According to a Washington Post analysis, Olsen’s indictment is the ninth on-duty fatal police shooting in 2015 that has resulted in criminal charges for the officer involved, a number three times that of annual averages for the prior decade.
After Hill’s death, his case joined that of several others drawing national attention and fervent protests around fatal police shootings of unarmed black men.
U.S. Census Bureau numbers show that almost 55 percent of the DeKalb County population is black. During the news conference, a reporter asked James whether he had been at all swayed by public pressure.
“My job as a prosecutor is to seek justice,” James said. “My job as a prosecutor is to match what I believe to be facts to existing law in the official court of Georgia, and to do what I believe is right under the law. That’s what we do in every case, and that’s what we did in this case.”
The DA said prosecutors presented evidence to the grand jury over the course of eight hours. He also clarified the difference between the charge of felony murder — a murder that occurs in the course of committing a felony — and malice murder, which involves a specific intent to kill.
Olsen’s alleged felonies are aggravated assault and violation of oath of office. He is accused of going against the DeKalb County Police Department’s use of force policy and giving a false statement to another officer in which he said Hill had physically assaulted him by “pounding on his chest.”
The officer’s lawyer, Don Samuel, wrote in an email to the Associated Press that he was disappointed with the grand jury decision, noting that while Olsen testified, the defense was not allowed to present any of its own evidence or challenge that of the prosecution.
“The prosecutors chose not to present all the witnesses who clearly observed what occurred, including the one witness who told the police that Mr. Hill was ‘attacking’ and ‘charging’ at Officer Olsen,” Samuel told the AP. “When this case is presented in a fair manner to a jury in an open courtroom, Officer Olsen will be fully exonerated.”
According to the AP, a crowd of several dozen people awaited the decision outside the courthouse Thursday. When they learned of the indictment, they began cheering and chanting, “All six counts.”
Carolyn Baylor-Giummo, Hill’s mother, thanked the supporters and expressed gratitude for the decision, the AP reported.
“The message is that you have to be accountable for your own actions,” Baylor-Giummo said. “When you decide to do something, if it’s not right, there are consequences and you have to be held accountable for it.”
The family’s civil complaint, filed in Atlanta’s federal district court, claims that Hill was “unarmed, unclothed, and displayed no signs of aggression at the time of the shooting,” presenting no threat to anyone at the time of the shooting. They say a “mental illness episode stemming from his bipolar disorder” caused him to remove his clothes, jump from his balcony and stumble around his apartment complex’s parking lot.
The suit further alleges that Hill slowly walked toward Olsen in an attempt to get medical attention, at which point Olsen told him to stop and pointed his gun, firing two fatal bullets into Hill’s neck and chest.
Hill has no criminal record. The family says Olsen had a long history of “aggressive conduct” and “propensity toward anger when dealing with members of the public.”
“This is an epidemic, law enforcement agencies, responding to this in the wrong way,” Baylor-Giummo told The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery earlier this month. “Rather than training this officer to help people with mental illness, Officer Olsen was trained to call the union lawyer from the scene. That’s the wrong kind of training.”
James said Thursday that an arrest warrant has been issued for Olsen and he will be detained shortly.
Indictments for police shootings are particularly rare in Georgia, where more than 170 fatal police shootings have been recorded since 2010, resulting in just one charge against a police officer that was ultimately dismissed, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“The grand jury has to hear, without a doubt, the reasonable, subjective views of the officer and the reason why a law enforcement officer would act,” Lance LoRusso, a defense lawyer with the Georgia division of the Fraternal Order of Police, told the New York Times. “Private citizens don’t get paid to use deadly force; law enforcement officers do.”