DECATUR, Ga. — A former Georgia police officer who fatally shot an unarmed, naked man was found not guilty of murder Monday but was convicted of aggravated assault and other charges that could send him to prison for more than 30 years.
Robert “Chip” Olsen’s face turned red and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly as the verdict was read. His wife, Kathy Olsen, began sobbing and had to be led from the courtroom.
DeKalb County Superior Court Judge LaTisha Dear Jackson set bond for Olsen at $80,000, ordered him to wear an ankle monitor and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in effect until his sentencing Nov. 1.
Olsen, now 57, was a DeKalb County police officer in March 2015 when he responded to a call of a naked man behaving erratically outside an Atlanta-area apartment complex. Shortly after arriving, he fatally shot 26-year-old Anthony Hill, an Air Force veteran who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. A grand jury indicted Olsen nearly a year after the shooting. Olsen is white and Hill was black.
Hill’s parents said they didn’t want Olsen released on bond while he awaits sentencing.
“It’s been four years that we’ve been waiting for this,” said his mother, Carolyn Giummo. “My son is no longer here. … I just feel like it’s time now.”
In addition to aggravated assault, Olsen was convicted of two counts of violating his oath of office and one count of making a false statement. The assault charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years; each of the other three counts carries a sentence of up to five years.
The jury acquitted Olsen on two counts of felony murder, charges that would have carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison. A felony murder charge doesn’t imply intent to kill but rather that a death occurred as a person was committing another felony, in this case aggravated assault or violation of his oath.
DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, whose office prosecuted the case, said she appreciated the time the jurors spent and respected their verdict.
“I think all of you know that these cases are very difficult, not just here in Georgia but across the United States,” Boston said. “It is very difficult to prosecute a police officer for murder under these circumstances.”
One of the jurors, who asked that his name not be used because he didn’t want to be linked to the high-profile case, said the fact that Olsen was a police officer made the deliberations difficult, noting that about half the jurors believed Olsen was acting in self-defence.
By the time they reached a verdict, jurors were pretty evenly split — largely along racial lines — between those who wanted to convict Olsen of murder and those who didn’t, with most white jurors wanting to acquit, he said.
Ultimately, the juror said, he was afraid they wouldn’t be able to reach a unanimous verdict, the case would end up in a mistrial and a subsequent jury wouldn’t convict on any of the counts. So he and some of the others agreed to acquit on the murder charges as long as they reached a guilty verdict on the aggravated assault charge.
“I felt good about it knowing that I got some justice out of it,” he said.
Monday’s verdict came on the heels of a Texas jury finding a white former Dallas police officer guilty of murder in the shooting death of a black man in his home. Amber Guyger, who testified that she mistook Botham Jean’s apartment for her own, was convicted on Oct. 1 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Early Saturday morning, a white police officer in Fort Worth, Texas, shot and killed a black woman in her home early Saturday morning while responding to a call about an open front door. The police chief said Monday that the officer, Aaron Dean, acted without justification when he killed 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson. The officer resigned Monday before he could be fired.
In the Olsen case , the apartment complex property manager testified that she saw Hill, a resident, wearing shorts but no shoes or shirt and behaving strangely on March 9, 2015. After maintenance workers got him to go to his apartment, he reemerged a short time later without any clothes.
The property manager, who testified that she was worried for Hill’s safety because he was behaving so bizarrely, called 911 three times.
Olsen was told by dispatch there was a naked man who was “possibly demented.” Hill was squatting in a roadway when Olsen arrived but jumped up and ran toward the patrol car, according to testimony from several witnesses.
Olsen got out of his car and yelled, “Stop! Stop!” Hill didn’t stop, and Olsen shot him twice, witnesses said.
Prosecutors argued that Olsen unreasonably and unnecessarily used deadly force to deal with the unarmed, naked man who was suffering a mental health crisis. Defence attorneys countered that Olsen had limited information about the situation, was scared to death and had only seconds to make a tough decision.
During closing arguments, lawyers for both sides told jurors they needed to decide whether Olsen’s actions were reasonable given the situation.
The verdict finally came on the sixth day of deliberations.
Attorneys for Olsen didn’t immediately comment and didn’t respond to an email seeking comment on the verdict.
Kate Brumback, The Associated Press