An Apology Owed To District Attorney Robert James

While I gave DeKalb County, Georgia, District Attorney Robert D. James, Jr., the benefit of the doubt, it would be untrue to suggest that I thought he could pull it off.

Whether the announcement by the DeKalb County district attorney means that he thinks he’s got a shot a getting an indictment of Officer Olsen, or just wants to put on a play to show the public that he’s doing his job, isn’t clear. He seems sincere, but what’s running through his head is unknown.

Police Officer Robert Olsen shot and killed the naked and disturbed Anthony Hill.  There were plenty of reasons why Olsen should be indicted for the killing, but those reasons haven’t proven very successful lately ever.  And unlike the failed grand jury presentations for the murders of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, to name a couple, the law in Georgia added an extra layer of problem on top of the usual latitude shown an officer who mouthed the “I feared for my life” free pass.

While this places the prosecution in a difficult position in any state but Georgia, creating that inherent conflict between the interlocking arms of the prosecutorial function, DA James faces a singular challenge.  Georgia law provides a police officer protections that can be found nowhere else.

Certainly, DA James knew the hurdles he was facing under Georgia law. And he no doubt heard something about the failed grand jury presentments elsewhere. So when he announced that he was going to do the same, it was hard to ignore the possibility that this would be another dog and pony show to appease the public and create the credible excuse that he tried.

But damn, Sir, you proved me wrong.

A white police officer was indicted here Thursday on six counts, including felony murder, in the fatal shooting last year of an unarmed black man who was naked and described as acting in an erratic manner.

The indictment of Officer Robert Olsen of the DeKalb County Police Department came about two weeks after the district attorney said he would ask a grand jury to pursue criminal charges in the death of Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran.

This was no small feat.  Unlike Cuyahoga County, Ohio, District Attorney Tim McGinty, and Richmond County, New York, District Attorney Dan Donovan, who covered themselves in feces as they proclaimed to the public that they smelled particularly sweet, you have proven yourself to be a man of your word, a prosecutor of integrity.

Where McGinty and Donovan could have indicted at the drop of a hat, had that been their desire, and lacked the balls to admit that they didn’t want to indict their respective cops and sabotaged their own presentments to make sure the grand jury voted the way they wanted it to vote, you proved yourself to be the sort of prosecutor they weren’t.

And the lawyers for Officer Olsen will attack you for what you’ve done, and his brother cops will likely lock arms around them. That’s what cops do.

“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 who works with the Georgia division of the Fraternal Order of Police, said this month. “Private citizens don’t get paid to use deadly force; law enforcement officers do.”

Well, not exactly.  Law enforcement officers don’t get paid to use deadly force, per se. They get paid to do their job, to enforce the law. Nowhere in the job description does it say, “kill at will” or “no matter what, make it home for dinner, even if that means killing people who aren’t really a threat or who could be put under control by methods far short of killing them.”

Then again, even if Olsen gave up his pay for the half-second spent on pulling the trigger of his service weapon, which emitted a metal projectile at high velocity toward Anthony Hill, a veteran who suffered from PTSD, naked so that nothing could prevent that projectile from entering his body at maximum force, it seems extremely likely that Olsen would have killed him anyway.  It’s not about getting paid to kill. A cop would kill for free.

The next step (minus some procedural issues) will be the trial of Officer Robert Olsen.  This, too, won’t be a slam dunk, as has been demonstrated even when a prosecutor shows his fortitude by indicting a cop.  As long as you put in your best effort to fulfill your ethical duty to “do justice,” and try the case like you really mean it, then you will have done everything one could ask of a prosecutor, DA James.

I look forward to your restoring people’s faith in the integrity of the prosecution when it comes to police officers. And I apologize for my lack of faith in your sincerity. To be proven wrong by you was an honor. Thank you.


5 thoughts on “An Apology Owed To District Attorney Robert James

  1. John Barleycorn

    ♡♡♡But Lance LoRusso, a defense lawyer who works with the Georgia division of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the laws here afforded officers a crucial opportunity to explain their decisions and experiences, and he said the protections helped to curb potentially overzealous prosecutions.♧♧♧

    Hearts and clubs.

    Grand Juries,
    have got you,
    on the run…esteemed one.

    But you are forgiven for not crediting grand juror number 16 for asking the right questions.

    Not to that Robert isn’t a swell guy, master of eight seconds, and all around honorable chap.

  2. Andrew Fleischman

    While I’m thrilled to see an indictment out of DeKalb County (which has one of the highest rates of officer shootings in the country), what I’m more thrilled about is that James’ opponent in his re-election campaign, Sherry Boston, may have frightened him into doing the right thing.

    If we get to the point where district attorneys have to prosecute police officers to overcome a perception of public corruption, we may start to see some real reform.

    1. SHG Post author

      I will take it regardless of a less than pure motivation. And I will not impugn a less than pure motivation if it encourages doing the right thing.

  3. Marc R

    It’s a great first step. But let’s not get too excited. If it’s “hard” for the prosecutor to get an indictment, the second phase is just as hard to get a conviction against a PBA-funded well-connected local defense counsel. Maybe he will plea out for a minimal term so long as he never wears another badge. The only thing worse than an unindicted officer is one adjudicated not guilty by a blue bill ingesting jury.

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