AP NEWS

Fate of Georgia ex-cop who shot naked man is in jury’s hands

October 3, 2019 GMT
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Former DeKalb County Police Officer Robert "Chip" Olsen (center) stands during a morning break. The murder trial of former DeKalb County Police Officer Robert "Chip" Olsen continued today. Olsen is charged with murdering war veteran Anthony Hill. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
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Former DeKalb County Police Officer Robert "Chip" Olsen (center) stands during a morning break. The murder trial of former DeKalb County Police Officer Robert "Chip" Olsen continued today. Olsen is charged with murdering war veteran Anthony Hill. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — Prosecution and defense lawyers told jurors Thursday that they must decide whether a white former Georgia police officer acted reasonably when he fatally shot an unarmed, naked black man.

Robert “Chip” Olsen, now 57, was a DeKalb County police officer in March 2015 when he responded to a report of a naked man behaving erratically at an apartment complex just outside Atlanta. Shortly after arriving, he killed 26-year-old Anthony Hill, an Air Force veteran, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD.

The charges against Olsen include 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.

Closing statements in his trial came Thursday after about a week of testimony from prosecution witnesses. The defense didn’t call any witnesses or put Olsen on the stand. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating Friday.

Prosecutor Pete Johnson told jurors it’s unreasonable to believe that Olsen, who was bigger than Hill and had multiple weapons, was afraid of the unarmed, naked man and justified in using deadly force. Defense attorney Amanda Clark Palmer countered that Olsen had limited information, was terrified and acted in self-defense.

The apartment complex staff saw Hill outside on March 9, 2015, acting strangely and wearing only shorts. Maintenance workers got him to return to his apartment, but he soon reemerged wearing no clothes and saying bizarre things, according to trial testimony. The property manager called 911 three times as the situation unfolded because she was worried about Hill’s safety, she said.

When Olsen arrived, Hill ran toward his patrol car. Olsen got out and shouted, “Stop! Stop!” and shot Hill when he was several feet away, witnesses testified.

Olsen knew he was responding to a situation of someone in distress, yet his first reaction was to draw his gun and shoot the naked man running at him, Johnson said.

“That’s not reasonable,” he said.

The two felony murder charges don’t mean Olsen intended to kill Hill, Johnson told jurors. Instead they indicate that Olsen committed other felonies _ aggravated assault and violation of his oath of office _ and Hill died as a result.

“You will not have to find in any way, shape or form that this defendant intended that day to kill Anthony Hill,” Johnson said.

Olsen committed aggravated assault when he shot Hill and violated his oath of office by using deadly force in violation of the department’s use of force policy, and Hill died as a result of those actions, Johnson said.

“We are not asking you to judge Robert Olsen as a person, we are asking you to judge his actions,” Johnson said.

Clark Palmer reminded jurors that Olsen didn’t know when he arrived that Hill was a veteran with mental health issues who had stopped taking his medication, that he was usually peaceful and considered the police his friends, or that he was a resident of the complex.

Based on the information he had, Olsen believed Hill might be demented or on drugs, and he had only a few seconds to react when Hill failed to obey his commands, Clark Palmer said.

“Chip Olsen could only assume that that person had bad intentions and that person intended to do him great bodily harm and to do him violence, and he made the tough decision to use deadly force to defend himself,” she said.

Police officers have the same right as everyone else to defend themselves, and Olsen acted in self-defense, she said.

The false statement charge and second count of violating his oath of office stem from statements Olsen made to the second officer at the scene. Officer Lyn Anderson testified that Olsen told him that Hill had pounded on him, but witnesses said Hill never touched Olsen.

“Why’d he lie at that moment? To cover it up,” Johnson said.

Olsen immediately tried to secure witnesses and video of the shooting, Clark Palmer noted. He did that because he knew that evidence would show he was under attack, she said.

Clark Palmer also questioned whether Anderson misheard or misremembered what Olsen told him, pointing out that Anderson took no notes and made no recording.