A Georgia police officer who killed a naked, unarmed Air Force veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been charged with felony murder and several other crimes, according to news reports. DeKalb County police officer Robert Olsen was charged with felony murder, aggravated assault, violation of oath of office and making a false statement.
Veteran Anthony Hill was banging on doors, crawling and lying on the floor when Olsen confronted him and opted to use lethal force. Witnesses to the incident criticized Olsen’s decision to shoot Hill, and said he should have subdued him with pepper spray or a Taser, since he was clearly unarmed and not posing a threat.
According to ThinkProgress, Hill’s girlfriend, Bridget Anderson, and other supporters staged a vigil outside the DeKalb courthouse since Monday to connect the struggles of the 1960s to the modern-day problem of police killing Black men. The protesters received support from the community.
“We’ve been singing, reading, doing homework, sharing stories,” Olamide Shabazz, who helped organize the occupation, told ThinkProgress. “The community has been extremely supportive. Every couple of minutes people have been bringing us food, hand warmers, coffee, anything we needed.”
Hill’s death was caused by a perfect storm of American social problems. He had PTSD after being deployed to Afghanistan, and also suffered from bipolar disorder. His girlfriend said he had tried for months to get treatment from the Veterans Administration, but when he finally did receive medication, it made him so ill, he stopped taking it.
Hill’s supporters said he died because he encountered a police officer who was not properly trained to deal with mental illness. Olsen said he shot Hill because he believed he was high on bath salts or PCP and could not be subdued with a Taser or a baton.
Asia Parks of Rise Up Georgia said mentally-ill patients need to be handled by health professionals, not law enforcement officers.
“If a mental health unit with paramedics, nurses, or even doctors had been sent to help Anthony (instead of an officer with a gun) he would still be alive today,” said Parks. “Mental illness should not be the reason a person is condemned to death or prison.”
According to The Washington Post, Hill was one of 120 mentally ill people killed by police in 2015.
However, ThinkProgress says Georgia has some of the most generous law-protecting officers who are subject to grand jury investigations. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution stated that not one out of 171 police shootings over the last five years went to trial. Mainly white grand juries tend to sympathize with police officers who use deadly force on Black suspects.
“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,” said Lance LoRusso, a defense lawyer who works with the Georgia division of the Fraternal Order of Police, in a New York Times article. “Private citizens don’t get paid to use deadly force; law enforcement officers do.”
Hill’s family has also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Olsen accusing him of using “illegal and excessive force.”