An Atlanta grand jury moved to indict a former police officer on murder charges Wednesday for his role in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man.
Former Atlanta police officer James Burns shot and killed 22-year-old Deravis “Caine” Rogers on June 22 after receiving a call about a suspicious person roaming a nearby apartment complex.
Burns arrived on the scene to spot a 2011 Silver Ford Fusion attempting to leave the property. That’s when he fired a single shot into the moving vehicle, striking Rogers in the head. He later died from his injuries.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, jurors indicted Burns on five felony counts of murder, aggravated assault, two counts of violating his oath of office and one count of making a false statement.
The jury’s indictment of the ex-officer is a rare move. Between 2010 and 2015, not a single Georgia police officer faced criminal charges for shooting and killing a civilian, according to an AJC/WSB-TV investigation. An overwhelming majority of police shootings in the state are deemed justified. This year, there have only been two officers who faced criminal charges, including Burns.
Rogers’ parents, Deravis Thomas and Melva Rogers, expressed satisfaction with the jury’s decision Wednesday and thanked the District Attorney’s office for its help.
“As the parents of Caine Rogers, we are grateful that the Grand Jury has returned an indictment against Officer James Burns,” they said in a joint statement. “We would like to thank the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office for its hard work, and also the community for all of its love and support as we continue on this journey towards justice for Caine. We are very pleased with this outcome and though nothing can bring our son back, we know this is a powerful first step.”
Per the Associated Press, Rogers’ mother filed a wrongful death suit against Burns, police chief George Turner and the City of Atlanta. In it, she alleges that the former officer violated her son’s civil rights by using excessive and lethal force and failing to grant him due process.
Activists, lawyers and a number of community groups staged a demonstration and vigil in the days leading up to the indictment. AP reports that community members gathered outside the courthouse to demand a murder indictment for Burns as well as honor the lives of those taken by police brutality.
Rogers’ death came just two weeks before the deadly police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Intense protests broke out all over the nation as citizens demanded an end to police violence — which disproportionately takes the lives of African-American men and women.
Police Chief Turner opted to make an example out of Atlanta by firing Burns just 10 days after the deadly shooting. An APD Internal Affairs investigation also found the officer’s decision to shoot Rogers constituted excessive force and violated the department’s policy. Burns fired a shot into Rogers’ vehicle without knowing who he was or if he was even a suspect.
“The force used was ruled excessive because there was no obvious threat made toward the officer,” Sgt. Warren Pickard, an Atlanta Police Department spokesman, told the AJC.
In his initial testimony, Burns said he feared for his life as Rogers attempted to run him over with his car. That’s why he fired the fatal shot. However, the internal investigation found that the officer was standing safely behind his patrol car at the time of the shooting.
According to Atlanta Black Star, an agency spokesman also confirmed that there was no evidence of actual car break-ins at the apartment complex or any evidence linking Rogers to criminal activity that evening. Still, Burns maintains his innocence.
“He’s not guilty of any of these charges,” Burns’ attorney, Drew Findling, told reporters after the indictment. “[The jury’s decision] is crushing because what he was doing was responding to an officer in need. The question becomes his perception is that his life was in danger and he believes that car was accelerating at him. That was his reasonable belief.”
According to the AJC, Burns now faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of murder.