SAVANNAH, Ga. – Police were justified in fatally shooting a 20-year-old man, a grand jury said Wednesday after concluding that he pointed a BB pistol at officers who had come to arrest him.
Savannah police had a warrant to arrest Ricky Boyd on a felony murder charge when they shot him outside his house on Jan. 23. His family insists he was unarmed. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said he was holding a BB pistol that appeared to be a real gun.
Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap presented the GBI's findings to a civil grand jury over three days beginning Monday, asking the panel to decide if the evidence supported pursuing criminal charges against any of the officers.
"I'm very sorry for the family, but the evidence appears to show the actions of the officers were justified," Heap said in an interview. "They believed he was firing on other officers."
The grand jury issued its nine-page report Wednesday, saying eight Savannah police officers and deputy U.S. marshals were justified in believing they were in danger of being shot after Boyd emerged from his home and refused orders to raise his hands.
"A short time later, he quickly removed his hands from his pocket area holding a BB gun and assumed a shooter's two-handed stance while pointing the BB gun in the directions" of officers, the report said.
One officer's body camera captured the shooting. The grand jury said it shows Boyd with an object in his hands, but isn't clear enough to identify the object as a gun. "It is not possible to accurately determine what happened by viewing the video at regular speed; repeated slow motion and still frame viewing is necessary," its report said.
Boyd's mother, Jameillah Smiley, and other family members declined to testify before the grand jury. Smiley told reporters she didn't trust the district attorney, and believes authorities and prosecutors have been "covering up" for the officers who shot her son.
The Boyd family's lawyers have questioned whether he really held the BB pistol, saying a neighbor's photo showed it more than 40 feet from where he was shot. The grand jury said officers were afraid to render first aid to Boyd with the gun next to him, so an officer picked it up, carried it across the yard and dropped it next to a tree, where it was collected for evidence.
Smiley said investigators let her view the video, and she said it shows her son with his arms raised and no weapon in his hands.
"We are saddened but not surprised by today's decision," her attorney, Will Claiborne, said in a statement Wednesday evening. He planned a news conference Thursday.
Claiborne has urged federal authorities to investigate Boyd's shooting as a violation of his civil rights. Heap said the Justice Department has told her it plans to look at the case. She said she welcomes "a second set of eyes."
The grand jury report says civilian witnesses also reported seeing Boyd raise a gun at officers, and that one of Boyd's family members told the GBI that she "heard him fire his gun first; that Ricky Boyd's gun fire sounded like a BB gun and not like a real gun; the police did not fire at Ricky Boyd until after Ricky Boyd fired the first shot."
Another unnamed relative, however, told the GBI that Boyd was simply holding his hands together as if he had a gun.
One Savannah officer was wounded. Investigators determined he was hit by bullets fired by a marshal that ricocheted off Boyd's house, the report said.
The grand jury said officers had come to Boyd's home to arrest him on a felony murder charge in the slaying of a 24-year-old man two days earlier. Evidence in that case showed Boyd and two others set out to rob Balil Whitfield during a marijuana deal on Jan. 21, the grand jury said. Its report said Boyd and an unnamed family member of his were in the back seat of Whitfield's car when the relative shot Whitfield multiple times in the back and face. The report said Boyd dropped his cellphone fleeing the scene.
Boyd's mother later told police in a recorded statement that Boyd "had admitted to his father his participation in Balil Whitfield's murder," the grand jury said. It reported that Boyd's father has not cooperated with police.