ATLANTA – A judge has ruled that a white former Atlanta-area police officer who fatally shot an unarmed, naked, mentally ill black veteran isn't entitled to immunity based on self-defense.
Lawyers for Robert Olsen had argued he had the right to act in self-defense and that the charges against him should be dropped. Olsen faces charges including felony murder in the March 2015 death of 27-year-old Anthony Hill, whose family has said he was a U.S. Air Force veteran who struggled with mental health problems.
Olsen was a DeKalb County police officer and was responding to a call about a naked man behaving erratically outside a suburban apartment complex when he fatally shot Hill.
DeKalb County Superior Court Judge J.P. Boulee held a pretrial hearing in May that included testimony from Olsen, witnesses to the shooting, use-of-force experts and other police officers.
Boulee wrote in an order Tuesday that Olsen didn't show he had reason to believe deadly force was needed to prevent death or serious injury to himself or someone else. The judge cited concerns about Olsen's credibility and conflicting testimony.
Defense attorney Don Samuel did not immediately respond to an email Thursday seeking comment on the judge's order.
Olsen and others testified during the hearing in May that when Olsen arrived at the apartment complex, Hill was crouching naked in the roadway and jumped up and ran toward the officer's patrol car. Olsen said he drew his gun as he got out of his car and yelled at Hill to stop before shooting him.
Prosecutors called Officer Lyn Anderson, the second officer to arrive on the scene. He testified that Olsen told him when he arrived that Hill ran at him and "started pounding on him." Olsen testified that he didn't recall that conversation.
Olsen "claims that he does not remember this conversation despite seemingly remembering all other details of the shooting," Boulee wrote.
Boulee wrote that Olsen testified he didn't know Hill was unarmed, but the judge noted that a maintenance supervisor who witnessed the shooting testified that Hill was unarmed and none of the dispatches Olsen received before arriving on the scene indicate that Hill was armed.
A successful self-defense claim would require Olsen to show that it was reasonable for him to believe that Hill was about to kill or gravely injure him or another person. But there was no evidence that Olsen believed Hill was going to kill him and no witness testified that they believed Hill could have killed Olsen, Boulee wrote.
"Any belief by Defendant that Hill was about to kill him and that deadly force was necessary to prevent the killing was not reasonable," the judge wrote.
Boulee also noted that "although Hill was muscular and athletically built," Olsen still had about 5 inches (13 centimeters) and 40 pounds (18 kilograms) on him and was "trained as a police officer in soft hands and hard hands techniques."
"Importantly, Hill did not have any weapons and did not make any verbal threats towards Defendant," Boulee wrote.
In a separate order, the judge also rejected arguments by the defense that the felony murder charges against him should be dismissed because the felony murder statute is "unconstitutionally vague."
In addition to felony murder charges, Olsen also faces charges of aggravated assault, making a false statement and violation of oath by a public officer. No trial date has been set.