After being shown the dash camera video and other evidence from the night Julian Lewis was shot to death last August by then-Georgia State Patrol Trooper Jacob Gordon Thompson, Lewis’ family and their attorneys on Thursday intensified their call for a federal civil rights investigation.
They also want a new Screven County Superior Court grand jury to be presented the evidence for an indictment after one grand jury “no-billed” the previous felony murder and aggravated assault charges against Thompson on June 28.
Lewis’ mother Lindsay Milton, his son Brook Bacon and several other family members, along with their attorneys, Francys Johnson and Mawuli Davis, met with Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Daphne Totten and members of her staff Thursday afternoon. The family and their attorneys then held a media conference at the Statesboro office of Davis Bozeman Johnson Law.
“We wanted to see the evidence, we wanted to hear the district attorney’s presentation,” Johnson said. “This family needed to look her in the eye, and the team who presented the case, to know that she presented it with the same passion, the same zealousness that she presents all cases.”
What Totten and her staff showed the family and their attorneys left them with questions, but with no doubt that if the public saw the same evidence, the public would share the same conclusions the family members reached, Johnson asserted.
Their first conclusion, he said, was that “no reasonable grand jury , not already predetermined to set Jacob Gordon (Thompson) free” could have reached any conclusion other than that “there are triable issues in this case, and probable cause to sustain” the charges against Thompson. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation in filing the charges and a judge on two occasions, in issuing the warrant and in a preliminary hearing, found probable cause, Johnson argued.
But a majority of the 22-member Screven County grand jury, after hearing and seeing the presentation of evidence by Totten and staff June 28, declined to indict Thompson. This amounted to a finding, officially on the relatively low legal standard of probable cause, that not enough evidence existed to send the charges forward to a trial jury.
Thompson had also made a statement to the grand jury, as is allowed under Georgia law for law enforcement officers in cases involving use of force, but not allowed for ordinary citizens facing the same charges.
“This was a runaway jury. …,” Johnson said. “This case has not been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This D.A. has another opportunity to present this case, and we demand that that presentation be made at the appropriate time.”
He compared the Screven grand jury’s June 28 decision to those of grand juries in various states that have failed to indict law enforcement officers in the deaths of people of color, mentioning the cases of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, of Eric Garner in New York, of Tamir Rice in Ohio, and of “so many” killed by police in Atlanta.
“This is an American problem, this is a problem that involves our government and the police that it employs, and because we cannot get state action, we need federal intervention,” Johnson said.
What the family saw
Bacon, Lewis’ son, said the family wants the video released to the public so that people can understand and see what the family members saw.
“It’s clear to me, as it would be as clear to anybody that saw what we saw, that this was murder,” Bacon said. “We don’t have resources available to us at this point in time in order to move past the faults that we are seeing here, and that’s why federal intervention is absolutely needed. The world needs to see what has gone on here and recognize the injustice that has taken place.”
Lewis, 60, had failed to stop when Thompson reportedly tried to pull him over for a nonworking taillight the night of Aug. 7. After a brief pursuit, Thompson used his patrol car in a PIT maneuver, or “precision immobilization technique” to force Lewis’ car off the roadway on unpaved Stoney Pond Road in Screven County.
Thompson, who is white and in his late 20s, then shot Lewis, who was unarmed, once in the forehead as he sat behind the steering wheel of his car.
In an incident report filed three days after the crash, Thompson stated that he drew his gun as he got out of his patrol car and heard the engine of Lewis’ car “revving at a high rate of speed” and, by a light on his weapon, saw both of Lewis’ hands still on the steering wheel, “wrenching the steering wheel in an aggressive back and forth manner towards me and my patrol vehicle.”
One week after Lewis’ death, the GBI obtained warrants charging Thompson with felony murder and aggravated assault. The Georgia State Patrol fired him.
GBI Agent Dustin Peak testified during a bond hearing in August that Lewis’ car, its battery knocked loose, was disabled by the crash and that Thompson fired his gun at Lewis about one second after exiting his patrol car.
Davis said the elapsed time in the video from Thompson shifting the patrol car into park and disengaging the brake to his firing the shot was 1.6 seconds. He said the angle at which Lewis’ car was stopped and the direction its wheels were turned would have made it no threat to Thompson even if Lewis’ car had been operable.
The video included sound, and the gunshot was heard, but no revving engine, the attorneys said. Family members also saw photographs of Lewis, after he had been shot in the head, still sitting in his car, and diagrams of where the vehicles were positioned on the roadside.
Totten, in an email reply to the Statesboro Herald around the time the family’s news conference was concluding Thursday, confirmed that she, Chief Assistant District Attorney Barclay Black, Senior Assistant District Attorney Ben Edwards and Chief Investigator Tom Woodrum had met with the Julian Lewis family, Johnson and Davis.
“The Lewis family had requested to view the video from former State Trooper Jacob Thompson's patrol car and we showed the video footage to the family who had requested to view it,” Totten stated. “We also answered questions the family had about the evidence that was presented to a Screven County Grand Jury on June 28th.”
In a statement issued the evening after the grand jury’s decision, she did not rule out presenting the case again to a new grand jury buy said a decision would be announced later.
“A final decision has not been made as to whether or not this case will be presented to a new Grand Jury in Screven County,” Totten wrote Thursday.
She was emailed further questions about the request that the video be released and a possible meeting with a United States attorney.
This story is subject to revision and update, both online and for Saturday’s print edition.