SAVANNAH — Two police officers won't face criminal charges for fatally shooting a southeast Georgia man inside his home after the man's fiancée called 911 seeking an ambulance to help him, the prosecutor reviewing the case said Wednesday.
Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney Bradley Collins said personal audio recorders carried by the officers confirmed that they warned 45-year-old Jack Lamar Roberson to drop a knife several times before they shot him Oct. 4. The slain man's mother, who was in the house at the time, had denied Roberson was armed and insisted police shot him without warning.
"It's an unfortunate incident," Collins said in a phone interview. "But the recording doesn't take sides. It is what it is."
Roberson's mother and other relatives were "devastated" by the prosecutor's conclusion that the shooting was justified, said Christopher Chestnut, an attorney for the family.
Chestnut said he had not heard the recording of the shooting. But he said there's no evidence Roberson posed an imminent threat to officers or to family members in the home.
"It's very evident from the 911 call that the family members in the house with him are not under threat of violence. He's at risk of hurting himself," Chestnut said. "There was a litany of other options to running into the house with guns drawn and the minute somebody shows himself, shoot him."
Police were dispatched to Roberson's house after his fiancee, Alicia Herron, called 911. On a recording of the call released by Waycross police after the shooting, Herron said Roberson had swallowed a handful of pills with alcohol, turned over a refrigerator and smashed a TV set.
Herron said Roberson hadn't physically threatened anyone in the house. When the 911 operator asked whether he had said anything to indicate he might be suicidal, she replied: "He says he wants to die. But I don't know."
Before the call ended, Herron said: "Just the ambulance is coming, right? No police, right?" The operator said police and paramedics would be notified.
Collins said the GBI investigation confirmed the account given in the initial police incident report that Roberson was holding a large meat fork and a kitchen knife when he was shot. The officers said Roberson lunged at them before they opened fire. Collins said the recording showed the officers shouted warnings at Roberson at least three times each.
Toxicology tests found alcohol in Roberson's system along with benzodiazepine, a drug commonly prescribed to treat depression, anxiety and insomnia.
The police officers, Lt. Scott Rowell and officer Casey Caswell, were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the GBI investigation.
After the shooting last October, Roberson's mother, Diann Roberson, said her son was a disabled veteran who served in the Navy during the first Gulf War. She said the family had moved a year earlier from Michigan to Waycross, on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp near the Georgia-Florida line.