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With no new grand jury and no federal charge, case of former trooper closed
But state agreed to pay Julian Lewis’ family $4.8M, and Thompson surrendered police certification
While a memorial is erected behind him, Francys Johnson, right, delivers a recount surrounding the death of Julian Lewis at the site of Lewis' shooting on Stoney Pond Road by former Georgia State Patrol trooper Jacob Thompson during the Justice Caravan for Julian Lewis in Sylvania in this Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, file photo. The names of Black people who have been killed by law enforcement or vigilantes were stapled to the flag placed in the spot where Lewis' vehicle was run off the road. (SCOTT BRYANT/Herald file)

More than two years after a Screven County grand jury returned a “no bill” rejecting an indictment of former Georgia State Patrol trooper Jacob Gordon Thompson for the Aug. 7, 2020 shooting death of Julian Lewis, District Attorney Daphne Totten informed the GBI that she would not present the state case to another grand jury.

“There has been no new evidence developed in this case to date and I am not aware of any additional evidence that exists that would materially alter what was presented to the Grand Jury in Screven County on June 29, 2021,” Totten, the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit D.A., stated in her Sept. 28, 2023, letter. “Based on this, it would be my intention to close our file and not present this case to another Grand Jury.”

Meanwhile the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia, which had announced in September 2021 that it would investigate the matter, also closed its inquiry, as confirmed in a spokesman’s Jan. 31, 2024 reply email to the Statesboro Herald:

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office can confirm that we closed this inquiry without bringing federal charges after a thorough investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident. In all charging decisions, the office follows the Principles of Federal Prosecution.”

As the newspaper learned from a Jan. 10 phone conversation with Totten and confirmed from two other local sources, Thompson agreed to surrender his law enforcement officer certification as part of the conclusion of the federal inquiry.

The Herald is initiating a Freedom of Information Act request with the Southern District of Georgia for the agreement.


State’s closed case

The GBI arrested then-Trooper Thompson, who is white, Aug. 14, 2020, on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault after he killed Lewis, 60, who was Black, with a single gunshot to the face on a rural dirt road near Sylvania at night on Aug. 7. According to Thompson’s report, he had tried to pull Lewis over for a traffic violation — a burned out taillight.

When Lewis did not stop, Thompson performed a PIT, or “precision immobilization technique” maneuver, using his patrol car to force Lewis’ 1992 Nissan Sentra off the roadway.

Lewis’ car ended up in a ditch along the tree line of Stoney Pond Road. Thompson exited his patrol car and seconds later – by some accounts less than two seconds – fired the shot.

Thompson maintained that he had seen Lewis at the steering wheel acting as if he were trying to wrench the car out of the ditch. In an incident report, Thompson wrote that he heard the engine of Lewis’ vehicle “revving at a high rate of speed,” making him fear for his life. 

But during a September 2020 bond hearing, GBI Special Agent Dustin Peak said that the dash-cam video from Thompson’s vehicle was not consistent with Thompson’s statements. Peak testified that he believed Lewis’ car had been rendered inoperable by the crash, because the battery had been knocked loose, and that the wheels were turned away from the trooper.

The State Patrol fired Thompson after his arrest. In his late 20s at the time, he remained in jail more than 100 days before being released on a conditional $100,000 bond.

A Georgia law gives current and former peace officers accused of serious crimes in performance of their duties a special right to receive a copy of the proposed indictment and then testify to the grand jury. Totten sent Thompson a letter about this on June 4, 2021, and Thompson did testify to the grand jury that convened that June 28.

He testified after Peak, who led the investigation for the GBI, had testified, as Totten noted in a Jan. 23, 2024, written statement to the reporter. After summarizing the general procedures in the case, and gave her reason for not presenting to a new grand jury.


‘No new evidence’

“Part of what weighs in favor of presenting a case a second time to another Grand Jury after one Grand Jury has no billed a case is whether there is additional evidence that is developed that would materially alter what was originally presented the first time,” Totten wrote. “In the case involving Jacob Thompson, there was no new evidence developed or brought to the District Attorney’s Office after the original presentation on June 28, 2021.”

She noted that a grand jury “comprised of 23 citizens received and heard the evidence and returned a no bill” and that at least 12 members would have had to vote in favor of a “true bill” to have indicted him on the charges.

In answer to questions from news organizations and Lewis’ family, Totten had previously left open the possibility that the case would be presented to a new grand jury.

In mid-July 2021, members of the family and their attorneys saw and heard the dashcam video in private with Totten and members of her staff at her Statesboro office. Family members and their attorneys then talked about it in a press conference, calling for a new, local grand jury presentation and for a federal investigation. The video included sound, and the family’s attorneys said the gunshot was heard, but no revving engine.

In September 2021, Lewis' son, Brook Bacon, and family attorneys arrived in Savannah at the end of a 63-mile march from the shooting scene, and spoke to the then-U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Afterward, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that it was beginning an inquiry “in consultation with the FBI regarding the circumstances of the 2020 shooting death of Julian Lewis.”

Totten’s September 2023 letter announcing there would be no new state grand jury presentation was addressed to Special Agent in Charge Lindsey Smith of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Region 5, Statesboro, office. Totten noted that the D.A.’s Office had also notified Betty Lewis, the widow of Julian Lewis, that prosecutors were closing their file.

At the bottom of the letter, “Cc” notes indicated that copies were directed to Ms. Lewis and also to Andrew Lampros, “counsel for Ms. Betty Lewis” and Keith Barber, who was Thompson’s lead defense attorney.

Lampros’ and his Atlanta law firm, Hall & Lampros, had announced in March 2022 that they had obtained a record $4.8 million settlement from the state of Georgia for Betty Lewis and her husband’s estate, averting an actual civil suit. Lampros said his legal team’s review of the evidence did not indicate the taillight was broken.


Statement for Thompson

The Statesboro Herald reached out to Barber, whose practice is based in Statesboro, for comment on Totten’s decision not to present to a new grand jury and also the end of the federal inquiry.

“Jake Thompson’s legal team had always felt that after a thorough investigation into all the facts of his case that the truth would come out,” Barber wrote in an email. “And that truth came out indeed. At all times on the night of August 7, 2020 Trooper Jake Thompson acted in a highly professional manner and according to his training in everything he did. If Mr. Lewis had just complied with lawful commands and pulled over instead of putting Trooper Thompson in fear of his life this matter would have been settled on his court date.”

The newspaper also asked why Thompson agreed to give up his law enforcement certification.

“Trooper Thompson agreed to give up his certification to finally get closure in this entire matter,” Barber stated. “This has allowed him and his entire family to move on and put this entire ordeal behind them. On behalf of Trooper Thompson, his family and his entire legal team we would like to say thank you for all the support and kindness shown to us in this situation.”


Lewis family attorney

Another Statesboro-based attorney, Francys Johnson, whose firm Davis Bozeman Johnson firm represented Lewis’ son and other family members in seeking a new state grand jury presentation and a federal inquiry, says that inquiry ended not in exoneration but in “a non-prosecuting agreement” because the federal standard for a civil rights violation is higher than for state charges.

“But I do understand that there is an agreement in place that will accomplish something that we always believed was necessary, and that is that this person should never, ever be in the capacity of enforcing the law again,” Johnson said.

“This case in Screven County has taken this state closer than it has ever been to securing a conviction against a white police officer for the death of a Black person, and that was true, and I won’t take anything away from where we came in this case,” Johnson said. “We came to the place where we had a sitting member of law enforcement, of the State Patrol, no less, arrested for murder and held and incarcerated for a hundred days, longer than any law enforcement officer has ever been held for injuries or death to a Black person. …

“We had the state cough up $4.8 million to compensate his wife and child for their loss, for his death, and this officer will never work again in law enforcement, which should send a message to anyone who believes that they can hurt or harm people, regardless of their skin color, without any redress,” he said.

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