A Screven County grand jury on Monday returned a “no bill,” declining to indict former Georgia State Patrol trooper Jacob Gordon Thompson on criminal charges for shooting Julian Lewis to death after forcing his car off the road during a pursuit last Aug. 7.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Thompson one week later on a warrant charging him with felony murder and aggravated assault. According to the initial reports last summer, Lewis, 60, who was black, refused to stop when Thompson, who is white and in his late 20s, tried to pull him over for a nonworking taillight. After a brief pursuit, Thompson used his patrol car in a PIT maneuver, or “precision immobilization technique” to force Lewis’ car off the road.
GBI Agent Dustin Peak testified during a bond hearing in August that Lewis’ car was disabled by the crash that followed and that Thompson fired his gun at Lewis one second after exiting his patrol car, striking Lewis, who was seated in his car with both hands on the wheel, in the forehead.
It’s a case in which there are three sets of attorneys. In addition to the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office for the prosecution and at least one defense attorney, Keith Barber, representing Thompson, Lewis’ family has attorneys, Francys Johnson of Statesboro and his law partner Mawuli Davis.
“They have returned a no bill,” Johnson said Monday after learning of the grand jury’s decision. “They have validated this officer’s actions, contrary to the GBI findings and the district attorney’s determination. This is the work of a grand jury nullification, and how this system can ask people to have confidence in it when it can’t even honestly decide a probable cause is beyond me.”
The no bill means that the grand jury did not recommend bringing the charges to trial. But that does not mean that the charges are necessarily dropped.
“We are demanding that the D.A. present this to another grand jury, which she has the authority to do, under law,” Johnson said.
Members of Lewis’ family were talking to District Attorney Daphne Totten and had “some hard questions” about her commitment and whether she believed a crime was committed, Johnson said.
Unlike the preliminary hearing or bond hearings, a grand jury presentation is a closed-door proceeding, not open to the media or public.
In a five-paragraph statement emailed Monday night, Totten first explained the process in general and some details of the proceeding before referring to the possibility of a second grand jury.
“The law provides that the District Attorney may present the evidence in the case to another Grand Jury in the future and that decision will be considered and announced at a later date,” Totten stated in the last paragraph.
In the paragraph before that, she noted that Thompson had testified before the grand jury that returned the no bill.
“Following the presentation of evidence by the State, the Grand Jury heard testimony from Jacob Thompson who exercised his constitutional right to testify before the Grand Jury and provided a statement to the Grand Jury about why he used deadly force during his encounter with Julian Lewis,” Totten wrote. “Grand Jurors as well as the State were able to cross-examine Jacob Thompson about why he exercised deadly force and shot Julian Lewis. The Grand Jury was also able to view the video footage from Jacob Thompson’s patrol car from the date of the incident on August 7, 2020.”
What the district attorney referred to as Thompson’s constitutional right is a right, or privilege, provided specifically to law enforcement officers in certain situations under Georgia law, as Johnson had said earlier when he was phoned. Ordinary citizens facing the same criminal charges do not get to testify during the grand jury stage of proceedings.
“The grand jury proceedings are secret, and but for his status as a law enforcement officer he wouldn’t have been involved, but he is a former law enforcement officer and was allowed to testify today and be present, which is something this (Lewis’) family was not allowed to do,” Johnson said.
WTOC Television reported a statement from Barber, Thompson’s attorney, who referred to the grand jurors asking questions.
“The grand jury, they engaged. They had questions. They spoke up which we wanted them to do that. Jake Thompson has never had anything to hide from the bottom of his heart,” Barber was quoted as saying.
Superior Court Judge F. Gates Peed had initially denied bond for Thompson after the August hearing but granted him release on a $100,000 cash or property bond after a second hearing in November.
The complete statement that Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Daphne Totten issued Monday evening is posted below.
Statement of District Attorney Daphne J. Totten
Ogeechee Judicial Circuit
On Monday, June 28, 2021, a Screven County Grand Jury returned a “No Bill” on a criminal indictment that was presented to them for their consideration for the charges of Felony Murder and Aggravated Assault. These charges stemmed from criminal warrants taken by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation after they were asked by the Georgia State Patrol to investigate the shooting death of Julian Lewis by Trooper Jacob Thompson after an attempted traffic stop for a tag light violation.
A true bill is an endorsement made by a Grand Jury on an indictment when they find there is probable cause to believe that the accused committed the alleged act. In order for a True Bill to be returned, at least 12 grand jurors have to vote “yes” in favor of a true bill. Unlike in a jury trial that requires a unanimous verdict, a Grand Jury requires that at least 12 of 23 grand jurors vote “yes” in favor of the Indictment. A Grand Jury must be composed of between 16 and 23 grand jurors.
Prior to the introduction of any evidence, the District Attorney is required to advise the Grand Jury of the laws applicable to the conduct of the officer. In an officer involved shooting case where an officer shoots and kills another person, the District Attorney advises the Grand Jury of the law as it pertains to Justification as a Defense, Use of Force in defense of self or others, No Duty to retreat prior to use of force in self-defense and Authorization of arrests and the use of deadly force by police officers who are in the commission of their duties as a law enforcement officer. The Grand Jury was also advised as to the law applicable to the charges outlined in the Indictment, including Felony Murder and Aggravated Assault in the case involving Jacob Thompson.
Following the presentation of evidence by the State, the Grand Jury heard testimony from Jacob Thompson who exercised his constitutional right to testify before the Grand Jury and provided a statement to the Grand Jury about why he used deadly force during his encounter with Julian Lewis. Grand Jurors as well as the State were able to cross-examine Jacob Thompson about why he exercised deadly force and shot Julian Lewis. The Grand Jury was also able to view the video footage from Jacob Thompson’s patrol car from the date of the incident on August 7, 2020.
The law provides that the District Attorney may present the evidence in the case to another Grand Jury in the future and that decision will be considered and announced at a later date.