Felony murder charges were filed Friday against a Georgia State Patrol trooper involved in a fatal shooting last week in Screven County.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Jacob Gordon Thompson, 27, who is accused of killing Julian Edward Roosevelt Lewis, 60, during a forced traffic stop Friday, Aug. 7, on Stoney Pond Road. According to GBI reports, Thompson reportedly tried to pull Lewis over for a traffic violation. When Lewis failed to stop, Thompson used the pursuit intervention technique (PIT maneuver), using his patrol car to force Lewis to a stop. Lewis’ car ended in a ditch, and Thompson allegedly fired a single shot that killed him.
Civil rights attorney Francys Johnson, one of three attorneys representing Lewis’ family, told the Statesboro Herald the traffic stop was made over an inoperative tail light and that Lewis was unarmed and inside the car when he was shot in the face.
“Mr. Lewis never got out of the vehicle, and the investigation will show that, mere seconds after the crash, he was shot to death, shot in the face and killed,” Johnson said.
After a week’s investigation by GBI agents, Thompson was booked into the Screven County Jail on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
The GBI arrest and investigation was conducted “in coordination with the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit” (district attorney’s office) and “supports the charges and is active and ongoing,” according to a statement issued Friday by GBI Public Affairs Director Nelly Miles.
“Thompson has been terminated from the Department of Public Safety, Georgia State Patrol,” she said.
Upon hearing of Thompson’s arrest, Lewis’ widow, Betty, said, “I want justice for Julian. He was too good to die as he did. This is one step towards justice.”
In response to Thompson’s arrest, Johnson said, "The unprecedented pace of the investigation is a direct result of years of activism on these issues along with a sea-change in law enforcement leadership at the top of the GBI. This was not business as usual. The GBI and now the FBI who have launched a separate civil rights investigation have done what was right at this stage. I rarely get to say that.”
In speaking with an Associated Press reporter, Thompson's attorney, Keith Barber, declined to comment on specifics of the case but said he believes the former trooper “has an excellent character.”
“I think he’s a fine trooper,” Barber said. "I think at the end of the day, he will be exonerated in this case.”
Attorneys, family speak
Before the arrest was announced Friday, Johnson and others engaged in an online Zoom meeting Wednesday to discuss the shooting. Johnson was joined by Atlanta attorney Mawuli Davis and a third attorney, Harold Smith, as well as Georgia NAACP President James “Major” Woodall. The attorneys called for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to be involved and demanded Thompson be “fired and charged.”
“This is not a black and white issue. It is an issue of humanity,” Woodall said.
“This is not a South Georgia problem. It is not a Georgia problem. It is an America problem,” Johnson added.
There were 59 officer-involved shootings in Georgia in 2019, and so far in 2020, there have already been 56, Davis said during the Zoom meeting.
Mrs. Lewis tearfully shared her feelings during the meeting. With raw emotion, she said: “I am hurting. I am in pain over the taking of the life of an innocent man. It doesn’t make sense. I miss my husband. I love my husband. The crying, the loneliness just won’t stop. It’s so wrong.”
According to an Associated Press report, Lewis was a carpenter who recently helped a local ministry finish a construction project, Johnson said. He said Lewis' wife told him her husband didn't own a gun.
“He was not a perfect member of the Lewis family," he said, "but as his wife said, `He was too good to die the way he did.'”
A public candlelight vigil for Lewis was held Friday night at the Sylvania City Hall. Georgia-led JUSTGeorgia Coalition, along with the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter, and Screven Forward spearheaded the vigil, Johnson said.
A graveside funeral service for Lewis is Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Charlestown United Methodist Church, 1759 Effingham Highway, in Sylvania.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.