ATLANTA (CN) — The family of a black Air Force veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder claim in court that a police officer used excessive force in trying to subdue him during an non-violent episode, causing his death.
Hill, 27, was naked and unarmed on the afternoon of March 9, 2015, when he shot and killed by Dekalb County police officer Robert Olsen.
Olsen, who is white, was indicted by a grand jury in January 2016 on two counts of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault. He resigned from the DeKalb County Police Department immediately afterward, and pleaded not guilty to the charges on June 6, 2016.
In October 2016, DeKalb County Superior Court Judge J.P. Boulee denied a motion to drop the charges and Olsen continues to await trial.
In a wrongful death lawsuit filed in the federal court in Atlanta on March 9, Hill’s parents claim Olsen violated their son’s fourth and fourteenth constitutional rights, and that the officer’s supervisors “maintained policies, customs and practices which failed to adequately train and supervise DKPD police officers in the use of force, instead emphasizing military-style policing techniques.”
In sum, they say, “Olsen was trained to kill by DeKalb County.”
In their telling, Hill experienced the sudden onset of an episode stemming from his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder the afternoon of his death, and that it caused him to take off his clothes, jump from the balcony of his apartment and stumble around the parking lot of his apartment complex.
An employee at the complex called 911 requesting medical assistance for Hill, allegedly emphasizing that Hill was not violent or in the process of committing a crime. Olsen responded to the 911 call.
According to the complaint, Hill slowly approached Olsen with his arms wide open to show that he was unarmed. Olsen told him twice to stop, and when Hill kept walking, the officer shot him in the neck and chest, killing him.
Hill’s parents claim Olsen had a number of non-lethal options for subduing their son, including using his baton, mace, a stun gun or even his own hands. However, they say, he chose to use the most lethal means at his disposal to deal with the situation.
The plaintiffs also raise questions about Olsen’s overall fitness as a police officer, noting several alleged reprimands he receiver due to “unprofessional and aggressive interactions with the public.”
As a result of these reprimands, they say, it was repeatedly recommended that Olsen take sensitivity training and anger management classes, but beyond that, nothing was done to reign him in.
Hill’s family contends county officials knew about Olsen’s pattern of “violating citizen’s constitutional rights, unreasonably aggressive demeanor of hostility, and excessive display of authority,” but failed to take appropriate action.
Hill’s parents then go further and claim Olsen’s actions were symptomatic of larger issues within the DeKalb County Police Department, and extend to the department’s pattern of failure when it comes to training officers on its “use of force” policy.
Olsen, the complaint states, received approximately 1,948 hours of training during his seven years with the DeKalb County police department, but only seven of those hours were spent on training in the use of deadly force.
In addition, the complaint asserts that fewer than 10 percent of DeKalb County police officers receive training in dealing with the mentally ill, and less than 1 percent are certified in crisis intervention.
“In light of [the] obvious need to deal with non-violent mentally ill citizens,” the complaint says, “[the] failure to adequately train DKPD officers in this area amounted to deliberate indifference to the rights and safety of DeKalb County citizens.”
A representative for the DeKalb County police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hill’s parents seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The family is represented by Jule Lassiter of the Chestnut Law Firm in Atlanta.