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Thursday, July 4, 2024 | Back issues
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Federal judge to decide if Georgia officers who shot Black man 59 times immune to murder charges  

State prosecutors argued that the officers not only conducted an unconstitutional search and seizure, but continued firing after the deceased man was deemed unresponsive.

ATLANTA (CN) — A federal judge held a hearing Thursday to determine if two officers who fatally shot a 26-year-old Black man almost seven years ago are immune from state prosecution.

Officers Eric Heinze and Kristopher Hutchens were a part of the local U.S. Marshals regional task force when they were searching for Jamarion Robinson on behalf of an arrest warrant issued by the Atlanta Police Department in August 2016.

The warrant was issued after Robinson allegedly pointed a gun and fired at officers, who confronted him at a friend’s apartment complex after receiving concerns from his mother over her son’s whereabouts and mental state. Robinson’s mother allegedly informed police a month prior that her son had poured gasoline on part of the floors in her home and that he was hospitalized for paranoid schizophrenia but had been unmedicated since his release at the beginning of the year.

She said her son was a biology student and football player at Clark Atlanta University and Tuskegee University and had no criminal convictions.

The task force, composed of 16 officers from local law enforcement agencies, arrived at Robinson’s girlfriend’s apartment after receiving information that he was inside. They claim to have made several verbal commands for Robinson to come outside and surrender before they forcibly breached the door.

Prosecutors argue that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by entering the residence because they did not obtain a warrant to do so.

According to evidence from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Robinson then appeared from the top of the stairs to the second floor and fired at least two rounds towards the officers after being instructed to put down his gun. None of the officers were injured. Over 90 rounds were reportedly fired into the apartment. 

Heinze and Hutchens are accused of using unnecessary force by continuing to shoot at Robinson even after he fell to the ground and was unresponsive. Daniel Doyle, another task force member who opened fire that day, died of cancer in March 2020 and was never charged.

According to a medical examiner’s report, Robinson was shot 59 times, with 75 bullet wounds that either entered or exited his body. 

Attorney for the state Natalie Adams said Thursday that the report showed that Robinson’s “hands and arms were shot to bits.”

After bringing the GBI’s crime scene investigator Joshua Ellis to the stand, legal counsel for the officers argued that the bullet trajectory evidence suggests the officers fired at Robinson from the bottom of the stairs. 

Prosecutors, however, pointed to a bullet hole with bloody “tissue” found through the wall of the bedroom at the top of the stairs that had passed through an open closet door. They argued that the lack of blood on the hole in the closet door suggests officers could have fired at Robinson from close range. 

Heinze and Hutchens were indicted on murder and other charges by a Fulton County grand jury in October 2021, but the case was moved to federal court last year since both men were serving on the U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force at the time.

The two officers argued they were acting within the scope of their federal duties and in self-defense in their fatal shooting of Robinson and should therefore be immune from state prosecution. 

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who has become notorious for her 2020 election interference investigation against former President Donald Trump and his allies, as well as a sprawling RICO indictment against hip-hop star "Young Thug" for alleged gang involvement, took on the case from her predecessor after vowing to ensure swifter action in use-of-force cases.

Former District Attorney Paul Howard sued the U.S. Department of Justice for refusing to release documents related to the shooting and preventing his investigators from interviewing the officers involved.

The Justice Department had declined to open an investigation into the shooting after a U.S. Marshals shooting review board determined the officers’ use of force was authorized.

Robinson's mother, Monteria, filed a wrongful death and excessive force lawsuit against the officers in 2018.

Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten dismissed the suit in 2021, ruling that "their use of force was objectively reasonable” and granted them qualified immunity.

But after Monteria appealed the decision, the 11th Circuit found in August that evidence from a bystander video created a "genuine dispute of material fact."

Because officers at the time were not required to wear body cameras, the cellphone video has become crucial evidence to the case for capturing the sound of three automatic gun bursts after a flashbang was deployed, rendering Robinson unconscious. The 11th Circuit panel concluded that this evidence contradicts testimony given from officer Heinze, claiming he ceased fire after the flashbang grenade detonated.

Although the circuit judges affirmed Hutchens’ qualified immunity, because his weapon was incapable of producing the shots fired after the flashbang detonated, they did not address the full scope of his culpability to the alleged crime.

In February, Judge Batten dismissed Monteria's suit again, ruling that her claims were "inapplicable" because they sought damages against state officials, which does not include the officers who were acting as U.S. Marshals. Monteria filed an appeal against the decision in March.

The immunity hearing for the criminal charges will continue on Friday for further witness testimony. U.S. District Judge Victoria Calver, a Joe Biden appointee, will ultimately decide if the case will go forward to a federal trial.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Criminal

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