Monday , May 21, 2018 - 4:21 PM
DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — A white former Atlanta-area police officer who fatally shot an unarmed, naked, mentally ill black veteran said Monday that he was being attacked and acted in self-defense when he fired on the man about a second after ordering him to stop running at him.
Robert Olsen, 56, faces charges including felony murder in the March 9, 2015, death of 27-year-old Anthony Hill, whose family has said he was a U.S. Air Force veteran who struggled with mental health problems. A DeKalb County police officer at the time, Olsen was responding to a call about a naked man behaving erratically outside a suburban Atlanta apartment complex.
Olsen testified during a pretrial hearing Monday that is set to continue Tuesday. His attorneys want the judge to dismiss the charges against him, saying he acted appropriately.
Olsen attorney Amanda Clark Palmer told the judge Olsen had been told the person was naked and “possibly demented.” Based on his training, that could mean Hill was experiencing “excited delirium,” which can cause a person to exhibit superhuman strength and endurance, and be impervious to pain, she said.
As he drove into the apartment complex, Olsen looked between two buildings and saw Hill crouching nude in a roadway, he testified. Olsen rounded a bend until he was facing Hill, who jumped to his feet and sprinted toward the patrol car, Olsen testified.
Olsen drew his gun as he got out of his car and yelled, “Stop! Stop!” Hill didn’t stop, and Olsen shot him “maybe a second” after giving the order, Olsen testified.
“Were you scared?” Olsen’s attorney, Don Samuel, asked.
“Yes, sir,” Olsen responded.
“Did you think you were being attacked?”
“Did you think he was going to cause you great bodily harm?”
In a tough cross-examination, prosecutor Pete Johnson seized on how quickly Olsen resorted to deadly force.
“You basically gave him one second before you killed him, correct?” Johnson asked. “Before I shot him, yes,” Olsen replied.
Johnson also asked why Olsen didn’t use other tools, such as pepper spray or a stun gun. Olsen said he didn’t have time and acted in self-defense.
Johnson peppered Olsen with questions about why he didn’t wait for backup, why he didn’t try to get more information about the situation before getting out of his car and why he thought Hill was dangerous.
Other witnesses called by Olsen’s defense included the complex maintenance supervisor and property manager.
Maintenance supervisor Pedro Castillo testified that he encountered Hill outside the leasing office in shorts and a T-shirt knocking on the door and asked if he was OK.
“He was just there saying strange things, like, ‘The devil is coming,‘ and then suddenly he said, ‘Help me, help me,‘” Castillo said, testifying in Spanish through a translator.
Castillo said he got Hill to go home, but that he re-emerged a short time later without clothes.
Property manager Grisselle Torres said her co-worker locked the door of the leasing office and she called 911 because Hill was behaving strangely and she thought he needed help and might be on drugs. She was worried for his safety, she said.
“He wasn’t acting aggressive, but he was naked walking around the property,” Torres said.
Under questioning by Clark Palmer, Torres conceded that she and her colleague locked the office door and wouldn’t let Hill in as a precaution because they didn’t know what he would do. They called 911 three times.
Castillo testified that he saw Olsen arrive and Hill run toward the officer’s car. He said he heard the officer loudly say “Stop!” twice. Hill didn’t stop running but slowed down and was maybe 4 feet (1 meter) from Olsen when the officer fired, Castillo said.
Prosecutors called Officer Lyn Anderson, the second officer to arrive on the scene. He testified that Olsen told him when he arrived that Hill ran at him and “started pounding on him.” Olsen testified that he didn’t recall that conversation.
A grand jury indicted Olsen in January 2016 on charges of felony murder, aggravated assault, violation of oath of office and making a false statement. Olsen, who had been an officer since 2007, resigned from the DeKalb County Police Department.
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