It’s taken four years for this trial to make it before a jury.
Lawyers gave closing arguments Thursday in the case of a former Dekalb County police officer charged with felony murder for fatally shooting Anthony Hill in 2015. Officer Robert Olsen shot the unarmed Hill as he was wandering naked around his own apartment complex during what his family says was a mental health crisis.
Prosecutors argued none of Hill’s neighbors who saw him that day believed the young U.S. Airforce veteran was a threat to them. Lead prosecutor Pete Johnson told the jury there was no reason Officer Olsen jumped straight to deadly force when he responded to 911 calls that had indicated Hill was struggling mentally.
“And when this defendant got that call, he knew there was somebody in distress, that there was somebody who was acting in a strange way,” said Johnson. “And what is the first thing than officer Olsen does? He pulls out his gun.”
Olsen’s defense attorney, Amanda Clark Palmer, argued to jurors that drawing a weapon is a way officers “show control,” a de-escalation tactic. Police, she said, are trained to shoot at people’s center mass, to stop them in their tracks.
“This man right here, Robert Chip Olsen, was a good cop. He is a good cop who had to make a tough decision,” said Palmer.
During her closing statement Palmer mentioned three times that Olsen thought Hill may have been high on PCP, a claim that has persisted throughout the legal aftermath of the shooting. There has never been evidence Hill was high.
At the time of Hill’s death, Olsen was reportedly the first Georgia law enforcement officer in more than five years to face prosecution for shooting and killing a civilian. The defense made note of the dynamics at play in this case: a white officer shooting an unarmed black man.
“I think a lot of us would agree that law enforcement across the country seems to have a problem when it comes to dealing with people of color, and I think all of us would agree that we want to improve that,” said Palmer. “But that cannot be the basis of your verdict here.”
The prosecution countered by arguing the defense had been leaning on stigmas throughout the trial.
“Mental health: that’s got to equal dangerous. Maybe back in like, 1955, but this is 2019. That is not true. That’s offensive. You can be mentally ill and not be dangerous, not deserve to be shot,” Johnson told jurors.
Deliberation on a verdict begins Friday. Olsen faces six charges including felony murder, aggravated assault and making false statements. If convicted, he could face life in prison.