Grand jury to rule Thursday on controversial DeKalb police shootings

Activists protested the shooting of Anthony Hill, killed March 9 by a DeKalb County police officer who alleged the Afghanistan war veteran charged him in a threatening manner. BEN GRAY / BGRAY@AJC.COM

Activists protested the shooting of Anthony Hill, killed March 9 by a DeKalb County police officer who alleged the Afghanistan war veteran charged him in a threatening manner. BEN GRAY / BGRAY@AJC.COM

A grand jury is expected to offer its recommendation Thursday on whether two DeKalb officers involved in separate cases at the front and center in the local debate over police shootings should be prosecuted.

On Tuesday, the grand jury heard from the officer who fatally shot Kevin Davis in his apartment last December.

Davis, 44, had called 911 to report that his girlfriend, April Edwards, was stabbed by a roommate. DeKalb County police office Joseph Pitts was dispatched to the apartment, but said he was met by Davis’ dog when he arrived. The officer shot the animal.

While on the phone with 911, Davis heard gunshots outside his apartment. Unaware that police had arrived, he grabbed his gun to investigate.

Mawuli Davis, attorney for the Davis family and not related, said 911 audio proved Pitts acted rashly when confronting Kevin Davis, who was not pointing his gun at the officer. He said the officer didn’t give Kevin Davis enough time to heed his commands.

Pitts’ attorney, Noah Pines, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said his client properly identified himself as a DeKalb officer and repeatedly ordered Davis to drop his “fully loaded, hammer cocked firearm.”

“Kevin Davis refused to drop the weapon, and that only after giving Kevin Davis a final command and chance to drop the gun did officer Pitts, who was in fear for his life, shoot Kevin Davis,” Pines said in an email. “While Mawuli Davis believes that there was not ‘ample time’ given to Kevin Davis to drop the weapon, that is simply his opinion and is not supported by either the facts of the case or the expert witness testimony that was presented to the grand jury.”

According to prosecutors, 16 seconds elapsed between the shootings of the dog and Kevin Davis.

“It was him or me,” Pitts told the grand jury, according to Mawuli Davis, who was in the courtroom. Pines confirmed that was an accurate depiction of Pitts’ testimony. Members of the media are barred from attending grand jury sessions.

Last week, the officer who fatally shot unarmed veteran Anthony Hill told members of the grand jury he, too, felt compelled to protect himself when Hill, nude at the time, did not obey orders to stop coming toward him.

An expert witness testified on behalf of the prosecution that he could find no justification for the shooting. Friends of Hill told The AJC he had struggled to find the right medication for bipolar disorder, diagnosed while the airman was serving in Afghanistan.

Officer Robert Olsen told the grand jury he believed Hill was high on either PCP or bath salts and spent more than an hour detailing several other incidents where police were attacked by suspects under the influence.

Pitts spent much less time making his case, according to Mawuli Davis, but, like Olsen, he had the last word. Georgia is the only state that allows officers involved in a civilian shooting to hear all the evidence against them and then make a statement that can’t be cross-examined.

A recent investigation by The AJC and Channel 2 Action News found that out of 171 police shootings in Georgia over the past five years, not a single case went to trial.

The Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia (PAC), which represents Georgia’s district attorneys, and state Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, who chairs the House Judiciary-Non Civil Committee, recently announced their support for a rule change that would allow for the cross-examination of police.

DeKalb District Attorney Robert James agrees. Erik Burton, James’ spokesman, said the district attorney is not bound by the grand jury’s recommendations and has the final say whether or not criminal charges are warranted.

Activists say they’ll be watching. Aurielle Marie, executive organizer of #ItsBiggerThanYou, part of the the Black Lives Matter movement, said if indictments are not recommended her group plans to “disrupt the systems that put our lives at risk.”