ATLANTA — A grand jury on Wednesday indicted a white former Atlanta police officer for murder and other counts in the death of an unarmed black man.
The Fulton County grand jury indicted James Burns on charges of felony murder, aggravated assault, making a false statement and two counts of violation of oath of office in the June 22 killing of 22-year-old Deravis Caine Rogers, according to defense attorney Drew Findling. Burns has been out on bond since his arrest.
Burns was responding to a call about a suspicious person. Prosecutors said Burns fired into Rogers’ vehicle, even though Burns wasn’t in danger and had no way to identify Rogers as the reported suspicious person.
Atlanta police Chief George Turner fired Burns July 1 after an internal investigation determined Burns used unnecessary and excessive force.
Rogers was black. Burns is white.
Burns responded after an off-duty officer working as a security officer at an Atlanta apartment complex called police dispatch to report a suspicious person, prosecutors have said. When Burns arrived, he tried to block a 2011 silver Ford Fusion that was leaving the complex.
The Fusion, driven by Rogers, didn’t try to hit the officer and Burns was standing at the rear of his patrol vehicle, authorities have said. They also said Burns had no information describing Rogers as a threat and no way to identify Rogers as the man the off-duty officer had reported.
But Burns fired one shot into the side of Rogers’ vehicle, hitting Rogers in the head, prosecutors have said.
Atlanta police Chief George Turner fired Burns on July 1 after an internal investigation determined Burns used unnecessary and excessive force.
Burns’ mother Melva Rogers last month filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Burns, Turner and the city. Burns violated Rogers’ civil rights by using excessive and deadly force and failing to grant him due process, the lawsuit says.
Community groups organized a 24-hour demonstration that started Tuesday evening outside the Fulton County courthouse to call for an indictment and to remember other people who have been killed by law officers in Georgia. A few dozen were outside Wednesday during the grand jury proceeding.
Georgia police officers facing grand juries for use of deadly force have traditionally been allowed to sit in on the grand jury proceedings, along with their attorneys, and to make an unchallenged statement at the end. That practice was unique to Georgia and drew broad criticism amid increasing scrutiny of police use of force nationwide.
State lawmakers this year passed a law limiting those special privileges. Under the new law, which took effect July 1, officers can no longer sit in on the entire proceeding and, while they are still allowed to make a statement to grand jurors if they want, they now must answer questions from prosecutors and grand jurors.
Because this shooting happened before July 1, the old rules are still in effect.