The former DeKalb police officer charged with fatally shooting an unarmed, naked and mentally ill U.S. Air Force veteran in Chamblee over three years ago is making one last attempt to have his case dismissed before it goes to trial.
Robert Olsen, charged in the March 2015 death of Anthony Hill, appeared before Judge J.P. Boulee in the DeKalb Superior Court at 9 a.m. on May 21 for a pre-trial “immunity” hearing.
Dressed in a suit, Olsen, 56, sat on his defense team’s bench and stared straight ahead while Hill’s parents and other relatives sat behind him, surrounded by their supporters.
Olsen’s defense team argues he was fearing for his life when he twice shot Hill in the chest at the 27-year-old’s apartment complex on March 9, 2015. They say the case against Olsen should be thrown out because he acted in self-defense.
But prosecutors say Hill was at no point a threat to the officer, who was also armed with pepper spray, a taser and a police baton, but chose to use his firearm within minutes of arriving on the scene.
Hill, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was also dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home from serving in Afghanistan.
On the day he was shot and killed by Olsen, Hill was having trouble with his prescribed medication and was acting erratically – running around his apartment complex at The Heights at Chamblee on Chamblee Tucker Rd.
Two women at the apartment complex, who knew Hill, called 911 three times from the leasing office to get him some help.
When Olsen arrived on the scene, he saw a naked Hill coming towards his patrol car. Olsen exited the vehicle with his gun, twice yelled at Hill to stop, and fired two bullets into the veteran’s chest. Hill died at the scene.
Several people at the apartment complex witnessed the incident.
In their opening statement in the pre-trial hearing, Olsen’s defense team said he was trained as a police officer to be wary of people experiencing “excited delirium” as they are often on mind-altering drugs such as PCP (Phencyclidine) and can exhibit “super-human strength and incredible endurance, and be impervious to pain.”
“Olsen thinks this man is charging at me, he’s naked, this is an individual who’s probably on PCP or having some other kind of issue that has caused him to disrobe and now he’s sprinting towards me,” defense attorney Amanda Clark Palmer said. “I’m in fear that I may be injured, or hurt seriously, or killed, or that he’s going to come get my weapon from me, he’s going to try to wrestle me to the ground and take my gun away, or maybe he’s going to hurt the other people who are at this apartment complex.”
Prosecutors, arguing that the case should go to trial so a jury can decide if Olsen’s guilty, say Hill was never a threat to Olsen or anyone else at the apartment complex, and that he had no history of violence despite his mental illness.
They say Olsen cooperated with people at the apartment complex without incident before police arrived, and that emergency services were only called to help the veteran, not because he posed a threat.
“He was well-loved at the apartment complex, he played with children, and he picked up trash,” said prosecutor Lance Cross, of the DeKalb County District Attorney's Office. “That day, the day he was shot and killed, was an aberration. He was suffering from a health issue, he had a mental illness and he was off his meds.”
Several people from advocacy groups including Us Protecting Us, Alliance For Black Lives, and Black Lives Matter are calling for Olsen to be brought to justice for killing Hill.
Group members held a press conference outside the DeKalb courthouse at 8:30 a.m. on May 21, before the pre-trial hearing began.
They told reporters they are confident Judge Boulee will order Olsen to stand trial.
“I believe in this case it’s open and shut – it’s plain to see that Anthony posed no threat to this officer,” said Dawn O’Neal, a friend of Hill’s parents and a member of Us Protecting Us, Black Lives Matter and Alliance For Black Lives. “This officer was fully armed, he had Mace, he had a taser, he had a billy club, and he’d had so much training behind his belt, but within two minutes of arriving on the scene he shot and killed Anthony.”
O’Neal says race is a factor in the case, as it is in many instances where police officers have killed citizens. Hill was black, and Olsen is white.
“Black and brown bodies are under attack in this country,” O’Neal said. “I believe that police use their training when it’s not people of color, but when it comes to people of color that training goes out the window.”
Us Protecting Us, which organized the press conference in support of Hill and his family, is dedicated to educating the public about police interaction with people of color and disabilities, training people to handle issues without police intervention, demanding accountability for police officers who brutalize and murder, and demanding better resources for people living with disabilities.
The group says over 50 percent of people murdered by police have a disability.
Kenneth Mitchell, a blind member of the group, faced the cameras outside court to get his message across about the need for better police training to deal with people with disabilities.
“We, people with disabilities, must be included in any kind of training that involves us,” Mitchell, of Atlanta, said. “The people who are mostly affected have to be part of the solution.”
Keisha Braswell, a member of Alliance For Black Lives who organized a rally for justice for Anthony Hill outside the DeKalb court on May 20, said the case against Olsen should never have taken this long.
“I think they (Olsen’s defense team) wanted to drag their feet, they wanted to drag the case out hoping that people would forget about it or not care anymore, that something else would occur and we would be focused on that,” Braswell said. “But when you have a situation where an unarmed veteran with no clothes on gets shot, you have too many people wanting justice for this young man, who served his country and came home with a mental illness and who was killed by the people who are supposed to protect and serve him.”
Hill’s parents and other relatives – who traveled to DeKalb from their home in Moncks Corner, South Carolina to attend the pre-trial hearing – were among about 50 members of the public inside the courtroom Monday.
Olsen’s defense team has four witnesses, including apartment manager Grisselle Torres - one of the women who called 911 from the apartment complex - and maintenance worker Pedro Castillo, who witnessed the shooting after trying to get Olsen to go inside his apartment and get dressed.
The defense team’s two expert witnesses are a doctor who specializes in law enforcement and a former police officer who has trained fellow officers.
The hearing is expected to last two days.
Olsen, a seven-year DeKalb police officer, was indicted by a grand jury on Jan. 21, 2016, and resigned the same day.
He pleaded not guilty on June 6, 2016, to two counts each of felony murder and violation of oath by public officer and one count each of aggravated assault and making a false statement.
Olsen filed a motion in the Georgia Supreme Court in October 2016 appealing his indictment, after Judge Boulee denied his September 2016 request to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds that unauthorized people were present in the grand jury room during the prosecutor’s presentation of evidence.
The Supreme Court justices unanimously denied Olsen’s appeal, forcing the case to return to DeKalb for trial.