Monday marks three years since former Georgia State Trooper Jacob Thompson was arrested in a joint decision by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and District Attorney Daphne Totten. He was charged with Felony Murder and Aggravated Assault in the shooting death of motorist Julian Lewis in southeast Georgia’s Screven County.
The case is one with a peculiar timeline that hardly matches any case of a similar nature and now, three years later, despite a ‘No Bill of Indictment’ from a grand jury, the case remains ‘open’ and subject to prosecution. The reason? Because Ogeechee Circuit District Attorney Daphne Totten has failed to make a decision.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged Thompson with felony murder and aggravated assault in the shooting death of Julian Lewis, a motorist Thompson attempted to stop in Screven County on the evening of August 7, 2020. A pursuit ensued when Lewis fled, leading Thompson to perform a PIT maneuver to end the chase, but when the vehicles came to a stop and Thompson exited his patrol car, he says he heard the engine revving, and believed Lewis was going to use his vehicle to harm him. Thompson fired one shot, striking Lewis in the head. The GBI has contended that the use of force was not justified because Lewis’ car was disabled and off when agents arrived on the scene approximately two hours after the shooting. The agency arrested him August 14, 2020 – seven days after the incident.
The Georgia State Patrol fired Thompson upon his arrest, internally citing that it ‘had to’ due to the felony charges, though no evidence of such a policy for the state agency exists even to this day. Both the arrest and the termination occurred well before the investigation by the GBI was complete, despite the GBI claiming to have a policy that suggests it will complete investigations first and then turn findings over to the respective prosecutor for consideration.
For more than 100 days and in three hearings, the District Attorney’s Office argued against the release of Thompson on bond, so he subsequently remained behind bars at the Screven County Jail for 108 days. At the time, he was the only law enforcement officer in the state of Georgia to be subject to such action.
It then took 11 months for Totten to present the case to a grand jury. During that period, her office was accused of ‘grand jury shopping’ because an arrest was made within days of the incident, allegedly based on the facts of the case, but the DA’s office was routinely not prepared to present the facts to a grand jury during that eleven-month period. It was reported by TGV News in June 2021 that at least four of the grand jurors eventually selected by the District Attorney’s Office had been cited or arrested by Trooper Thompson during his tenure with the Georgia State Patrol.
Totten and two of her assistant district attorneys, Barclay Black and Ben Edwards, along with an office investigator. Tom Woodrum, spent an unprecedented eight hours with a Screven County grand jury behind closed doors, trying to make the case for a grand jury to return an indictment. Thompson also testified during that hearing and fielded questions from grand jurors about the incident for almost two hours. Ultimately, Totten was unsuccessful and a grand jury declined to indict Thompson.
If There Was a No Bill of Indictment, How is the Case Still Open?
Most would think that if a grand jury did not think a case should be bound over for prosecution, it should be ‘closed,’ but that is not the case.
Without a formal declaration by Totten that the case will not be subject to further prosecution, the case remains in limbo. Under Georgia law, a case can actually be presented to a grand jury two times. Per OCGA 17-7-53, only if the case is brought before a grand jury again and that grand jury returns a “no bill,” on the same charge or allegation a second time will the state be barred from any future prosecution. Essentially, the state gets ‘two bites’ of the apple.
Given that the statute of limitations on Felony Murder is indefinite, Totten’s lack of action means neither the Thompson family nor the Lewis family have any closure on the case.
While rumors have circulated in various groups for the last two years about what route Totten will take, her office has still declined to take any further action or announce to the public what it has decided to do. The investigation is not open or ongoing and there is no additional evidence to be analyzed or collected.
The decision is squarely in the court of the district attorney’s office.
Another Trooper-Involved shooting in the Ogeechee Circuit took more than two years to close despite the fact that the case appeared ‘justified’ and without issue from the very first day. It happened in March of 2021 when a man kidnapped a woman in Tattnall County and led authorities on a multi-county chase, during which he fired at law enforcement officers on Interstate 16. Ultimately, officers from at least four agencies fired on the suspect, who later died. One of the Troopers involved in the incident received a number of awards for his valor and lifesaving measures in that incident and it still took more than two years for Totten’s office to announce it would not be prosecuting anyone involved.
Contrarily, a deputy-involved shooting in Evans County
In the judicially backlogged county of DeKalb in metro Atlanta, District Attorney Sherry Boston was able to clear a case involving a Trooper and a fatal incident after 12 months, including the investigation.
Daphne Totten will be up for re-election in May 2024. You can read more about her tenure in office here.