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Screven Co. Grand Jury Returns ‘No Bill of Indictment’ In Trooper OIS Case

A Screven County grand jury of 22 citizens returned a no bill of indictment on the charges against former GSP Trooper Jacob Thompson on Monday. As a result, Thompson’s case will not move forward for trial at this time. 

The Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Distirct Attorney’s Office presented indictments of felony murder (O.C.G.A. 16-5-1) and Aggravated Assault (O.C.G.A. 16-5-21) for consideration by grand jurors, the first case of its kind in Screven County. District Attorney Daphne Totten and Assistant District Attorneys Ben Edwards and Barclay Black presented the case to grand jurors, a process that is closed to the public under Georgia law. 

The incident occurred just shy of 11 months ago and despite the high profile nature of the case, the district attorney’s office has not given the perception that the case was prioritized for resolution as the road to grand jury has been a bumpy one.

The initial January scheduling of the grand jury presentment was abruptly canceled by the district attorney’s office the day before it was set to take place prompting defense attorneys to accuse the state of ‘grand jury shopping.’ Those attorneys ultimately asked the court to compel the state to move forward as planned, which Superior Court Judge Lovett Bennett denied and the matter was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. Justices were split on whether or not to hear the case, but ultimately declined not to consider the matter at the time. After prosecutors said in March that they were still not ready to present the case, the next grand jury was empaneled in April 2021. 

The Case

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. Francys Johnson, who represents the Lewis family, later praised the GBI and the DA’s office, saying the case was moving at an unusual pace and Thompson was arrested in “record time.” 

During a preliminary hearing in September, a Screven County volunteer firefighter – who was also the first person to arrive on scene minutes after the shooting – testified that the lights of Lewis’ car were still on when he arrived, a fact he said he was certain of because they were ‘blinding’ him while he was on the scene. ADA Ben Edwards, however, argued that Thompson’s ‘version of events is wholly unsupported’ and speaks to lacking credibility of his story. 

Thompson spent an unusual 108 days behind bars as his attorneys made three attempts for bond – in August, September, and November – before Chief Superior Court Judge Gates F. Peed ordered bond.  He’s represented by a diverse legal team comprised of attorneys Duff Ayers, Keith Barber, Sam Dennis, Grady Dukes, and Robert Persse.

Aside from the claims of ‘grand jury shopping,’ the defense team also spent time in March arguing against a demand by the state to turn over financial documents pertaining to how Thompson has been paying his legal bills. ADA Barclay Black alleged in a hearing that the state needed to know who was donating to the defense team to rule out potential conflicts, though that does not deem a grand juror ineligible under state law. The request was tossed by Judge Lovett Bennett on the basis of the poorly detailed subpoenas which were overly broad, information was sought which is protected by attorney-client privilege, and they were “oppressive in nature.”

Grand Jury Proceedings

The same grand jury met in April of this year to hear a few dozen cases, including four felony cases involving charges that would mirror those that Julian lewis would have faced had the August 7, 2020 incident ended differently — fleeing, DUI, driving on a suspended license, failure to stop at a stop sign and more. One of those four cases also included assault on a law enforcement officer. The grand jury returned a true bill of indictment on all four cases, meaning they believed enough evidence existed for the case to move forward to the trial stage. A fifth case with a stand-alone charge of fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer was also presented and received a true bill by the grand jury.

The presentation of those five cases as felonies illustrates the dichotomy the district attorney’s office has had to balance all along in arguing that acts in one circumstance were wrong but irrelevant in another.

On Monday, the grand jurors empaneled in April were called back for consideration of additional cases. In the Thompson case, GBI Agent Dustin Peak and Screven County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Dwight Singleton were present to testify. After convening just after 9:00 A.M., the state concluded its presentation around 1:50 p.m. after taking almost an hour for lunch.  

Thompson elected to testify on his own behalf – the first time since the case began, outside of interviews with the GBI and a statement to the Georgia State Patrol following the incident. Under Georgia law, he is afforded the right to testify before the grand jury but is then subject to cross examination by the state and grand jurors. His time in the grand jury room amounted to a little under two hours.

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All in all, the grand jury was in session for almost eight hours on Monday.

As is the standard, the grand jury decision was presented by the grand jury to the Clerk in open court.

The Grand Jurors

Because the grand jurors already true billed a number of cases when they convened in April, nearly all of the grand jurors names were available for public review. The Georgia Virtue examined the names and cross-referenced them with the criminal records in the four-county circuit that entails the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit. At least four of the individuals empaneled in the grand jury had been cited or arrested by Thompson when he was a Trooper. One of them was arrested and pleaded guilty to DUI and fleeing.

According to the Clerk of Court’s office, four of the grand jurors empaneled had been excused from Monday’s proceedings at their own request. Another was removed from the list because the individual moved outside the county. Any grand juror who requested to be excused had to make their case to Judge Gates Peed before it was approved, unless they had moved outside of Screven County or were over the age of 75.

What Happens Next

Under Georgia law, the District Attorney’s Office can opt to bring the case before a grand jury one more time. Per OCGA 17-7-53, if the case is brought before a grand jury again and that grand jury returns a “no bill,” on the same charge or allegation, the state will be barred from any future prosecution.

In November 2020, attorneys for the family of Julian Lewis announced in front of the federal courthouse in Savannah that they intended to sue the state of Georgia for the actions of Thompson. Seeking $12 million, attorneys Francys Johnson and Muwali Davis said they served the state with an ante litem notice, notifying of their intent to file a lawsuit. If a resolution was not reached within three weeks, a federal lawsuit would be filed. On June 25, 2021, The Georgia Virtue confirmed with the Georgia Department of Public Safety and state agencies that no settlement agreement had been awarded in any pending civil suit as it pertains to the Jacob Thompson. Specifically, the state said it had not been served with a lawsuit.

The Thompson defense team issued a statement after the return of the no bill: 

“First and foremost, we would like to say, on behalf of Jake Thompson and the entire family, and everyone concerned, our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to the Lewis family. We all mourn his death and pray for their peace. 

In regards to this case, Trooper Thompson’s actions that night were not crimes. He was just a man who was doing his job to protect the citizens of the State of Georgia. 

We are all grateful that after this case was thoroughly investigation, the grand jury recognized that. 

We are all satisfied the grand jury made the correct decision in this case.” 

Jessica Szilagyi
Written By

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Alan Stewart

    June 28, 2021 at 6:04 pm

    Thank you.

  2. Avatar

    AA Brown

    June 29, 2021 at 12:09 am

    Justice was served that I’m sure of. You step in front of a car or near the car being pursued (Vehicle) after such a chase and refusal of the driver to pull over and cooperate you are subject to be ran over, rammed or shot by those refusing to stop. At this time it becomes assault on a Law Enforcement Officer with a motor vehicle should the driver being pursued not put his hands outside the vehicle window or step out with hands in clear view. While a vehicle is still running in gear and so suddenly stops… With headlights blinding the officer and engine running and being revved or floored by the driver is sufficient grounds to defend yourself and anyone else involved. Even if the vehicle is stuck it can regain enough traction to lunge forward and strike the Trooper and or his vehicle which are both considered using a car/vehicle as a weapon as has been done thousands of times throughout our nation in police pursuits as well as other instances where vehicles were used as weapons to mow down people or ram buildings with ppl inside. Evidently the GBI agent in charge has no expert or even amatuer experience in how a vehicle works. ( It was not running 2 hours later when the GBI investigator(s) arrived ) Vehicles do run out of gas and or drop coolant or fluids in a wreck or a sensor determines something is wrong and shuts the engine down. But not usually immediately. *Horses ran out of the woods at night years ago and and they from the side jumped my car hood left to right at full stride with the second one landing in my windshield and crushing my roof beyond the steering wheel. My car kept running with me crushed in the car unconcious and the car continued to drive in the same direction until veering off the road taking down a long picket fence and finallyended up stopping and resting against a Tree in a Troopers backyard ( He was asleep/working or unaware until later ). My vehicle was still running 15-25 minutes later when all responding Emergency Personnel arrived and I regained consciousness while they were assisting me getting me out from the car wreckage. I am lucky to be alive by Gods Grace.
    Therefore in my Experience with this incident as well as working wrecks and auto accidents for over 25 years as well as doing work on vehicles etc., I know how vehicles work. And no I am not Law Enforcement.
    Prayers and Comfort for the family and Loved ones Loss of the pursued as well as Prayers and comfort for the Trooper and his family etc., who put his life on the line more times than we can know.

  3. Pingback: COLUMN: Why the Trooper Case Crumbled in Screven County - The Georgia Virtue

  4. Pingback: June 2021 Sunlight Fund Transparency Report - The Georgia Virtue

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