Encampment Builds Pressure for Murder Indictment of Officer Who Killed Anthony Hill
Hill, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran and musician, was suffering a mental breakdown when DeKalb Police Department (DPD) Officer Robert Olsen fatally shot him last March.
“It was clear Anthony Hill needed help. He didn’t need to be shot,” Tiffany R. Smith, who helped organize the campout, told Atlanta Progressive News.
Hill was completely naked and unarmed when Olsen arrived at an apartment complex in response to a 911 call reporting that the young man was behaving erratically.
Police said that Hill charged at Olsen. But, in October 2015, a civil grand jury recommended further investigation into the case.
On January 07, 2016, DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James announced he would seek criminal charges against Olsen, including felony murder, aggravated assault, violation of oath of office, and making a false statement.
“I was shocked,” Bridget Anderson, Hill’s girlfriend, said of hearing the news.
“I just thank [James] for being on our side and seeking an indictment,” she told APN.
After Hill’s death, Anderson joined Rise Up Georgia and has taken a lead role in organizing supporters to seek justice for her boyfriend.
Led by Anderson and Rise Up, the campout commenced on Monday, January 18, 2016––Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Demonstrators will maintain a presence outside the courthouse through Thursday, January 21, when the grand jury convenes.
“We want [the jurors] to know, when they come into this space, that we’re watching,” Smith explained.
“If they don’t make the right decision, we’ll turn up,” Anderson added.
Olsen will have a considerable advantage in the proceedings; Georgia law allows police officers to give sworn statements to grand juries without rebuttal or cross-examination.
Olsen addressed the civil grand jury in October.
Smith said that, according to a lawyer representing Hill’s family, Olsen presented a Powerpoint that included images of Black men under the influence of bath salts, a drug that has been associated with violent behavior.
“Race is at play here,” Smith said, critiquing what she viewed as an attempt to portray Hill as violent drug-user by employing a racist stereotype.
In reality, Hill was bipolar and struggled to access effective treatment through the Veterans Administration (VA).
Anderson told APN that the VA scheduled appointments for Hill in Texas and South Carolina, even though he updated his address when he moved to Atlanta.
Hill was medicated for bipolar disorder, but stopped taking his medication shortly before his breakdown. He was experiencing painful side effects and was not able to get a better prescription soon enough.
“If [the VA] would have cared for him, he probably would be alive today,” Anderson said.
Holding Olsen accountable for Hill’s killing is one step toward justice, but Anderson and Rise Up want to see much more.
They are calling for DPD to develop a mental health unit modeled on a program in San Antonio, Texas, where specially trained officers respond to mental health crises in plain clothes and with calming words instead of guns drawn.
Last year, APN visited San Antonio to learn more about the program.
Signs surrounding the courthouse encampment sported messages like, “Mental illness is not a crime,” and “Docs, Not Glocs.”
That resonated with passersby, several of whom stopped to talk and offer support.
“I’m a third generation combat veteran and I know what PTSD is like,” said one man who bought breakfast for the campers.
A large crowd is expected to convene outside of the courthouse Thursday morning, January 21, 2016, prior to the 8:30am grand jury hearing.