Georgia Trooper Is Charged in Fatal Shooting of Black Driver

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A Georgia state trooper was fired and charged with murder on Friday, one week after a 60-year-old Black man was fatally shot during a traffic stop over a broken taillight on his car, the authorities said.

The trooper, Jacob G. Thompson, 27, who is white, was charged on Friday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation with felony murder and aggravated assault in connection with an Aug. 7 traffic stop that resulted in the death of Julian Edward Roosevelt Lewis of Sylvania, Ga.

“Mr. Lewis was no threat as a 60-year-old man just trying to make it home from a convenience store run” to get a grape soda for his wife, said Francys Johnson, a lawyer representing Mr. Lewis’s family.

Credit…Georgia Department of Public Safety, via Associated Press

A Georgia State Patrol report details how events unfolded:

Around 9 p.m. on Aug. 7, Mr. Thompson spotted Mr. Lewis near Sylvania, Ga., which is about 60 miles northwest of Savannah, driving with a broken taillight, followed him and attempted to pull him over.

Mr. Lewis continued driving, and Mr. Thompson eventually used his patrol vehicle to force Mr. Lewis’s car to turn sideways, causing him to stop in a ditch. Mr. Thompson drew his gun as he got out and saw Mr. Lewis with both of his hands on the steering wheel, the report said.

It then appeared, the trooper said, that Mr. Lewis was trying to maneuver his vehicle toward him, prompting him to open fire, the report said. Mr. Lewis was pronounced dead at the scene, the bureau said in a statement.

Mr. Lewis’s family did not learn of his whereabouts or his death until around 1 a.m. the next day, Mr. Johnson said.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety said in a statement that Mr. Thompson had been fired for his “negligence or inefficiency in performing assigned duties; or commission of a felony.”

Keith Barber, who was described by The Associated Press as Mr. Thompson’s lawyer, could not immediately be reached on Saturday. He told The A.P. that Mr. Thompson “has an excellent character.”

“I think he’s a fine trooper,” Mr. Barber said. “I think at the end of the day he will be exonerated in this case.”

The decision to arrest and fire Mr. Thompson a week after Mr. Lewis’s death was a surprise, Mr. Johnson said on Saturday.

“Oftentimes justice is so delayed in these kinds of cases,” he said. “I can’t think of another case that has moved so swiftly.”

He said he believed it was a direct result of protests and increased scrutiny in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police.

In May, two white men were charged with murder months after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot while jogging through a neighborhood in Brunswick, Ga.

And on Friday, the authorities said three police officers in Mississippi had been indicted on charges of second-degree murder in the death of a Black man, George Robinson, 62, of Jackson, Miss. The indictment accused the officers of pulling him from his car, slamming him headfirst into the pavement, and striking and kicking him in the head and chest.

The Rev. James Woodall, the president of Georgia’s N.A.A.C.P., said immediate action needed to be taken to address violence and racial terrorism against Black people, regardless of whether it was committed by the police or by private citizens, he said.

“People are literally losing their lives on a daily basis due to this senselessness, and we must do something about it,” he said.

Mr. Lewis was celebrated by friends and family at a vigil in Sylvania on Friday, and funeral services were held on Saturday morning. He was semiretired and worked as a carpenter, Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Lewis was “too good to die as he did,” his wife, Betty Lewis, said in a statement.

“I want justice for Julian,” she said. “This is one step towards justice.”

Christina Morales contributed reporting.

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