Julian Lewis went out to get a grape soda for his wife on August 7, his family says, but he never came home.
Instead, the 60-year-old Black man was pursued by a Georgia state trooper on a rural road, his car ending up pinned between a tree and the trooper’s car. Lewis died after he was shot in the head, his family’s attorney, Francys Johnson, told CNN.
Former Trooper Jacob Thompson, 27, has since been fired by the Georgia Department of Public Safety and arrested on felony murder and aggravated assault charges in Lewis’ death, according to a news release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Thompson’s attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment over the weekend.
The investigation of the shooting comes as protesters across the US have called for the defunding of police departments and widespread reform after the deaths of George Floyd and other Black people killed by police.
It also comes just over two months after the killing of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta police officer in a Wendy’s parking lot. The officer has been charged with murder and is out on $500,000 bond. Another officer has been charged for his actions in the case.
A broken taillight leads to police chase
Lewis has been described as soft-spoken and peaceful, Johnson said. During his funeral, friends and family recalled how the skilled carpenter volunteered to do work for senior citizens and a local church.
His only child, Brook Bacon, remembered his father as a good man who was “too good to die as he did on Stoney Pond,” Johnson said.
What Lewis’ loved ones want to know is why he ended up dead at the hands of a trooper while running an errand.
“It is not altogether clear to us that Mr. Lewis was trying to flee,” Johnson said.
The attorney said it was likely that Lewis was trying to get to his uncle’s house nearby so that a witness could see the police interaction.
Lewis’ widow says she’s angry over the loss of her husband and nothing can bring her closure. Betty Lewis told CNN she wants justice for her husband.
Johnson said the family is tired of hashtags, and that success would mean no more hashtags for another family.
Trooper says he thought Lewis was trying to hurt him
In a police report released by the Georgia Department of Public Safety, Thompson said he spotted a silver Nissan Sentra on US Highway 301 with a broken taillight and pursued it.
The pursuit took place near Sylvania in Screven County, about halfway between Savannah and Augusta in the southeastern part of the state. He said the vehicle sped up to “what appeared to be around 65 mph or more” and he turned on his lights and gave chase on a few county roads.
But Lewis’s sister, Urssula Jones, disputed that the chase could have been at a high speed. She said the car Lewis was driving was old and could not travel at a high speed.
Thompson’s report says he “decided to perform a PIT maneuver to safely end the pursuit.”
After the vehicle spun out and crashed on Stoney Pond Road, Thompson said he stopped his car “approximately even with the violator’s vehicle.”
“Being concerned for my safety, I drew my weapon as I got out of the vehicle,” he said in the report.
Thompson said in the report that he heard Lewis’ car revving and saw him “wrenching the steering wheel in an aggressively back and forth manner towards me and my patrol vehicle.”
“It appeared to me that the violator was trying to use his vehicle to injure me,” Thompson explained. “Being in fear for my life and safety, I discharged my weapon once. After I fired, the violator sat back motionless.”
Lewis was pronounced dead on the scene, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation news release.
Several complaints received after arrest
No video from the incident has been released. Georgia State Patrol’s website says it was the “first agency to equip all of its patrol cars with dash-mounted cameras” and that each trooper has specialized training in the Pursuit Intervention Technique – or PIT maneuver.
CNN has put in an open records request to DPS for Thompson’s personnel file and other items related to the investigation.
Johnson said that since Lewis’ death his office has received more than a dozen complaints about Thompson and another trooper that patrols the same area.
“Multiple complaints from multiple individuals and, you know, the commonality among them are that they’re black or brown,” Johnson said. “This is a problem with policing, even if you have a good trooper with an excellent character, if he’s operating within a flawed and corrupt system the outcomes are going to be not good for the citizens.”
Johnson said he has forwarded that information to FBI and federal investigators. The FBI confirmed to CNN in an email Saturday that they are in touch with local authorities regarding the case. The Department of Justice did not respond to requests for comment over the weekend.
‘A too familiar narrative’
Johnson credited the quick pace of the investigation and subsequent arrest to the local authorities who are stepping up in the face of “national outrage” over policing that targets people of color.
“It happened I think because of the outrage,” said Johnson.
“This is an outrage expressed by people who simply believe it’s untenable with principles of democracy to have, you know, a thousand Americans a year killed by police they pay to serve and protect them,” Johnson said.
“This is not a Southern problem, this is not a Georgia problem, this is an American problem because these incidents are taking place across the country.
“It is a too familiar narrative,” the attorney said. “The burden always falls to citizens to remain calm, to comply. And police officers who have training and experience are given justification in just about all of those instances.”
While Lewis’ family wants to see the trooper held accountable, they also want changes in policing, Johnson said. The attorney said that there needs to be more training for law enforcement to help lessen the fear between police and the communities they are there to serve.
A background check run by CNN showed Lewis was on parole for an impaired traffic violation that was scheduled to end on August 27, 2020.
CNN’s Delano Massey and Nicky Robertson contributed to this report.