(SAVANNAH, Ga.) — A Georgia state trooper was fired and charged with murder Friday a week after he shot a 60-year-old man who allegedly tried to flee a rural traffic stop, authorities said.
The president of Georgia’s NAACP chapter called the slaying of Julian Edward Roosevelt Lewis another chilling example of a Black man being killed unlawfully by a white law enforcement officer. An attorney for Lewis’ family said the trooper initiated the traffic stop over a burned-out tail light and Lewis was shot almost immediately after the trooper forced his car into a ditch.
“Mr. Lewis never got out of the vehicle and the investigation will show that, mere seconds after the crash, he was shot to death, shot in the face and killed,” attorney Francys Johnson said.
Lewis was a carpenter who recently helped a local ministry finish a construction project, Johnson said. He said Lewis’ wife told him her husband didn’t own a gun.
Johnson said that information was given to the family by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which arrested 27-year-old Jacob Gordon Thompson on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault Friday. The agency did not include those details in its own statement on Thompson’s arrest.
The GBI said Lewis was fatally shot Aug. 7 after a chase in rural Screven County, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) northwest of Savannah.
Thompson had tried to pull over a car for a traffic violation when the driver tried to flee, the GBI said in a news release. The agency said the trooper chased the vehicle down several country roads before performing a maneuver that forced the car to come to a stop in a ditch.
At some point afterward, Thompson fired a single gunshot that hit Lewis, killing him, the GBI said. The trooper was not injured.
GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles confirmed that Lewis was Black and the trooper was white, but she declined to comment further on the case. Richard Mallard, district attorney for the judicial circuit that includes Screven County, did not immediately return a phone message.
The Georgia Department of Public Safety said it fired Thompson after he was charged Friday. He had been a trooper for the Georgia State Patrol since 2013.
Thompson’s attorney, Keith Barber, declined to comment on specifics of the case, but said he believes the former trooper “has an excellent character.”
“I think he’s a fine trooper,” Barber said. “I think at the end of the day he will be exonerated in this case.”
The trooper was charged amid a national outcry over racial injustice after George Floyd died beneath a Minneapolis police officer’s knee in May. In Georgia, authorities also recently charged three white men in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery as he ran through their neighborhood as well as two white police officers in the shooting of Rayshard Brooks after he tried to flee a DUI arrest.
“No one should have to bury a loved one simply because of a busted tail light,” said the Rev. James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP. “This was a case of racial profiling. We are not necessarily happy right now. Yes, the man was arrested, but we’re done dying.”
Johnson said Lewis’ wife, Betty Lewis, learned of the trooper’s arrest as she left the funeral home after making final arrangements for her husband’s graveside service Saturday.
“She fell to her knees,’ Johnson said. “She said, `This is a step towards justice.’”