National Roundup

Son of man killed by trooper seeks federal inquiry

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The son of a Black man killed last year by a Georgia state trooper attempting a traffic stop over a broken tail light said Monday he will march across a stretch of southeast Georgia in hopes of getting federal authorities to take up the case.

Brook Bacon is trying to get renewed attention to the slaying of his father, 60-year-old Julian Lewis, nearly three months after a grand jury in rural Screven County declined to indict the trooper who shot him in the head.

“That can’t be left unchallenged,” Bacon told reporters during an online news conference with his attorneys. He added: “In split-second moments, these tragedies happen and too often they get swept aside.”

Trooper Jacob G. Thompson was fired by the Georgia State Patrol and jailed on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault soon after Lewis was killed on Aug. 7, 2020, in Screven County. Thompson said Lewis tried to flee a traffic stop for a broken tail light. After a short chase, the trooper forced Lewis’ car into a ditch.

Thompson wrote in his incident report that he shot Lewis as Lewis was revving his engine and turning his steering wheel, as if he was trying to ram the trooper. But Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Dustin Peak later testified in court that was impossible. Peak said Lewis’ car battery disconnected when his vehicle hit the ditch, leaving the car inoperable.

The murder case in state court stalled in late June, when a grand jury declined to indict Thompson. Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Daphne Totten, whose office was prosecuting the case, has not said whether she will try again to indict the former trooper.

“It’s so outrageous that we have to call on federal intervention,” said Mawuli Davis, an attorney for Thompson’s family.

Starting Thursday, Bacon plans to set out with his lawyers and civil rights activists on a 60-mile (96-kilometer) march from the scene of the shooting in Screven County to the federal courthouse in downtown Savannah. They expect to finish the trek on Monday.

After the grand jury decided against moving forward with charges, Thompson’s defense attorney, Keith Barber, said the former trooper was “only doing his job” to protect the public and “acted in self-defense” when he shot Lewis.

Bacon and other members of Lewis’ family have said they feel even more strongly that he was murdered after prosecutors in July showed them dash-camera video of the shooting. They have called on Totten to release that video to the public and to bring the case before a new grand jury.

Totten has not said what her office plans to do. She did not immediately return phone and email messages Monday.

Federal govt launches civil rights probe of Georgia prisons

ATLANTA (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday announced a statewide civil rights investigation into Georgia prisons.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees the department’s civil rights division, said the investigation will be comprehensive but will focus on “harm to prisoners resulting from prisoner-on-prisoner violence.” It will also look into sexual abuse of gay, lesbian and transgender prisoners by both prisoners and prison staff.

“Under the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution, those who have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to serve time in prisons must never be subjected to cruel and unusual punishments,” Clarke said during an online news conference. “We must ensure the inherent human dignity and worth of everyone, including people who are incarcerated.”

The Justice Department is committed to trying to address the effects of prison staff shortages, inadequate policies and training and the lack of accountability, Clarke said.

Understaffing is a particularly devastating problem, said Clarke, noting that it can lead to inadequate supervision and violence. It can also keep people from being able to get necessary medical and mental health care, she said.

The Justice Department’s investigation was prompted by an extensive review of publicly available data and other information, Clarke said. She pointed out that at least 26 people died in Georgia prisons by confirmed or suspected homicide, and there have been a reported 18 homicides so far this year in Georgia prisons. She said there have also been reports of other violent acts, including stabbings and beatings.

Governor’s lawyers could bill nearly $200K for lawsuit

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana governor’s office has signed a contract paying a law firm up to nearly $200,000 for challenging the increased power state legislators gave themselves to intervene during public health emergencies.

The governor’s office released the contract with Indianapolis firm Lewis Wagner on Monday for representing Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb in the lawsuit against the GOP-controlled Legislature that it filed on his behalf in April.

The contract, however, wasn’t signed until July 23 after a Marion County judge rejected arguments from Republican state Attorney General Todd Rokita that he had the legal authority to prevent Holcomb from hiring private lawyers for the case. The state Supreme Court also ruled against Rokita’s attempts to block the lawsuit.

The Marion County judge heard arguments last week over the lawsuit, with Holcomb’s attorneys arguing the law passed this spring violates constitutional provisions allowing only the governor to call the General Assembly into special session after its annual session ends.

The attorney general’s office maintains that a 1970 constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to meet each year gave lawmakers “maximum flexibility” on when to meet.

State records show the governor’s lawyers have already been paid about $95,000. The contract allows the firm to bill a maximum of $382.50 an hour for its top partners.

All the lawyers listed in court records representing the Legislature in the lawsuit are attorney general’s office staffers.