Two Georgia law enforcement officers pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to a collection of criminal charges connected to the shooting death of Jamarion Robinson, a Black man who was gunned down by fugitive task force members as they attempted to execute a warrant on the afternoon of July 28, 2016.
Eric A. Heinze, 45, an inspector with the U.S. Marshal’s Service, and Kristopher L. Hutchens, 48, a Clayton County police officer, were both working together on the task force when they allegedly murdered Robinson, according to court papers and other law enforcement documents. Local news reports say law enforcement authorities on the task force shot toward Robinson a total of 110 times. A civil lawsuit fired by Robinson’s mother says Robinson was struck by 59 of those bullets.
According to jail records in Fulton County, Georgia, Heinze is charged with one count each of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, first-degree burglary, making a false statement, and violating an oath by a public officer. He’s also charged with two counts of felony murder. Hutchens faces the same exact charges, but he also faces one additional count of making a false statement, according to jail records. Both men were booked and released on Nov. 3, 2021, and have been out on bond since that date, the jail records indicate.
A grand jury returned indictments against the two men last October, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Attorneys for both men said in court that their clients were lawfully acting as government agents during their employment with the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force and should therefore be immune from prosecution, the AJC said.
A 184-page report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said the authorities were after Robinson because of two arrest warrants. Robinson was wanted for one count of attempted arson in Gwinnett County and two counts of aggravated assault against a police officer in Atlanta, according the GBI.
The report then described the actual shooting from the perspective of law enforcement:
ROBINSON refused to exit the apartment, so the USMS Task Force breached the door to the apartment. Once inside the apartment, Task Force Officers observed ROBINSON with a handgun and gave numerous verbal commands for ROBINSON to drop the weapon. ROBINSON attempted to fire the handgun, but the weapon jammed and Task Force Officers fired at ROBINSON. The Task Force Officers gave verbal commands again for ROBINSON to drop the weapon. ROBINSON fired approximately two (2) to three (3) rounds at the Officers, who returned fire and fatally wounded ROBINSON. ROBINSON died at the scene, and no Officers were injured during the exchange of gunfire.
The civil lawsuit countered that Robinson was a “diagnosed schizophrenic” who “presented no immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury” to the officers on the scene. That lawsuit, with Robinson’s mother Monteria Najuda Robinson listed as the plaintiff, said the officers had been “relayed” information about the victim’s “mental health history” just prior to the attempt to take him into custody. Rather than act with caution or at least with “less than lethal force,” the lawsuit says the defendants in the criminal action — and others who were sued civilly — “broke down the front door and, without cause or provocation by Jamarion Robinson, began ‘spraying’ bullets around the interior of 3129 Candlewood Drive with one or more H&K 9 mm submachine guns, one or more H&K .40 mm submachine guns, and one or more Glock .40 pistols.”
The civil suit further alleged that the officers fired more bullets into Robinson’s dead body to throw off a trajectory analysis, dragged the body down a hallway to avoid a forensic comparison to other bullet holes and blood spatter on the walls where Robinson died, and even put an oxygen mask over Robinson’s lifeless face — apparently to make it look like they attempted to render aid.
The civil suit further alleges that various task force members failed to use “a robot equipped with video camera and microphone” in their attempts to bring Robinson into custody.
“The Defendant-Officers failed to utilize any of these less lethal uses of force or devices, equipment or technology to locate and arrest Jamarion Robinson prior to using deadly force on Jamarion Robinson by shooting him with their firearms, including semi-automatic and fully automatic, high capacity firearms,” the civil suit continued. “Despite having ample time and information regarding Jamarion Robinson’s location in a multi-unit building, his history of mental illness, and the possibility that Jamarion would be armed, the Defendant-Officers did not develop a plan to locate and arrest Jamarion Robinson in the residence using less than lethal force.”
“Defendant-Officers met beforehand to plan the execution of the arrest warrant for Jamarion Robinson, and then proceeded with their dangerous, haphazard and reckless plan to burst into the residence, fire their semi-automatic weapons indiscriminately and profusely at the slightest hint of danger, and then claim that such force was necessitated because the arrestee possessed a gun to justify their unlawful and unjustified actions,” read a third amended complaint filed at the district court level.
In a win for the officers and the government, the district court threw out the case; however, Robinson’s mother’s attorneys have filed an appeal. They say the district court failed to apply the proper standard for summary judgment by refusing to acknowledge factual disputes.
The defendants put it very differently in its appellate brief.
“[T]he district court correctly concluded that there was no genuine dispute of material fact that three U.S. Marshals Service task force officers acted reasonably in shooting an individual pointing and firing a pistol at them,” wrote the attorneys for the various officers and government agencies involved.
The GBI report said several witnesses heard the task force members tell the victim to put “put the gun down and come out” — or, in other words, surrender. The report makes only one vague reference to one officer not wearing a body camera but claims “a video of the incident had been posted on Faceboook” (spelling incorrect in the original).
The AJC, however, said that “federal task forces were not allowed to wear body cameras” and that the “shooting was not captured on video.”
The civil case is currently moving through the docket at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Government attorneys attempted to convince the 11th Circuit that oral argument was not needed in the case; however, the circuit court scheduled arguments on April 8.
The criminal trial against the two charged officers is scheduled for Sept 12.
Monteria Robinson said after Tuesday’s criminal court hearing that justice was “long overdue” for the “rogue officers” — who she wants to see “out of a blue uniform and into an orange jumpsuit” — according to local reporting from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Newly-installed Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis (D) has made it a priority to “prosecut[e] police use-of-force cases,” the AJC added.
Read the GBI report and several of the civil suit documents below:
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