In a one-two punch, Atlanta’s top law enforcement leaders this month upended the deference and the legal latitude shown police officers who shoot civilians in the line of duty when they quickly brought criminal and disciplinary charges against an Atlanta cop who killed an unarmed black motorist, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Last Friday, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard charged former Atlanta police officer James Burns with felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and violation of his oath of office for shooting Deravis Rogers, 22, on June 22.
It is the first and only time in at least six years that a Georgia prosecutor has charged a police officer who fatally shot a civilian in the line of duty without first seeking an indictment from a grand jury. Atlanta Police Chief George Turner fired Burns just nine days after the shooting. In Georgia, such administrative reviews can drag on for months — if they take place at all — and often hinge on the outcome of any criminal investigation.“Our communities are not going to allow us to spend six, eight, 10, 12 months before a grand jury determines if they are going to indict on an issue when there is clear evidence that suggests that the officer violated our standard operating procedures,” Turner told the newspaper. The disciplinary and criminal actions against Burns, who is white, suggest that the ground has shifted since protests erupted around the U.S. after the shooting deaths of black men in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 and more recently this month.