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Arrested state trooper says he shot driver fearing for life

Posted at 3:38 PM, Aug 17, 2020

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- A Georgia state trooper charged with murder said he feared for his life when he shot a driver who refused to pull over for a broken tail light, writing in an incident report that the motorist was revving his engine and turning his steering wheel as if trying to ram the officer.

The Georgia State Patrol fired Jacob Gordon Thompson after the trooper was arrested Friday on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault in the death of 60-year-old Julian Lewis. The Rev. James Woodall, president of Georgia's NAACP chapter, called it another unjustified shooting of a Black man by a white law enforcement officer.

The incident report Thompson filed after the Aug. 7 shooting says he spotted a Nissan Sentra driving with a broken tail light at about 9 p.m. and turned on his lights to initiate a traffic stop in rural Screven County. He said the driver flashed both his turn signals and motioned with a hand outside his window but made no effort to stop.

Thomspon wrote that he followed the car at speeds up to 65 mph (105 kph) until the vehicle rolled through a stop sign. The trooper then performed a maneuver that forced the car into a ditch. Thompson said he pulled alongside the vehicle and drew his gun as he got out of his cruiser.

"At some point, I heard the engine on the violator's vehicle revving at a high rate of speed," Thompson wrote in his report. "I activated the light on my weapon and observed the violator with both hands on the steering wheel. I saw him wrenching the steering wheel in an aggressive back and forth manner towards me and my patrol vehicle."

He continued: "It appeared to me that the violator was trying to use his vehicle to injure me. Being in fear for my life and safety, I discharged my weapon once."

The trooper's bullet hit Lewis in the forehead. Thompson wrote that he tried to render first aid until paramedics arrived.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged Thompson a week after shooting.

Amid a national outcry over racial injustice, the GBI also oversaw the investigation in which three white men were charged in May with killing Ahmaud Arbery in coastal Georgia. On June 12, two white Atlanta police officers were charged after Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot as he tried to flee a DUI arrest.

"He was too good to die as he did," Lewis' wife, Betty Lewis, said in a statement after Thompson's arrest Friday. "This is one step towards justice."

Thompson's attorney, Keith Barber, declined to comment on specifics of the case Friday but said he believes Thompson was "a fine trooper" and would be exonerated.