SANDERSVILLE, Ga. -- A Georgia prosecutor said he is appealing a judge's decision that three white former sheriff's deputies can't be tried on murder charges in the death of a black man who was repeatedly shot with a stun gun.
District Attorney Hayward Altman of Georgia's Middle Judicial Circuit told news outlets the decision by Superior Court Judge H. Gibbs Flanders granting immunity for one-time officers was wrong, and he expects it to be overturned.
Michael Howell, Rhett Scott and Henry Copeland, all former Washington County deputies, were charged in the death of Eurie Martin, 58, who asked for water at a home and wound up dying after being shot repeatedly with a stun gun.
The judge, whose decision released last month detailed a struggle between the officers and Martin that went on for minutes, ruled that the officers had a “reasonable belief" that they were using a proper amount of force on the man.
Mawuli Davis, an attorney for Martin’s relatives, said they were “extremely disappointed” with the ruling. Family members have said they believed Martin's race was a factor in the fatal confrontation.
Martin, who suffered from schizophrenia, was walking to see relatives in Sandersville for his birthday in July 2017 when he went up a driveway and asked a homeowner for water. There wasn't a problem, the judge wrote, but the resident called 911 to report a person who may be “crazy” or “drunk.”
The three deputies showed up within minutes of each other and followed Martin, who kept walking. Officers told investigators that Martin thew down a drink can and clenched his fists, ignoring commands to put his hands behind his back, before they began firing stun guns at him.
Martin suffered respiratory arrest and died of an apparent heart attack, authorities have said.
The officers were initially indicted in December 2017, but a judge threw out the case because a court reporter wasn't present during grand jury proceedings. New charges were filed last year that included false imprisonment and assault.
The Middle Judicial Circuit covers five counties in rural east-central Georgia.