Did Anthony Hill have to die?

An unarmed man, a cop charged with murder, and the challenge of policing mental illness

5019

When Grisselle Torres dialed 911 on March 9, 2015, all she wanted was some help. Not for her, but for Anthony Hill, a tenant at the apartment complex she managed. Hill was a young guy, just 26, and he’d lived in apartment O-8 since the previous July. Beyond that, Torres didn’t know much about him, except that his balcony faced her second-floor office, and, often, when she was arriving for work, he’d call down to her and wish her a good morning. Neighbors liked him, too; he’d play with their kids, remind them to pick up after themselves. He was, she’d later recall, a gentleman.

Together, the 181 units that Torres managed were called the Heights at Chamblee, which is a slightly ridiculous name, considering that the view looking south from the complex is the side of a berm, above which is Chamblee Tucker Road. To leave the Heights, it turns out, you have to go up.

A little after 11 on the morning of March 9, 2015, Hill had left the apartment he shared with his cousin, Kailen Alexander, to go to the gym. Planet Fitness is just a mile down the road, and Hill drove there in his Dodge Dart, checking in at 11:24 a.m. On his way out he chatted briefly with an employee about wanting to upgrade his iPhone. Hill, the employee recalls, was wearing red shorts and a tank top. But then Hill did something odd: He left the gym without taking his keys from behind the desk, bypassed his car altogether, and walked home. He left the car unlocked, not that there was much to steal, though a thief would have learned a lot about Hill from rummaging around the car’s interior. There were documents that showed that Hill was an Air Force veteran. There was his rental contract. And there was a priority-mail envelope containing his mental-health records.

Pedro Castillo, a maintenance supervisor at the Heights, saw Hill walking toward the complex. He was bobbing up and down as he walked. Castillo would tell state police investigators the next day that Hill was wearing just camouflage shorts. (Almost three years later, in a deposition, he’d say that Hill was wearing a shirt, too.)

Castillo saw Hill again a short while later, outside the leasing office. He and another maintenance worker, Deni Hechavarria, had been summoned there by Torres and assistant manager Solangel Rodriguez. At first, Rodriguez had seen Hill face-down on the sidewalk below the office. It seemed as if he’d fainted or was having a seizure, but then he stood and headed up the stairs to the entrance of the leasing office. Now it seemed like Hill was on drugs. He appeared to be pulling things out of his mouth. “Lock the door,” Torres told Rodriguez. From her room inside the leasing office, Torres couldn’t even see Hill but instead relied on what Rodriguez was relaying to her, with Hill on the other side of the glass door, knocking, waving, and calling out, “Hey, it’s me—Anthony,” then alternately crawling and jumping up and down on the landing, gripping the railing.

During the 911 call, Torres is carrying on two conversations—one with Rodriguez, who is observing Hill, and another with an increasingly annoyed emergency operator.

Torres: I don’t know if something happened to him. If you can send someone here, ’cause I don’t know what happened to him.
911: Did you ask her? Him? Ask her or him?
Torres: It’s a him.
911: It’s a what?
Torres: Hold on, hold on. He’s here. He’s awake. Now, he’s up. Yeah, no, I need—
911: —Ask him do he need—
Torres: —He’s on drugs—
911: Ma’am. Ma’am. Ma’am.
Torres: Yes.
911: Ask him if he needs the police or the paramedics.
Torres: Ay, I don’ t know. He . . . I closed my door and he’s, like, knocking on my door. But I think he’s, like, drugged.
911: What does he look like? He’s at the leasing office?
Torres: Yeah, he’s in the, in the . . .
911: Is he at the leasing office, ma’am?
Torres: Yes.
911: Okay, what does he look like? White, black, Hispanic male?
Torres: It’s . . . It’s light-skinned.
911: He’s a light-skinned black male?
Torres: Yeah.
911: What is he wearing?
Torres: He has no shirt, shorts. Um, yeah, send the police, better.
911: What is he wearing, ma’am?
Torres: Police. Huh?
911: What’s he wearing?
Torres: He’s wearing shorts, no shirt, no shoes. Ay, dios mío, se tira!

In court more than three years later, Torres explained that she exclaimed in Spanish because she thought Hill was about to jump off the balcony. Right about then, Castillo and Hechavarria walked up the stairs after seeing Hill knocking on the office door. Both men recalled asking Hill if he was okay.

“The devil is coming,” Hill said. “Help me. Help me.”

Officer Robert Olsen was eating lunch in his car in the Publix parking lot off North Druid Hills Road when the call came from dispatch. It was just past 1 p.m., seven hours since his 10-hour shift had begun. Olsen, who’s gone by “Chip” his whole life, was 52 but had been a cop for just seven years. He’d worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a program specialist, where he monitored “$125 to $140 million in commodity entitlement,” as he would testify. Unhappy, he quit to work for a friend’s company, but it involved sales, which “wasn’t a good fit,” his wife, Kathy, said in a phone interview. So, at 45, Olsen decided he wanted to be a cop. “He’d always wanted to be in the military, but [at his age] it wasn’t really an option,” she said. “So, he said, ‘I might as well be a police officer.’ It’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s serving your community; it’s attention to detail.”

Beginning in January 2008, Olsen commuted from his home in north Fulton to Lithonia to train with cadets in the DeKalb County Police Academy, many young enough to be his children. On July 11, 2008, he graduated.

Olsen worked nights, and the sleep schedule was stressful, especially with a baby in the house, Kathy Olsen said. (Their only child, a son, is now nine.) “It didn’t make for a very happy family life,” she said. Eventually, he moved to days, working a series of desk jobs, including aide to a precinct commander. By March 2015, he had achieved the rank of MPO, or master police officer, right below sergeant.

The anatomy of a police shooting: Anthony Hill
Olsen, left, with Don Samuel, one of his attorneys

Photograph by Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Up until the day he first saw Anthony Hill, and despite responding to literally thousands of calls during the past seven years, Olsen had never once discharged his weapon in the line of duty. In fact, up until that day, he’d never even drawn his weapon on a suspect. As for his Taser, he’d deployed it just once, and it had not functioned properly. Every performance evaluation that GBI investigators found in Olsen’s personnel file showed him receiving ratings of Exceeds or Far Exceeds.

Along the way, he also received complaints. He was written up for using profanity during a traffic stop. A passenger complained that Olsen was rude to her husband, who was driving, after Olsen pulled him over for running a red light. Olsen allegedly demanded to know if the driver thought he was above the law. Though the complaint was found to be unsubstantiated, his bosses suggested Olsen get more training on his people skills.

Indeed, what’s notable about Olsen’s seven years as a DeKalb County cop is just how much training he had—1,948 hours from 2008 through 2014. While almost a thousand of those hours came during his first-year academy training, starting in 2009, he averaged more than 150 hours of training every year. For an officer to remain certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, it’s necessary to take at least 20 hours of training annually, including firearms testing and a one-hour “use of deadly force” class. Individual departments also have their own requirements. But as Olsen put it in court last year, “I searched out other opportunities to make myself . . . a better police officer.” In 2013, for example, he took an eight-hour FEMA course on police response to suicide-bombing attacks, a 24-hour course titled “Homeland Security and Terrorism Analysis,” and a four-hour seminar on elder financial abuse. He also underwent a one-hour class, in December 2010, concerning “excited delirium.” What he learned about the controversial syndrome would be pivotal in his explanation of what happened when he encountered Anthony Hill.

Being a cop “made him a little more cynical, seeing all of the preventable bad stuff,” Kathy Olsen said. “Whenever he’d have to go on a domestic-violence call and there were kids or animals involved, it takes a little piece of your soul.” Kathy, who married Robert Olsen in 2003, said her husband “doesn’t come across as a people person. He’s very reserved. But he can talk your ear off if given the right circumstances.”

On March 9, 2015, Olsen was working the North Central precinct. His territory within the precinct was referred to as 250, and his call sign was 251. The 250 territory roughly straddles Lawrenceville Highway, extending northeast from just outside Decatur to I-285.

At 1:03 p.m., dispatch radioed in. “251 day signal 53. 3028 Chamblee Tucker Road. The Heights at Chamblee apartments at the leasing office. Complainant advised possible signal 22 subject on the balcony. . . . Black male, light-skinned, no shirt, shorts, no shoes. Find out from the complainant.”

“251 clear,” Olsen replied. “Extended ETA.”

What Olsen heard was that a suspicious person—the “signal 53”—was seen at an apartment complex that was a full seven miles away. Beyond being suspicious, the man was, as the “signal 22” denoted, possibly demented. A signal 22 call is considered an emergency mental-health call, and the DeKalb County police manual says that, in addition to an officer, “a supervisor should also respond.” Olsen pulled out of the Publix parking lot and headed north on 285. He would be on his own.

Anthony Hill grew up in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, and was raised by his mother, Carolyn Giummo, and her parents, Theola and William Baylor. Hill was especially close to his grandfather, a career educator who was a pillar of his community in this part of the South Carolina Lowcountry. After William Baylor died in 2008, Hill had 3608—the years of his grandfather’s birth and death—tattooed on his chest, along with Baylor’s oft-repeated advice to his grandson: “Be sensible.”

Hill had always been precocious and loved music. “He could sing,” his mother said in a 2018 deposition. “He taught himself how to play the saxophone, the piano, the clarinet, the guitar. And he liked making beats and singing demos.”

The anatomy of a police shooting: Anthony Hill
Protesters took to the streets after Hill’s death.

Photograph by David Goldman/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Giummo said her son had wanted to attend the University of Tennessee to study music, but the University of South Carolina had offered him a scholarship; she said he had scored a perfect 36 on the English ACT. USC was closer to his family. “He could be home for the holidays,” she said, “because we spent every holiday together, every vacation.”

But in 2008, the same year that his grandfather died, Hill left USC, a year and a half after matriculating. That fall, he enlisted in the Air Force, where two of Hill’s uncles had also served.

In September 2010, Hill was deployed to Afghanistan, where he was a munitions specialist at Kandahar Airfield, the site of frequent suicide-bomber and rocket attacks by the Taliban. Kailen Alexander, Hill’s cousin and Atlanta roommate, would later recall that Hill spoke about seeing children killed. But when Air Force officials screened Hill for possible posttraumatic stress disorder after his return from Afghanistan, he denied being wounded or having witnessed casualties. Physicians determined he did not meet the criteria for PTSD.

In August 2011, five months after leaving Afghanistan, Hill reported to an Air Force nurse practitioner that he was feeling anxious and depressed. He was isolating from others. He described periods of intense creativity, always at night, during which he’d write music but then couldn’t recapture that creativity at other times. A month later he saw a psychiatrist, who prescribed him BuSpar for anxiety, as well as melatonin. After Hill complained that his brain was not “working properly,” that it was “rebooting,” his psychiatrist, in December 2011, prescribed Klonopin. The medication seemed to work, at least for a while: He rediscovered his music and was feeling more sociable.

Then, in February 2012, Hill had a setback. The anxiety returned. He was spending money recklessly—so much on recording equipment he was trying to return it—and not sleeping for days at a time. His speech became so fast that his girlfriend remarked on it.

Not long after, Hill was diagnosed as bipolar. Other medications followed, including one, Seroquel, that caused him to oversleep, making him late for his job at Moody Air Force Base. As doctors sought to find the right mix of medications that would stabilize Hill, he was forced to miss more and more work on the base. Hill had been described in his medical evaluation as a “sharp airman [who] is well-liked in his unit.” But the diagnosis—and the work he was missing as a result—ultimately made him a liability in the eyes of the military. “His absences from work impair our ability to properly forecast and schedule munitions production and inspections,” wrote his commander. “My recommendation is the member be separated from the USAF—no retraining.” Effective June 28, 2013, Hill was medically retired from the Air Force.

Outside the leasing office, on the second-floor landing, Pedro Castillo told Hill to go home. Hill had slumped to the floor and “kept saying things like, ‘The devil is coming’ and ‘I love you, Mommy.’”

“Where do I live?” Hill asked him.

“You live right there,” Castillo said, and pointed to Hill’s balcony just a few dozen feet away. Hill seemed to understand and left. With Hill gone, Castillo and Hechavarria went into the office, joining Torres and Rodriguez. But then, just a few minutes later, Castillo looked out through the blinds of the office window toward Hill’s balcony, and there he was—now completely naked. Hill climbed over his balcony railing, lowering himself gingerly to the ground-level patio. He set off in direction of the playground but then stopped to sit in the dirt, drawing his knees up toward his shoulders. For a second, he picked at his bare feet. Then, he lowered his head as if studying the ground between his legs.

You can see all this in a brief video that Hechavarria shot on his cellphone from the office that day. This is one of at least four that track the moments before and after Olsen’s encounter with Hill. A second video, also shot from the office, captured him seconds later on the playground, crouching in the dirt, like he’d seen a wild animal and didn’t want to spook it. Then, it appeared he was doing child’s pose in yoga, his face on the ground, he knees pulled up under his chest. After several seconds, he got up and walked calmly through the playground, past a trash can, past a slide, past a faded red bench. In the video, you can hear Torres on the phone again with 911. “The guy is walking naked all around the community,” she’s saying. The police still had not arrived. Just then, Hill’s gait changed, from an unaffected stride to something his fiancée would later describe to WSB-TV as “walking like a caveman.” He seemed to plod, his feet splayed, his knees bent at an exaggerated angle with each step.

The anatomy of a police shooting: Anthony Hill
The Heights at Chamblee after the shooting, which occurred in the parking lot pictured at the top of the photo.

Photograph by Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Torres asked Castillo and Hechavarria to follow Hill. “Guard him until the DeKalb police or whoever they are going to send will come.” Hill was continuing to talk to himself. He crouched in the gap between two of the buildings. Castillo and Hechavarria watched.

Minutes, perhaps seconds, later, Olsen pulled into the main entrance of the Heights at Chamblee. It was 1:19 p.m. On the way, he’d received updates from dispatch. First, that Torres had requested he hurry. Then, that the subject had “removed all his clothing.”

In a statement he’d later make to a grand jury, Olsen described what was going through his mind as he drove toward the Heights, a place he’d been to before. He knew children lived there. “I didn’t know if any of the children were in danger or if anybody else was in danger in the complex or not. But that was certainly something I was considering.”

Olsen went on: Dispatch had told him “about a person being naked and acting bizarrely,” which caused him to “be more mindful of my surroundings and to think about my training, about the dangers of encounters or confrontations with those that are doing drugs or have a mental disorder, a psychotic break. I was not scared, but I was on high alert.

“Also, the fact that he was reported to be naked was particularly important to me based on my training. I know from my training that when people are in a state like this, excited delirium or high on PCP or having a psychotic mental break, they often disrobe and become naked. I also know from my training that they can be impervious to pain. They are very dangerous individuals. They act irrationally and can exhibit superhuman strength when encountered.”

The phrase “excited delirium” was coined in the mid-1980s to describe a constellation of symptoms typically associated with a combination of mental illness and illicit drug use. In other words, it’s not a disease but a syndrome. Doctors can’t test for excited delirium. It is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5. Nor is it recognized by the American Medical Association. But police officers nationwide are trained on it, and in DeKalb County, a one-hour course on excited delirium taught to police officers references a 2009 white paper by the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“Excited delirium subjects are known to be irrational, often violent and relatively impervious to pain,” the white paper explains. “Unfortunately, almost everything taught to LEOs [law enforcement officers] about control of subjects relies on a suspect to be rational, appropriate, or to comply with painful stimuli. Tools and tactics available to LEOs (such as pepper spray, impact batons, joint lock maneuvers, punches and kicks, and [Tasers]) that are traditionally effective in controlling resisting subjects are likely to be less effective on [excited delirium] subjects. When methods such as pain compliance maneuvers or tools of force fail, the LEO is left with few options.”

Last year, the Virginian-Pilot newspaper found 18 cases nationwide of in-custody deaths that were blamed on excited delirium. In each of the deaths, some type of restraint was being used on the inmate.

The ACLU has called excited delirium a “convenient way [for police] to point the finger away from themselves and away from inconvenient truths about our criminal justice system.”

The Heights community is laid out in two L shapes, one L tucked into the other. The outside L consists of five buildings; the inside L, two buildings. Between each apartment building is a gap of about 25 feet, and as Olsen drove down one parking lot, he looked to his left through a gap and saw Hill, crouching naked. Olsen’s plan, as he described it to the grand jury, was to “approach [Hill] slowly and not drive right up on him . . . to keep a distance . . . and engage him in dialogue.”

The anatomy of a police shooting: Anthony Hill
      Olsen entered the complex from Chamblee Tucker Road and first saw Anthony Hill through the gap between two apartment buildings.
      Initial position of Anthony Hill when Olsen first saw him
      Where Olsen stopped his patrol car, and where he shot Hill
      Vantage point of Miguel Medina
      Vantage point of Pedro Castillo
      Office

Behind Olsen was a truck driven by Miguel Medina, a resident at the Heights. Medina has two children, and on the playground, he’d occasionally see Hill exercising, wearing a big set of earphones, singing softly.

When Olsen paused to look to his left and spotted Hill, Medina did, too. “I thought, well, that’s the problem,” Medina said in a deposition. “I’m going to go see how the police officer resolves this problem.” Keeping a distance of about 16 feet from the police car, Medina followed Olsen down the parking lot and around the curve that would bring them both into Hill’s view.

Accounts about what happened in the next 10 or 12 seconds differ slightly. Both Olsen and Medina say that as soon as Hill saw Olsen’s police car, he sprang to his feet and started running toward the car, closing the distance of about 150 feet. How fast? Olsen has described it as “sprinting,” while Medina called it “not running really fast.” Hill’s physique stuck in Olsen’s mind. “I’m thinking, ‘This guy is big. This guy looks like—he’s muscular, looks like a football player kind of build,’” he told GBI investigators. “When he was running, I saw the muscles pumping and his quadriceps through his legs were visible.” Castillo, who was standing about midway between where Hill had been crouching and where Olsen had stopped his car, described Hill as running toward Olsen with his arms above his head. But Medina said that Hill’s arms were never above his head.

If Hill was running with his arms above his head, might they have been a gesture of surrender? Or aggression? To Castillo, it looked like Hill had “tried to attack” Olsen, a characterization that Olsen has repeated consistently. (“He was attacking me,” Olsen told the grand jury. “I believe he was coming to hurt me. He was going to drive me back and head-first into the pavement and possibly take my gun.”) But it’s also relevant to note that Hill, who’d interned with his hometown police department as a teenager, had no arrest record. What’s more, three days before his death—and less than a year after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the police shooting death of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown—Hill, himself a black man, had come out on Facebook in defense of police: “The key thing to remember is, #blacklivesmatter, ABSOLUTELY, but not more so than any other life.”

Olsen put his car in park. A leftie, Olsen wore his gun, a Smith & Wesson M&P .40 caliber pistol, on his left hip. He said that, while he was getting out, a move that required him to pull the door latch twice to unlock it, he briefly took his eyes off of Hill. By the time Olsen got out, Hill had reached the front of his car. By that point, Castillo has said, Hill’s arms were down, his palms facing backward.

At various times, Castillo has provided differing, and sometimes contradictory, recollections. For instance, in court last year, Castillo said yes when asked if he’d walked Hill back to his apartment from the leasing office. Minutes later, he testified that Hill went by himself. In describing Hill to police just hours after the shooting, he estimated Hill to be 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. In a deposition almost three years later, he said Hill “wasn’t too tall. He was, like, five-eight, five-nine.” (Hill was 5 foot 9 and weighed 165 pounds.) To investigators after the shooting, he recalled Olsen telling Hill to stop “more than 10 times.” In subsequent descriptions, he said it was twice. Olsen himself said he yelled stop twice. Castillo is also the only witness to describe Hill as “laughing” while he ran toward the officer.

Everyone agrees that while his gun was trained on Hill, Olsen was backpedaling around the back of his car. “He continued charging directly at me,” Olsen told the grand jury. In his deposition, Castillo said Hill was still running at Hill “a little slower.” Castillo was asked if Hill ever slowed to a walk. “Yes. . . . As the police officer was walking backwards, [Hill] was walking going forward. . . . He was walking at the same rhythm that the police officer was.”

How long did all of this take? From the time when Olsen first pointed his gun at Hill to when he fired it twice was likely a matter of just four or five seconds. When the bullets tore into Hill—in his neck, and in his chest, just below his “Be sensible” tattoo—he was so close to Olsen that blood spatter ended up on the officer’s uniform.

In a deposition, an attorney asked Castillo what happened in the moments after Olsen shot Hill. “I only saw that he laid him down on the street, and he needed our help.”

“The officer needed your help?”

“Yes. He told us, ‘Help me. Help me.’”

Last year, prosecutors in Richmond, Virginia, declined to press charges against an officer who shot and killed an unarmed naked man who was running toward him. The May 2018 shooting was captured on the officer’s body-cam and showed 24-year-old Marcus-David Peters walking toward the officer, Michael Nyantakyi, whose Taser is drawn on Peters. As Peters gets closer, he’s heard exclaiming, “Back the f—k up! Put the Taser down, or I’ll kill you!” With Peters roughly eight feet away, Nyantakyi fired his Taser, but one of the prongs missed Peters, who kept coming. Nyantakyi pulled out his gun, firing twice. Peters died later that evening. Three months later, prosecutors determined that the shooting was a “justifiable homicide.”

In the shooting of Anthony Hill, Olsen, who was not wearing a body-cam, never drew his Taser. He said that when he got out of his car, Hill was too close to him and so there wasn’t time for the Taser. And since he was backpedaling as Hill kept advancing, Olsen said, he could not have mustered enough momentum with his baton to stop Hill. Pepper spray also wouldn’t have worked, he insisted; even if there was time to deploy it, Hill was so close that Olsen may have been incapacitated, too.

“My training led me to react the way I did.”

Olsen explained this to a DeKalb County grand jury on January 21, 2016. He spoke for 20 minutes, at the end of eight hours of testimony from other witnesses. “My training,” he said, “led me to react the way I did.” Olsen was not cross-examined, because Georgia law at the time (it has since changed) allowed police officers to make their cases to grand juries without permitting prosecutors any rebuttal or follow-up questions. Nevertheless, the grand jury indicted Olsen on six counts, including felony murder and aggravated assault.

Olsen’s indictment marked only the second time between 2010 and 2016—a time period that included 187 fatal shootings, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation—that a Georgia cop was prosecuted for a fatal on-duty shooting. Nationwide, from 2005 through June 2019, 104 nonfederal law-enforcement officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter as the result of an on-duty shooting; of the 80 cases that have been resolved, 35 ended in convictions, according to an analysis conducted by the Police Integrity Research Group at Bowling Green State University.

“It’s an unconscionable decision that the district attorney has made to seek a murder conviction here,” Don Samuel, one of Olsen’s attorneys, said in an interview. “I feel more strongly about it than many other people, even on our side. There was no reason for the D.A. to seek a life sentence as if [Olsen] had this malicious response. Look at all the cases around the country. Nobody ever gets prosecuted in a situation like this.”

“Stepping out of the car and shooting the individual was excessive.”

Four days after he was indicted, Olsen resigned from the DeKalb police department. It was that or be fired. An internal review board determined that Olsen had used excessive force in his encounter with Hill. “Stepping out of the car and shooting the individual was excessive,” William Wallace, the DeKalb Police commander of internal affairs, said. Wallace listed all the less-lethal options Olsen had at his disposal—pepper spray, a baton, a Taser, his own hands, his communication skills, and his own car, with its windows and locking doors. Using his gun, Wallace said, “wasn’t the necessary amount of force to accomplish that law-enforcement goal or to make an arrest.”

Wallace’s remarks are part of a deposition in a federal lawsuit filed by Hill’s parents, Carolyn Giummo and Anthony Hill Sr., against DeKalb County and Olsen, alleging the wrongful death of their son. Beyond the specific allegations—that Olsen was insufficiently trained, that DeKalb County was ill-equipped to respond appropriately to the call, that Hill suffered and died as a result—the lawsuit puts Hill’s death into a larger context of how society has neglected the mentally ill. The nationwide deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill meant that “by 2010 there were only about 14 psychiatric beds per 100,000 people, the same ratio as in 1850,” the lawsuit notes. That, combined with the increasing number of combat veterans in DeKalb County who need mental health care, has meant that DeKalb County cops are “more likely than not the first responders to situations involving mentally disturbed . . . individuals.” Seen in this light, the lawsuit seems to argue, a death such as Hill’s was almost an inevitability.

But in June, Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. dismissed the claims against DeKalb County, ruling that there’s nothing in the county’s training of its officers about excited delirium that could be considered the “moving force” behind Hill’s death. Batten pointed out that Olsen also took a 40-hour optional course called “Crisis Intervention Team” training, designed to help officers better respond to mental-health crisis calls. Still, the lawsuit against Olsen remains. Giummo declined to comment for this story, saying she did not want to interfere with Olsen’s criminal trial, which is set to begin September 23.

Olsen had hoped to avoid the criminal trial by arguing that, because he believed he was in fear for his life, he could claim immunity from prosecution. But after a two-day hearing in May 2018—likely a preview of the upcoming criminal trial—DeKalb County Judge J.P. Boulee ruled that Olsen failed to show that deadly force was necessary. “Any belief by [Olsen] that Hill was about to kill him and that deadly force was necessary to prevent the killing was not reasonable.”

Perhaps no testimony in Olsen’s murder trial will be as consequential as that of DeKalb Police Officer Lyn Anderson, who was the first backup that day to arrive on the scene. After he was shot, Hill had fallen face-first onto the pavement. “He attacked me,” Olsen told dispatch, according to audio of the transmission. A third video shows Olsen rushing to his driver’s-side door and popping the trunk release. Olsen told state investigators that he was getting his first-aid kit from the trunk, then went back to his car for his rubber gloves. He turned Hill onto his back. “I saw no respirations,” he told state police. “I checked for carotid pulse. I found none. The subject uttered a death rattle. I took off my gloves and at that time attempted to detain any witnesses.”

In a fourth video, this one shot by a resident from a second-floor balcony overlooking the scene, Olsen is seen crouching over Hill’s body, a pool of blood staining the pavement. Olsen brought his finger to Hill’s neck, presumably looking for a pulse. He waved his other hand toward witnesses, trying to keep them back. It’s hard to hear what Olsen is saying over the sound of a yapping dog, the approaching sirens, and the chatter of the residents shooting the video, but one question he asked is clearly audible: “Did you see what happened?” He directed the potential witnesses to sit down apart from one another.

Then Anderson pulled up. Olsen crouched again and motioned toward Hill’s body, the dead man’s torso covered in blood, his feet crossed at the ankle, one arm stretched to the side, his hand resting in a puddle of bright red.

At Olsen’s immunity hearing, Anderson testified that Olsen told him Hill came running toward Olsen “and started pounding on him.” Anderson referenced how Olsen had pantomimed what Hill had done. And indeed, in the video shot from the balcony, Olsen can be seen taking a step toward Anderson and twice raising his gloved fists in the air.

Said Anderson, “I was expecting to hear [Olsen] say that there was some type of weapon that was going to be used, whether it’s a stick or something that he came toward him with.”

For all his detailed recollection of what happened that afternoon, Olsen has said he has no memory of talking with Anderson at all. He has agreed that Hill never touched him.

“I did not intentionally lie to Officer Anderson,” Olsen told the grand jury. “I had no reason to lie to him. . . . I can’t imagine why I would have told him he banged on my chest because that’s not what Mr. Hill was doing. I certainly figured he was going to do a lot more to me than pound on my chest if he had tackled me.”

After her husband was indicted, Kathy Olsen recalled, “I basically had anxiety 24/7.” The entire experience—the indictment, the public outcry that brought protesters to the street, the prospect of a conviction—is “not an experience you can ever anticipate, or even know how to react,” she said. Both she and her husband are in therapy. They have kept their son in the dark about the shooting. “We have not told him anything about it,” she said. “We’re going to have to tell him something soon.”

The day that Anthony Hill died was his three-year anniversary with his fiancée, Bridget Anderson (no relation to Officer Anderson). She declined to comment for this story, citing Olsen’s upcoming trial, but on the day of Hill’s death, she told state police that he had stopped taking his medication about 10 days earlier. He found the side effects were too unpleasant, she said. She had noticed a change in Hill. For instance, Bridget Anderson described Hill as the “grammar police,” always texting in complete sentences. But that morning his texts had been fragments and, occasionally, nonsensical. In one text, he referenced “singing roaches.” Still, Anderson had never seen Hill act anywhere near as oddly as what she would see on witness videos. In the audio statement, Anderson alternates between sobs of grief and flashes of anger. “Why couldn’t they have tackled him instead of shot him?”

A month after the shooting, Anderson told the Guardian that Hill had sought help from the VA hospital but encountered hours-long wait times on the phone and VA staffers who tried to schedule appointments for him in other states. He self-medicated, she told the Guardian, with marijuana. “It helped to relax him, it helped slow down his speech, and helped him to sleep, because he did suffer from a lot of severe insomnia at times.”

Hill died in DeKalb County, which was the first county in the state to offer a mobile crisis team to respond to mental-health calls. Each team consists of a registered nurse and a police officer, who together respond to calls and evaluate the best next step for the patient and the people nearby. Where was the unit on the day Hill was shot? Out of service. Its shift didn’t start until 2 p.m.—40 minutes after Hill was shot dead.

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

Advertisement