SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The state of Georgia has agreed to pay a $4.8 million legal settlement to the family of a Black man who was fatally shot by a state trooper trying to pull him over for a broken tail light.
The office of Georgia’s attorney general confirmed the hefty settlement amount Friday.
The trooper who killed Julian Lewis was swiftly fired by the Georgia State Patrol and charged with murder following the 2020 killing. But the prosecution of the former trooper, Jacob Thompson, stalled last summer when a grand jury in rural Screven County declined to indict him.
Atlanta attorney Andrew Lampros said state officials agreed to mediate a settlement to avoid a civil lawsuit over 60-year-old Lewis’ death. He said the slain man’s wife, Betty Lewis, remains “hopeful but frustrated” that Thompson will eventually stand trial, either in state or federal court.
“This is a classic case of driving while Black,” Lampros said. “That is all that Mr. Lewis, I believe, was guilty of.”
Thompson, who is white, tried to pull Lewis over for a broken tail light near the Georgia-South Carolina state line on Aug. 7, 2020. When Lewis didn’t immediately stop, the trooper pursued him and forced his car into a ditch, then shot Lewis in the head.
Thompson wrote in his incident report that he opened fire as Lewis was revving his engine and turning his steering wheel, as if he was trying to ram the trooper.
However, Thompson was arrested on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault a week after the shooting. Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Dustin Peak testified in court that Thompson’s account of Lewis revving his engine was impossible because Lewis’ car battery disconnected when his vehicle hit the ditch, leaving it inoperable.
Peak testified that dash camera video showed one second elapsed between the time the trooper got out of his patrol vehicle and when he fired the shot that killed Lewis.
An attorney for Thompson, Keith Barber, has said the former trooper committed no crime and shot Lewis in self-defense.
Lewis’ family has called on District Attorney Daphne Totten to empanel another grand jury and try again to get an indictment.
The slain man’s family has also urged federal authorities to bring charges. The office of acting U.S. Attorney David Estes issued a statement last fall that federal prosecutors were “examining” the circumstances of Lewis’ death “in consultation with the FBI.” No further details were given.
While the state admitted no wrongdoing in settling civil claims over Lewis’ death, Lampros said it still brings some consolation to his family.
“There is some confirmation, if you will, an acknowledgement that Mr. Lewis’ life was valuable and meant something,” Lampros said.