Former Georgia Cop Acquitted of Manslaughter in Shooting Death of Unarmed Black Motorist

Photo: AP Photo

A Georgia jury acquitted former police officer Zechariah Presley of manslaughter in the fatal shooting death of 33-year-old Tony Green, an unarmed black man who was fleeing Presley after a traffic stop in 2018.

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Presley was found guilty of one charge related to Green’s death: violating his oath of office, for which he is facing between 1 to 5 years in prison.

Green’s pastor, Mack De’Von Knight, spoke out against the jury’s decision when it was handed down on Saturday, telling reporters outside the courthouse that it’s “hunting season for the young black man.”

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“We’re being gunned down in the streets and there’s no repercussions, there’s no consequences for these officers,” Knight continued, according to U.S. News.

The jury appeared to rely mostly on Presley’s account of what happened the night of June 20, 2018; video captured on the former cop’s body camera was unclear because of darkness and because “something covering the camera lens obscured the shooting and moments leading up to it,” writes U.S. News.

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Presley claimed he followed Green’s car because he believed he was driving with a suspended driver’s license:

Dash camera video showed Green drive the car off the road, then open the door and run. He briefly returned to the vehicle to grab an unseen object, then fled again.

Presley chased Green on foot down a darkened street. A short struggle followed that’s not visible on the video. The recording picked up the electrified clicking sound from Presley’s Taser, followed by eight gunshots.

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Testifying on Wednesday, Presley said he feared for his life, telling the court he opened fire on Green after he turned back around to face him. Presley claimed Green raised an arm with an object in his hand; Presley thought it was a gun, investigators determined it was a cellphone.

This was different from what Presley himself told other officers at the time of the shooting. Video presented at the trial shows another officer approaching Presley, who is lying on the ground. Presley says Green was on top of him, attempting to reach for his Taser.

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“And then I was going for my gun, and he started taking off. And I fired,” Pressley said.

Prosecutors pointed out that the evidence didn’t jibe with Presley’s updated story. As Green’s autopsy revealed, Green was struck by eight bullets, almost all of which hit his back and hips. One struck his chest. A toxicology report showed Green also had “small amounts of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and a tranquilizer in his system,” U.S. News writes.

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Presley’s manslaughter charge initially drew outrage from black residents of Kingsland, where Green is from. Though Presley was fired and charged within days of the shooting, a grand jury rejected indicting him for murder.

As of Sunday, Presley remained in jail as he awaits his Oct. 18 sentencing date.

“[Presley] made a fatal mistake and it was a mistake that cost a man his life,” prosecutor Rocky Bridges said during his closing argument. “You don’t have to like Tony Green. ... He ran from the police, not a good decision. But he was not armed. He did not turn on officer Presley. He did not deserve to die.”

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About the author

Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?