As eyewitnesses recounted the horrific moments leading up to Eurie Martin’s death, the only sounds that could be heard in the courtroom were his family’s cries.
Eurie Martin, 58, died of respiratory distress after he was tased repeatedly during his arrest on July 7, 2017. Former Washington County Sheriff’s deputies Henry Lee Copeland, Michael Howell and Rhett Scott stopped Martin, who was walking on the side of the road in Deep Step, Ga., following a 911 call about him acting suspicious. Martin was schizophrenic and stopped at a stranger’s house to ask for water during an over-20-mile trek from Milledgeville to Sandersville , Ga., before his fatal arrest.
The murder trial for the three former deputies involved in Martin’s brutal arrest and death began Oct. 11. After two full days of testimony from witnesses and playing video and audio evidence, state prosecutors rested their case on Monday.
The officers were indicted for felony murder, involuntary manslaughter, false imprisonment, aggravated assault and reckless conduct in Dec. 2017.
According to the Augusta Chronicle, if convicted of felony murder, Statesboro attorney Francys Johnson said, “This will be the first time in Georgia history that white officers will be held accountable for a Black person’s murder.”
Cyrus Harris testified that he called 911 to report Martin after he approached Harris’ house for a drink of water from an outdoor faucet that night. Harris said that Martin’s hair was matted and his clothes were disheveled, the Augusta Chronicle reports. “I didn’t like the look of him,” Harris said, and he told Martin to leave. Harris didn’t tell the 911 dispatcher that Martin asked for water.
Two more witnesses, Lee Curtis Bentley and Susan Steele, a married couple whose house Martin was arrested and later died in front of, remembered the deputies arriving on the scene. They recalled the former officers screaming at Martin while he was face down on the ground.
Here’s more from the dash cam video that was shown in court, from the Chronicle:
Dashboard video shows Martin telling the deputies he wasn’t doing anything wrong, but as he continues walking, Howell ordered him to put his hands behind his back.
The deputies and Martin then pass out of the camera’s frame. Martin is heard screaming from the taser blasts, but gets up and keeps walking.
In the video, Scott pulls up in front of Curtis’ and Steele’s home as Martin gets there on foot. Video shows Scott and the other deputies surrounding him in as Scott pulls Martin’s shirt and shocks him from behind.
Martin spins around, arms flailing, before falling to the ground with one arm pinned under his body. When the deputies eventually get his wrists in handcuffs, Martin is no longer moving. The deputies stand around for minutes.
“Damn that was an idiot,” one deputy says on dash cam audio. “He’s got to be on something, acting like he was.”
According to the Chronicle, Martin’s family wailed in the courtroom as more witnesses described the officers kneeling on Martin’s shoulders, legs and waist as they tased him. Some witnesses said they saw the deputies tase Martin for as long as two minutes at a time. Assistant District Attorney Kelly Weathers said Martin was tased at least 15 times within four minutes and 17 seconds.
According to Georgia Public Broadcasting, the prosecution’s final witness was Georgia Bureau of Investigation use of force expert John Durden, who testified that Martin didn’t commit a crime that warranted the officers’ treatment.
Defense lawyers for the deputies argued that the officers acted reasonably because they said Martin took a defensive stance with them, which conveniently wasn’t caught on camera. The lawyers also said that the officers had a lack of training in recognizing and dealing with someone who is mentally ill. The case is expected to conclude this week.
“Being a strange-looking stranger, being out of place, being misunderstood is not a cause for detention,” Assistant Washington County District Attorney Kelly Weathers told jurors according to the Chronicle. “It’s not a cause for tasing. It’s not a cause for arrest. And it was not a cause for Eurie Lee Martin, a human being, to die.”