Atlanta officer James Burns indicted for murder of Deravis Caine Rogers
Rogers, 22, was unarmed and sitting in his car when Burns shot him in the head and killed him, and dashcam video showed ‘no provocation’ for the shooting
Former Atlanta police officer James Burns was indicted by a grand jury Wednesday for the murder of Deravis Caine Rogers.
Rogers, 22, was sitting in his car when Burns shot him in the head and killed him, and dashcam video showed “no provocation” for the shooting, according to the police investigation.
Despite the overwhelming evidence in his case, the indictment marks a shift in prosecutions of police killings, both nationally and in Georgia.
A 2014 Wall Street Journal analysis found that over a seven-year period ending in 2011, just 41 people were charged nationwide. For Georgia, Burns is now the second law enforcement officer in over five years to be indicted for killing a civilian while on duty. The previous indictment took place earlier this year, when former Dekalb County police officer Robert Olsen was charged with the murder of Anthony Hill, also young, unarmed and black.
“Though nothing can bring our son back, we know this is a powerful first step,” Rogers’ parents said in a statement after the indictment.
Georgia’s grand jury investigations in officer-involved shootings like have been the subject of significant backlash: until a new law passed this year, officers in Georgia were allowed to sit in on the entire hearing, including the prosecution’s evidence against them, and had the opportunity to make a statement at the end without being challenged or questioned – privileges granted to officers only in Georgia.
The law was cited as one symptom of a justice system that did not hold one officer responsible for police shootings over a more than five-year period. Of 184 Georgians shot and killed by police officers since 2010 – nearly half of whom were unarmed or shot in the back – none of the officers involved were indicted, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation last year.
The new law curtailing these privileges took effect on 1 July this year, but because Rogers was killed prior to that it did not affect this hearing.
In the hours before the indictment was announced, roughly 200 people gathered for a vigil that lasted 24 hours before and during James Burns’ hearing. Supporters stayed outside the Fulton County courthouse overnight, and held signs listing the names of people killed at the hands of cops. The list included Jamarion Robinson, a 26-year-old shot and killed by US marshals last month while being served arrest warrants.
“We know that we’ve got to continue fighting to make sure that he is sent to jail,” said Dre Norman, who stayed outside the courthouse overnight, referring to Burns.
Burns was charged with two violations of oath of office, aggravated assault, felony murder, and making a false statement.
Shean Williams, a partner at the Cochran Law Firm, placed blame on the police department for failing “to provide adequate training and discipline to officer Burns” such that it is “ultimately responsible for the death of Caine Rogers through the actions of officer Burns”.
After Rogers’ death, Xochitl Bervera, director of the Racial Justice Action Center, called on Atlanta police chief George Turner to take responsibility for his department’s role in the incident.
“Chief Turner needs to acknowledge that killings happen when officers are trained to see community members as enemies and neighborhoods as combat zones to occupy,” she said. “Until we get rid of broken window policing and policing for profit, we will continue to see officers violating the rights of – and sometimes ending the lives of – our friends, neighbors and fellow residents.”
When asked about changes to training protocol since Rogers death, Atlanta police spokesperson Sgt Warren Pickard answered:
“The actions that Burns took in this incident were the result of his decision-making, not as a result of training.”