The Georgia Bureau of Investigation interviewed many witnesses after the police shooting of Justin Elmore, but the account provided by an 8-year-old girl seemed most closely to mirror what was seen in police car videos.
The child's statement was in the agency's investigative report shared Tuesday with the Richmond County grand jury. The jury did not indict two sheriff deputies for any criminal charge.
The report was released Wednesday through an Open Records request. It reveals both Deputies Jose Rivera Ortiz and Michael Hodge fired their weapons at Mr. Elmore the afternoon of Dec. 14. The deputies fired eight times total. Mr. Elmore, 23, was shot once in the head.
District Attorney Ashley Wright said the bullets were too misshapen for any confirmable ballistic comparison, but from the angle of the shot and the position of the officers, it is logical to believe Deputy Ortiz fired the fatal shot.
Two of the bullets fired by the officers pierced the front door and window of the apartment where the 8-year-old lived with her parents and baby brother. When the shooting began, the child was a few yards from her front door.
Three days later she told GBI agents that she saw the police had an SUV pulled over on Carver Drive. She saw the vehicle back up and hit the bumper of a sheriff's car, according to her statement. As the SUV pulled forward and jumped the curb, the officers started shooting, she told the GBI agents.
Deputies Ortiz and Hodge also told GBI agents that they shot at the SUV when the driver accelerated forward and jumped the curb.
Deputy Ortiz, who was in front of the SUV, told the GBI that he thought the driver was going to run him over. He fired at the car as he tried to get out of its path, he said. Deputy Hodge, who was approaching the SUV from the rear, said he fired when he saw the vehicle headed toward the grass area where he saw Deputy Ortiz.
The deputies wanted to stop the SUV because of a tip from a confidential informant. Deputy Hodge told the GBI agents he got a call from a regular informant that afternoon.
The informant told GBI agents that he had had contact that day with the driver of a newer model, black SUV Suburban with tinted windows. Four men were in the car, as were guns and marijuana, the informant said.
Mr. Elmore was driving a black Suburban with deeply tinted windows and a paper tag. After the shooting, officers discovered Mr. Elmore was alone in the vehicle with just more than 15 grams of marijuana and 30 rounds of ammunition, according to the GBI report.
Ms. Wright said Wednesday that the SUV belonged to Mr. Elmore's brother who had bought it two days before the shooting.
The investigation didn't reveal who might have been with Mr. Elmore before the shooting. There is a 20- to 30-minute time lapse between when the informant saw Mr. Elmore and when he called Deputy Hodge, the informant said.
The GBI report didn't address why Mr. Elmore might have been in the Cherry Tree Crossing public housing complex the afternoon he was shot. The agents later collected his clothing, $825 in cash, and items such as lip balm, a cell phone and a folding knife.
The GBI was called in to take over the investigation of the shooting. When agents arrived at the scene about an hour later, a large crowd had gathered. Some people were throwing rocks, bottles and bricks at the officers, the GBI report reads.
The GBI agents talked with about 19 potential witnesses over the next few days. Most only saw what happened after the shots were fired.
Two women who told GBI agents they were eyewitnesses gave disturbing accounts that are contradicted by the videos.
One woman told agents she was sitting on her front porch when Mr. Elmore was pulled over right in front of her apartment. She said Mr. Elmore was boxed in by the patrol cars and never moved before the officers started shooting.
A second woman who was in the convenience store directly across from the spot where the SUV came to rest told agents that Deputies Ortiz and Hodges repeatedly shot at the SUV after it came to a stop and that the officers shot two people in the SUV.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or email@example.com.