2 officers won't be charged

The neighborhoods in and around Augusta's Cherry Tree Crossing housing project remained quiet Tuesday night after a grand jury's decision not to indict two Richmond County sheriff's deputies who fatally shot a man there in December.

Several days of civil unrest followed the Dec. 14 shooting of Justin Elmore, 23, killed by police when they said he tried to run one of them down with his SUV.

A heavy police presence involving several agencies surrounded the neighborhoods off 15th Street late Tuesday, and both authorities and Cherry Tree residents said they expected things to remain calm.

District Attorney Ashley Wright said the grand jury's decision essentially ends the possibility of prosecution of Deputies Jose Rivera Ortiz and Michael Hodge. She said the "no bill" means that at least 12 members found no probable cause the deputies committed a criminal act.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he was pleased with the decision and urged others to view the police dashboard-camera videotapes of the shooting before passing judgment on the grand jury's decision. He said the film shows his deputies' lives were in danger.

"That was the threat," he said. "We hope people do sit back -- study the tapes."

The sheriff also met Tuesday with community leaders including state Rep. Henry Howard, longtime Paine College educator Mallory Millender and Barbara Gordon, publisher and editor of the Metro Courier newspaper.

The shooting of Mr. Elmore provoked several days of unrest in mid-December as hundreds protested in and around the complex off 15th Street. The Rev. Al Sharpton preached at his funeral, urging calm, but afterward many took to the streets, including members of the New Black Panther Party, who brandished guns as police looked on.

The Elmore case was turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Ms. Wright presented the results of its investigation to the grand jury Tuesday.

The panel, which met behind closed doors, began hearing evidence at 9 a.m., and witnesses testified until at least 3 p.m. It finished work about 4 p.m. on the shooting case, the only one before grand jurors all day.

According to the district attorney, the grand jury had a murder indictment for consideration. Its duty was to decide whether there was an unlawful, intentional killing, Ms. Wright said.

The grand jury could have indicted the deputies on another charge, such as manslaughter or reckless conduct, and chose not to. Ms. Wright said the grand jury can charge any crime supported by the facts.

Both officers attended the grand jury hearing, a practice allowed for any law enforcement officer or public official who could face criminal indictment. The law allows the officer or official to make a statement, too.

Witnesses included GBI agents, a narcotics officer and at least one expert on law enforcement training in the use of deadly force.

Ms. Wright said she could not discuss the evidence presented because grand jury proceedings are secret.

While the officers and their attorneys could attend the portion during which witnesses testified, no one other than the jurors may be present during the deliberations of the grand jury, Ms. Wright said.

Although details described to grand jurors remain secret, police accounts in December said the deputies were responding to a tip about a man with drugs and weapons in an SUV. They used their patrol cars to box in Mr. Elmore's vehicle in the Cherry Tree Crossing housing complex.

As Deputy Ortiz approached from the front on foot, Mr. Elmore put his SUV in reverse, rammed Deputy Hodge's car and drove toward Deputy Ortiz.

Mr. Elmore was shot. He was taken to Medical College of Georgia Hospital, where he died several days later when his family asked that he be taken off life support.

Reach Sandy Hodson and Adam Folk at (706) 724-0851.

MORE VIDEO

Watch the full police videos at the following addresses:

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TUESDAY AT CHERRY TREE

Though the angry crowds that gathered after Justin Elmore's shooting in December did not regroup after Tuesday's grand jury news, some residents at Cherry Tree Crossing did express disagreement with the decision.

"There should have been murder charges," said Sha'keela McNair, who soon will give birth to Mr. Elmore's twin boys.

Click here to watch a video of residents' responses on Tuesday.

THE BACKSTORY

THE INCIDENT: On Dec. 14, Deputies Jose Rivera Ortiz and Michael Hodge were responding to a tip about a man with drugs and weapons in an SUV when they boxed in Justin Leonard Elmore, 23, using their patrol cars. Police said Mr. Elmore rammed Deputy Hodge's car and drove toward Deputy Ortiz. Mr. Elmore was shot and later died.

THE AFTERMATH

- Angry over the shooting, some people hurled rocks and bottles at Richmond County sheriff's deputies as a crowd of about 200 gathered Dec. 14 at the development off 15th Street.

- On Dec. 16, Mr. Elmore was taken off life support at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

- On Dec. 23, about 200 people marched through Cherry Tree in a demonstration against police brutality, led by gun-toting members of the New Black Panthers Party's Augusta chapter.

-- Edited from staff reports

PREVIOUS STORIES

Elmore had history of arrests

Investigations of shootings involving officers continue - Mar. 14

GBI, District attorney talk Elmore shooting - Feb. 4

200 march after Elmore's funeral - Dec. 23

SUV in shooting wasn't stolen - Dec. 20

Damaged car camera elicits help from FBI - Dec. 18

Man shot by police dies [VIDEO] - Dec. 17

Sheriff defends deputies [VIDEO] - Dec. 16

Shooting recalls 1998 case - Dec. 16

Residents' anger boils at police - Dec. 16

Angry crowd confronts police at housing project shooting scene - Dec. 14