Grand jury won't charge deputies in suspect's fatal shooting

MORE VIDEO: Residents of Cherry Tree Crossing react to today's grand jury decision

A Richmond County grand jury today found no reason to bring charges against two sheriff's deputies who fatally shot a suspect last December when he tried to run over one of them with his SUV at an Augusta housing complex.

Grand jurors, who heard testimony and reviewed police videotapes of the incident behind closed doors, decided the two deputies, Jose Rivera Ortiz and Michael Hodge, should not face charges, and brought a no-bill of indictment in the Dec. 14 shooting of Justin Elmore.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said he was pleased with the decision and urged others to view the police dashboard-camera videotapes of the shooting before reacting to the results.

The sheriff said the film shows his deputies' lives were in danger the moment Mr. Elmore put the vehicle in drive.

“That was the threat,” he said.

He also confirmed his department had reaction teams ready to restore the peace should violence break out in the Cherry Tree neighborhood, as happened often in December.

“We hope people do sit back -- study the tapes -- before anything is done,” Sheriff Strength said.

He met today with local community leaders including longtime Paine College professor Mallory Millender, state Rep. Henry Howard and Barbara Gordon, publisher and editor of the Metro Courier newspaper.

The sheriff said deputies have been preparing for the past two months for any violent demonstrations in reaction to a grand jury decision.

This afternoon, numerous police cars, including a SWAT team van and Columbia County sheriff's vehicles, could be seen parked just not far from the Cherry Tree neighborhood.

In December the shooting of Mr. Elmore, 23, had provoked several days of unrest as hundreds in and around the public housing complex off 15th Street shouted, marched and even threw bottles in protest.

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke at Mr. Elmore's funeral, urging calm. Afterward, however, many took to the streets, including members of the New Black Panther Party, who displayed guns and marched, while police looked on.

Because the case involved a police agency, it was turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which shared the results of its inquiry with District Attorney Ashley Wright. She showed that evidence today to grand jurors.

Although the grand jury presentations are not public, earlier police accounts said the deputies had been responding to a tip about a man with drugs and weapons in an SUV when they boxed in Mr. Elmore, using their patrol cars.

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.

A gunshot then fatally wounded Mr. Elmore. 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 systems.

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