Grand jury continues to review deputies' shooting of suspect

A Richmond County grand jury continues to review the evidence this afternoon involving two sheriff’s deputies who fatally shot a suspect last December when they said he tried to run over one of them with his SUV at an Augusta housing complex.

Grand jurors are behind closed doors, but are said to be hearing testimony and reviewing police videotapes of the incident involving Deputies Jose Rivera Ortiz and Michael Hodge.

The shooting of Justin Elmore provoked several days of unrest in mid-December as hundreds in and around the Cherry Tree Crossing public housing complex off 15th Street shouted, marched and even threw bottles in protest.

The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke at Mr. Elmore's funeral, and the New Black Panther Party -- displaying guns -- later took to the streets.

The case had been turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which shared the results of its inquiry with District Attorney Ashley Wright. She presented that evidence today to grand jurors.

Although police dash-cam video of the incident had been seen by Sheriff Ronnie Strength, it had not been made public because it was part of the GBI’s investigation.

However, the sheriff said last December, he had seen the video and it indicated his men had acted properly.

According to the tape, it appears the deputies were defending themselves, he said. Neither has been involved in an officer-related shooting in the past. Both have been assigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation.

The deputies were responding to a tip about a man with drugs and weapons in an SUV when they boxed in Mr. Elmore, 23, using their patrol cars, Sheriff Strength said.

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.

Follow augustachronicle.com for updates on today's grand jury meeting.

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