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Fmr. Trooper Appears in Court for Preliminary Hearing, Bond Reconsideration

The former GSP Trooper facing felony murder and aggravated assault charges appeared in Superior Court in Screven County for a preliminary bond hearing on Monday. His attorneys asked the judge to dismiss the warrants in the case and, if that was not granted, to reconsider the previous denial of bond.

The former GSP Trooper facing felony murder and aggravated assault charges appeared in Superior Court in Screven county on Monday. Jacob Thompson, who is facing charges from the August 7 shooting death of Julian Lewis, was represented by his legal team of Keith Barber, Duff Ayers, Robert Persse, Sam Dennis, and Grady Dukes in the preliminary hearing, in which his attorneys sought a dismissal of the warrants and, if denied, a reconsideration of the previous bond denial.

This was Thompson’s first court appearance since his last bond hearing on August 24. Chief Superior Court Judge Gates Peed denied the request for bond on September 4 and after Assistant District Attorney Barclay Black contended that Thompson should not be granted bond because there was no proof that he would not commit another felony offense. 

The case began as a routine traffic stop that escalated into a pursuit in rural Screven County. Thompson used a PIT maneuver to end the chase and reported in his incident report and to GBI agents after the fact, that he ultimately fired one shot at Julian Lewis when he feared Lewis was going to run him over with his vehicle.  Thompson alleged that Lewis had both hands on the steering wheel, was turning it back and forth, and that he heard the engine revving before he discharged his weapon. The GBI refuted those claims after its partial investigation and arrested Thompson one week after the shooting.

On Monday, Assistant District Attorneys Barclay Black and Ben Edwards appeared on behalf of the state, bringing GBI Agent Dustin Peak to the stand to testify on the events of the evening of August 7. Peak, as he did during the bond hearing, testified that the GBI made the decision to arrest Thompson because his account of events did not match that of the evidence collected by the state agency. Peak said while Thompson claimed to be at the back of his vehicle at the time of the shooting, evidence analyzed by the GBI suggested Thompson was at an ‘indeterminable distance’ from Lewis when he fired his gun, but was placed near the driver side door of his patrol car. Peak said he concluded that Lewis was not a threat to Thompson when he was shot by the Trooper.

Peak said the GBI also consulted with an analyst who examined gunshot residue on the patrol car door and Thompson’s seat, and it was determined that there was a ‘high volume of gunshot residue’ in close proximity to the driver seat. Peak fervently testified that Thompson conducted the PIT maneuver, his patrol car came to a stop, and it was put in ‘Park,’ stating that only one second in time elapsed from when Thompson took his foot off the brake, unholstered his weapon, pointed it at Lewis, and fired. 

Peak presented additional information during questioning by ADA Ben Edwards stating that the GBI did confirm that Lewis’ vehicle had a cracked taillight with a ‘small part’ of the lens missing, in line with Thompson’s documented reason for the initial pursuit of Lewis on August 7. He also said that one of Lewis’ tires was off the road and ‘somewhat extended’ due to the ditch on the side of the road, further rendering the vehicle inoperable. In reiterating this investigatory conclusion, agents said they found the battery tilted toward the firewall with a loose negative cable that, when tightened, activated the windshield wipers and the lights on the vehicle, and the snaps on the air filter were loose, both of which would lead to the vehicle shutting off. 

During the course of the investigation, Peak said the agency found no evidence that Thompson or the Georgia Department of Public Safety had any previous interaction with Julian Lewis before August 7, 2020 and that the remainder of Thompson’s incident report and testimony was consistent with evidence.

Defense Cross Examines GBI 

The cross examination of Agent Peak by defense attorney Duff Ayers began contentiously when Ayers questioned Peak about a handful of specifics regarding the GBI’s inquiry into the actions of Lewis on the day of the shooting. Ayers asked Peak who Lewis communicated with, via text and phone call, where he had been, what his family reported, and what receipts found in Lewis’ car reflected, among other things. Peak testified that he ‘could not recall,’ but that photos were taken at the crime scene, to which Ayers responded by asking Peak to reference his case file. Peak said the GBI maintains digital case files and that he could not reference the file while on the stand. Ayers pressed Peak, stating that he was asked to bring the complete case file to court, prompting Peak to say he did, via a USB drive. Ayers, “So, you brought it on a USB with no other instrument to make it accessible?”

The exchange prompted an objection by ADA Edwards, who said Peak was permitted to testify off of his own memory. “He’s allowed to testify off of memory, but he was asked to bring the case file to court,” Judge Peed told Edwards. Ayers requested a brief recess so that Agent Peak could retrieve a laptop from his vehicle, a request that was granted. 

When Peak returned to the stand with his laptop, Ayers reumed questioning about notes in the case file and what had been recorded with regard to Lewis’ receipts and behavior on the day of the shooting. Peak said there were no photos of the actual receipts, only ‘miscellaneous paperwork in the car’ and that Agent Jamie O’Sullivan processed the scene but may not have inventoried the receipts. “We would not take anything from the car unless we thought it was evidence,” Peak said. 

“Is there anything that indicates information on receipts found on Julian Lewis’ person or in his car?” Ayers pressed. 

“Not to my knowledge,” Peak said. 

Ayers also asked Peak if he reviewed Lewis’ driving history in the days after the shooting, noting that Lewis was convicted of felony habitual violator offense for multiple DUI offenses- an offense for which he was on parole, did not have a valid license at the time of the shooting, and was on a lifetime suspension for the same license. “That would be a felony if he were stopped, would it not?” Ayers asked before diving into the toxicology report produced by the GBI Crime Lab.

Citing the presence of cocaine, methamphetamine, and the antidepressant Prozac, Ayers asked if a person could ‘possess drugs’ by ingesting them and if felony possession and driving under the influence would put Lewis back in prison. Peak answered, “It’s possible, depending on the judge.”

Ayers asked Peak if Lewis’ refusal to stop for the traffic stop or when blue lights were activated, his driving under the influence, and his ignoring of a stop sign during the pursuit showed that Lewis was ‘reckless,’ but Peak only responded that it showed ‘Lewis did not stop for Trooper Thompson.’

Peak was questioned on whether anything other than the battery and the air filter was tested by agents during the investigation, specifically the alternator, the engine, or any electronics. Peak said those things were not tested. Lewis’ vehicle is now at a secured outdoor location at the Screven County Sheriff’s Office. Thompson’s car, which is in the possession of GSP, was not inspected at all nor was the video software or system but Peak said Monday that he thought it was in working order. 

Peak testified that the GBI investigation was, at this point, complete, with the exception of the completed dash cam video enhancement that is being conducted. Though the matter of public demands for release of the video was not specifically brought up Monday, Ayers asked Peak if the shooting was captured on the dash cam video due to the angles of the cars. Peak stated that there was no footage of the actual shooting, but the timeline was captured in audio. 

First Witness on Scene Says Lights on Lewis Vehicle Were On

Volunteer firefighter Adam McDonough was the first person on the scene before 9:00 p.m. on August 7, living not far from the crash site where the shooting occurred. He testified that he was only on scene for approximately ten minutes and left shortly after EMS, Sheriff Mike Kile, Oliver Police Chief Pat Kile, and another Trooper arrived on the scene. 

McDonough’s assertion that the car still had power immediately following the incident would mean that lights shut off sometime between the shooting and the one-and-a-half to two hour period before the GBI arrived on the scene at 10:30 or 10:45 p.m. 

On cross examination, ADA Edwards asked McDonough how he knew Lewis’ headlights were on. “They were shining in my eyes,” he testified. McDonough had arrived on the scene in the same direction as Thompson’s vehicle, meaning when approaching, he was looking directly at the front of Lewis’ vehicle and headlights.

GSP Supervisors & SCSO Deputy Testimony

The Court heard testimony from Corporal Robbie Scott, Major Billy Hitchens, and Deputy Dwight Singleton on Monday as well. 

Singleton testified that he could not recall whether or not the lights were on, but he arrived on scene several minutes after the radio call of ‘shots fired’ due to being on the other end of the county for a domestic dispute. He was the only Screven County deputy working that evening. 

Scott and Hitchens both testified on their supervisory roles in response to the shooting. Scott was on-duty but was at Post 45 in Statesboro when he heard on the radio that one of his Troopers was in a pursuit before hearing ‘shots fired.’ Scott testified that he began making his way to the neighboring county, but it was 10-12 minutes before he arrived. Another unit, a SCSO deputy, and two civilian cars were on scene when he arrived alongside another Trooper who had also been in Statesboro. He testified that at that time, neither the car nor the lights were on on Lewis’ car and that he worked to secure the scene and carry out supervisory duties until the GBI arrived. 

Scott was also charged with transporting the USB drive with Thompson’s dash cam video to Post 45 in Statesboro, which he testified he did immediately after leaving the scene ‘well after midnight.’ He said it took several hours to upload the video to the WatchGuard software due to cloud-related errors and internet issues. He had to solicit the help of technical support in Atlanta and representatives from the WatchGuard system, ultimately getting the video uploaded around 4:30 a.m. on the morning of August 8. Both Scott and Hitchens testified that the cloud-based component of the software was fairly new to GSP at the time the shooting occurred. 

Colleague Testimony on Video, GBI 

Major Hitchens and Corporal Scott both testified that they watched the video Saturday morning alongside another captain, a Lieutenant, and two GBI agents. Ayers asked if, after watching and listening to the video, someone in the room alleged that it looked like an accidental discharge. Scott and Hitchens both separately testified that someone did say that, though Hitchens said he was not sure who it was. 

Major Hitchens also testified that a brief discussion followed and ASAC Lindsey Smith stated, “It looks like what I saw at the scene.”  

When asked if there was any point during the viewing at which there was a discussion or mention of criminal charges against Thompson, both Hitchens and Scott said ‘no.’  While Hitchens replied that it was not his ‘role’ to determine if criminal charges were appropriate, Scott testified to the same question that he did not believe charges were appropriate after viewing the video and that much else could not be decided ‘without talking to Jake, and we can’t talk to Jake.’

At the conclusion of the three hour hearing, Thompson’s attorneys asked Peed to dismiss  the warrants, citing the new light shed on the story as a whole. “There’s no probable cause for felony murder or aggravated assault,” Persse said. “But if there is a denial, we ask the Court to reconsider the denial of the bond.”

Judge Peed immediately issued a decision on both motions – denying both.

Jessica Szilagyi is a Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers."

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Kelly Newton

    September 28, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    Well done! Good reporting as usual!

  2. Avatar

    Jim Waters

    September 28, 2020 at 10:12 pm

    Thank you So Very Much 🙏🙏🙏

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