Case Background: The Shooting of Tony Green
On June 20, 2018, Kingsland Police Officer Zechariah Presley initiated a traffic stop with a driver, Anthony “Tony” Marcel Green, based on his own knowledge that Green had a suspended driver’s license. Presley knew this information due to an encounter the two had in March 2018 when Presley responded to a trespassing call to which Green was a party. On the night of the shooting, Presley saw Green get into the driver’s seat of a vehicle at a Kingsland gas station.
Presley did not initially call dispatch to report his following of Green and eventually clocked him going 53 mph in a 35 mph zone. After following Green, Green crashed his vehicle in a ditch and he and his passenger, unknown at the time but later identified as Eric Hines, both got out of the vehicle and started to run. Presley shouted a series of verbal commands, which were ignored by Green as he returned to his vehicle to reach for an object that was not identifiable to Presley or on body camera footage that was later enhanced for clarity.
A foot pursuit ensued and Presley called dispatch to report that he had “two running.”
Presley threatened to use his Taser on Green and while the Taser failed to properly deploy, Green fell to the ground at the same time the Taser made electrifying noises. Tony Green ended up on top of Presley and a brief tussle followed – lasting approximately eight seconds. At some point Presley was tased with his own taser before he reached for his duty weapon. He unholstered his weapon and fired eight shots in 2.25 seconds from the ground. These facts and accounts of the circumstances are unrefuted.
Presley then called for help over the radio, told Green to keep his hands up, to stay still, and that help was coming. Presley himself was still lying on his back on the ground. Presley can be heard on his body camera footage – released more than a year later – telling an officer who arrived on the scene after the shooting that Green started to run and he fired his duty weapon. Still on his back laying on the ground, Presley told the officer multiple times that his head hurt. He also uttered a single statement that would shape the narrative taken on by Presley’s supervisors, the GBI, the district attorney’s office, the media, and Tony Green’s family for the next 15 months. Presley said Green “started taking off, so I fired.”
After CPR was administered by responding officers as they waited for an ambulance, Tony Green was taken to the hospital by EMTs where he later died.
Presley was placed on administrative leave with the Kingsland Police Department pending
an investigation and within days, he was terminated from his position for violating policy, though the City of Kingsland offered very few specifics and directed all questions to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). The GBI investigation was headed up by Agent Will Ivey, a former Kingsland PD Detective, who quickly released an account – sans video – that Green was fleeing when he was shot by Presley. Within a week of the shooting, Ivey sought warrants for the arrest of Presley for the death of Tony Green on two criminal charges, including voluntary manslaughter and violation of oath of office. Presley turned himself into the Camden County jail without incident.
In the days that followed, the case dominated local, state, and national media headlines, focusing on the racial components of the case – as Presley is white and Green was black, – Presley’s training history, the refusal by authorities to release the body camera footage before trial, and the civil suit filed against Presley and the City of Kingsland by the family of Tony Green. This was only exacerbated by the release of Presley’s Kingsland PD personnel file, which showed what the department deemed as “flags” on his job application, prior complaints from a citizen (as well as a commendation letter), and a notation of a previous denial of an application for employment with the City of St. Marys Police Department, also in Camden County.
On June 29th, nine days after the shooting, attorney and national President for Black Lawyers for Justice Malik Z. Shabazz and attorney Reginald A. Greene held a press conference to announce that the Green family planned to file a lawsuit for excessive force, unlawful seizures, and wrongful death against Presley and the City of Kingsland. The attorneys told the media they would consider suing the county and the State of Georgia, too, as this was “one of the worst [shootings] in the nation.”
Presley remained in jail without bond for almost a month before his preliminary hearing was held. After the hearing, Presley was released on $100,000 bond with a host of strict conditions. Members of the Green family had testified that Presley was a threat to the community, a flight risk, and opposed the conditions of bond, which included a curfew, the surrender of his passport, prohibition of drugs, alcohol, firearms, and ammunition, no contact with the Green family, and no employment as a police officer or in private security.
The City of Kingsland was mostly silent on the matter and the Mayor and members of Council were frequently admonished by activist and pastor Mack De’von Knight for various things, including not speaking out or failing to attend Green’s funeral. Knight claimed early on that the community needed a “conciliatory” statement from the city.
In October 2018, four months after the shooting and three months after Presley was released on bond, a group of citizens led by Bobby Worthy of the New Black Panther Party filed warrants for the arrest of Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood – who signed off on Presley’s bond – and Kingsland Police Chief Darryl Griffis. The citizens claimed that Judge Atwood, who is from Glynn County, should not have presided over the bond hearing for Presley. But in Presley’s case, all of the magistrate judges in the county recused themselves due to conflicts of interest. Worthy also started an online petition to impeach Atwood, garnering only a few dozen signatures. The warrant for Chief Griffis was sought in response to the arrest of Minister Mikhail Muhammad, who was reportedly arrested in August 2018 following a council meeting where Presley’s employment was discussed. Muhammed was charged with disorderly conduct after he took part in a protest in the street. In addition to seeking the arrest warrants, the group wanted Presley’s bond revoked. The claims were dismissed the day after they were filed, citing compliance with the law and acts in good faith by both Atwood and Griffis, and the judge ruled that the citizens had no grounds to seek the revocation of Presley’s bond. Racial relations in Camden County worsened as activists pushed a racial component in protests, in town halls, and in legal action.
In November 2018, five months after the shooting, the grand jury considered five charges with very specific language, including malice murder, felony murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and violation of oath by a public officer. The murder charges were considered following pressure from friends and family of Tony Green, who circulated a petition seeking heightened charges of murder, over manslaughter. The petition showed a graphic that read, “8 Bullets = Murder ‘Not Manslaughter.’” The five counts were prepared for the grand jury as follows:
COUNT 1: …charge and accuse Zechariah Presley with the offense of MALICE MURDER for that the said accused, on or about the 20th of June, 2018, in the county aforesaid, did unlawfully with malice and aforethought, cause the death of Tony Marcel Green, a human being, by shooting said victim with a .40 caliber pistol, all of said act being contrary to the laws of the state, the good order, peace and dignity thereof.
COUNT 2: …further charge and accuse Zechariah Presley with the offense of FELONY MURDER for that the accused on or about the 20th day of June, 2018, in the county aforesaid, did commit the offense of murder when the accused cause the death of Tony Marcel Green, a human being, irrespective of malice while in the commission of a felony, aggravated assault, by shooting said person with a .40 caliber pistol, a deadly weapon, all of said act being contrary to the laws of said state, the good order, peace and dignity thereof.
COUNT 3:…further charge and accuse Zechariah Presley with the offense of VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER for that the said accused on or about the 20th day of June, 2018, in the county aforesaid, caused the death of Tony Marcel Green, a human being, while acting solely as the result of a sudden, violent, and irresistible passion, resulting from serious provocation sufficient to excite such passion in a reasonable person, in that Zechariah Presley did physically struggle with Tony Marcel Green in an attempt to arrest and detain Tony Marcel Green seconds prior to firing a .40 caliber pistol at Tony Marcel Green, all of said act being contrary to the laws of said state, the good order, peace and dignity thereof.
COUNT 4: …further charge and accuse Zechariah Presley with the offense of INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER for that said accused on or about the 20th of June, 2018, in the county aforesaid, while in the commission of reckless conduct, an unlawful act, did cause the death of Tony Marcel Green, a human being, without any intention to do so, to wit: said accused did lawfully cause bodily harm to endanger the safety of TMG by consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his act of firing a .40 caliber pistol in the direction of Tony Marcel Green would cause harm to and endanger the safety of said person and the disregard constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation and said act did result in the death of Tony Marcel Green, all of said act being contrary to the laws of said state, the good order, peace and dignity thereof.
COUNT 5: …further charge and accuse Zechariah Presley with the offense of VIOLATION OF OATH BY A PUBLIC OFFICER for that the said accused on or about the 20th of June, 2018, in the county aforesaid, being a public officer with the City of Kingsland Police Department did willfully and intentionally violate the terms of his oath as prescribed by law, in that he did swear to discharge the duties of a sworn law enforcement officer of the City of Kingsland, Georgia to the best of his skill and ability, and obey the laws and Constitution of the State of Georgia and the United States and then did unlawfully and without legal justification, discharge his firearm in the direction of Tony Marcel Green, all of said act being contrary to the laws of said state, the good order, peace and dignity thereof.
Ultimately, to the dismay of both the Green family and the Presley family, the grand jury rejected the charges of malice murder and felony murder and Presley was indicted on charges of voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and violation of oath of office – all felonies.
As the state prepared its case, Presley was out on bond and worked as a delivery truck driver. In April 2019, Presley requested that his curfew be modified to allow him to drive a full route, as the 7 PM to 7 AM curfew limited his availability and reduced his pay. His request was granted, but angered the Green family and their supporters. It was highlighted in the media as “shrinking” his bond conditions to “just seven overnight hours on weekdays.”
April 2019 proved to be a busy month for the case. Camden County Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett, who was assigned to the case, set a trial date of September 30, giving the state two and a half more months to hand over discovery documents to the defense and to announce any anticipated expert witnesses.
That same month, the civil suit filed by Green’s family became a part of the criminal trial when the attorneys for the family sent demands to District Attorney Jackie Johnson’s office seeking dash camera footage, body camera footage, and audio recordings. Assistant District Attorney Rocky Bridges requested the judge issue an Order staying the case until the completion of the criminal case, citing the state’s heavy reliance on the videos for its own case, the danger of influencing potential jurors, and the fact that the family was not a party to the criminal case and was not entitled to the discovery files. The Order was ultimately granted by Judge Scarlett.
Three weeks before trial, on September 11, 2019, the state disclosed what is known as a ‘Brady Notice’ with Eric Hines, the passenger in the car with Green the night of the shooting. The Brady Notice noted that Hines’ attorney, John Ossick, had contacted the state regarding a potential interview with Hines. Paperwork attached showed that the state had given Hines two Grants of Immunity – one on August 10, 2018 and one on August 13, 2018 in exchange for his testimony and statements to the GBI and other law enforcement officials because Hines was on probation at the time of the traffic stop where he ran from the vehicle. Hines was not prosecuted for anything related to the June 20, 2018 incident, but was arrested again on February 21, 2019 for possession of cocaine and misdemeanor obstruction of a law enforcement charges. The disclosure of all of this, however, was required under the Brady Doctrine because the state had Hines slated to testify against Presley at the end of the month.
Another Brady Notice was filed two weeks before the trial, but this time with regard to GBI Agent Will Ivey, who had investigated the case against Presley. The paperwork disclosed that Ivey, who previously worked for the Kingsland Police Department, had his own encounter with Tony Green in 2009 when he was party to a foot chase of Green that resulted in Green’s arrest after Ivey used soft hands technique and a Taser. The case was not prosecuted, however, because Green was ultimately incarcerated for a probation revocation stemming from an arrest that occurred prior to Ivey’s encounter. Ivey’s case with Green – which included charges for cocaine possession and possession of drug related objects (a crack pipe)- was dead docketed and never revisited.
As the case barreled toward trial, Presley’s request for a hearing on whether or not he was immune from prosecution was granted by Judge Scarlett and set for September 24, 2019 – one week before the trial. In an immunity hearing, the question is whether or not the state can prosecute the case because of action taken as part of official duties, so the burden is on the defendant to show a preponderance of evidence – or a greater weight of evidence showing Presley should not be prosecuted compared to the amount of evidence shown that he should be prosecuted.
The hearing, which was standing room-only, was also the first time the body camera footage was played in public and for most of Green’s friends and family.
In his eventual Order, Judge Scarlett penned the following narrative:
“Various law enforcement officers testified that they responded to a radio call from Presley needing assistance for what apparently began as a traffic stop, but turned into a foot chase after two suspects, one of whom was Tony Green.Body camera recording shows Green jump out of the car and begin to run, then quickly return to the vehicle, grab an unidentified object, and take off running again.Presley is heard yelling “I’ve got two running.”
In noting that it is ‘nighttime,’ ‘dark,’ and ‘hard to distinguish what’s going on,’ Judge Scarlett continues:
“It is clear that Presley was chasing Green on foot, alerted Green that he was about to be tased and then attempted to tase Green, at which point the two go into a physical altercation and multiple shots were fired. Subsequently, Presley is heard yelling “Keep your hands up,” “stay still,” and “I’ve got help coming.” He is heard yelling his location over the radio multiple times and repeats “I need help, I need help”. Green is seen laying on the ground not moving.
When officers arrive on the scene, Presley is distraught. He complains repeatedly about his head hurting and asks the responding officer if he is okay. He has no injuries visible to the other officers. He is heard saying, among other things, that Green was on top of him pulling at his taser so he went to pull his gun. Then Presley is heard saying, “he started taking off so I fired.” Green suffered multiple gunshot wounds with entrance and exit wounds to both his front and his back. He ultimately died. No weapons were found on Green at the scene.
Defendant bears burden OCGA 16-3-24.2 by preponderance of evidence must show justified in force against another that would likely result in death or great bodily injury because he reasonably believed such force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself.
The Court finds that Presley has not met his burden of proof for pretrial immunity to attach. While the evidence is uncontroverted that Green fled from Presley and the two ended up in some sort of physical altercation prior to shots being fired, and while it is clear from the body camera video that Presley was distraught and fearful during and after the incident, it is unrebutted at this stage of the proceedings that Green was found to have entrance and exit wounds to both his front and his back, although the sequence of the shots is unknown. Moreover, Green had no weapon on him.
Based on the evidence presented, the Court finds the Defendant has failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he reasonably believed deadly force was necessary under the circumstances to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself. As such, Defendant’s motion for pretrial immunity under O.C.G.A. 16-3-21 and 16-3-24.2 is DENIED.”
But the decision by Judge Scarlett in the immunity hearing, though covered heavily in the media, was an ancillary one to Presley’s guilt or innocence on the criminal charges and was not to be considered by jurors at the upcoming trial. In the final week leading up to jury selection and the commencement of the trial itself, clips from the body camera footage were played on news segments everywhere and reporters interjected their own perspective of what they saw in articles.
By the time the trial date rolled around, a little more than 15 months had passed since the shooting occurred. The courtroom was full from corner to corner for each of the three days of testimony and for the full two and a half days of the jury deliberations. After 20 hours of deliberation over a span of three days, the jury found Presley ‘not guilty’ on both the voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges and ‘guilty’ on the charge of violation of oath of office. He was ordered into custody immediately and taken to neighboring Glynn County to await sentencing in jail. On October 18, 2019, Judge Stephen Scarlett ordered Presley to serve one year in prison with another four years on probation following his release. He is currently incarcerated.
The verdict and sentencing left the Presley family devastated and the Green family outraged, both believing that justice had not been served. Green supporters started protesting and scheduled an emergency town hall meeting while attorneys for Presley filed a Motion for a New Trial.
But on the day of Presley’s sentencing hearing, a juror who had gone home to reflect on the events of his service and to do more research of his own, reached out to a member of the media with a desire to share what happened in the jury deliberation room. Looking back, he says mistakes were made. The juror, identified as Tim, said the jury got it wrong, the media reported with an agenda, and he now hopes the appeals process will shift things a different way.
As he divulges the details of the week-long trial that all but concluded a 15-month nightmare in Camden County, Tim shares what the jurors were thinking throughout the trial, whose testimony they weighed more, roadblocks in deliberation and – perhaps most disturbingly – the 11th hour excusal of a black juror who claimed to have ties to the Green family.