A grand jury indicted two former Atlanta-area police officers on murder charges after prosecutors said they used stun guns on a man while his hands were cuffed behind his back.
The indictment filed Monday charges former East Point police Sgt. Marcus Eberhart, 41, and former Cpl. Howard Weems, 49, in the April 2014 death of 24-year-old Gregory Towns Jr. The two did “materially accelerate” Towns’ death by repeatedly using their stun guns on Towns, who was “exhibiting signs of fatigue and shortness of breath,” the indictment said.
An autopsy by the Fulton County medical examiner’s office found Towns died from “hypertensive cardiovascular disease exacerbated by physical exertion and conducted electrical stimulation.” The autopsy report lists the manner of death as a homicide.
Eberhart and Weems each face a single count of felony murder, aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct, as well as three counts apiece of violation of oath by a public officer.
No lawyer was listed for either man in an online court file. Calls to a number listed for Eberhart went unanswered. A person who answered the phone at Weems’ home said Weems wasn’t there and hung up the phone when asked if he could take a message. Lawyers who have previously represented each man did not immediately return phone calls and emails Tuesday.
Eberhart resigned July 9, 2014, and Weems was fired the next day, according to a statement from the office of Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.
Officers were called to a townhome community on April 11, 2014, on a domestic dispute call involving Towns and his girlfriend, Howard’s office said. Towns ran into a nearby wooded area after encountering police in the parking lot, but was quickly caught and handcuffed.
When Eberhart and Weems arrived, they demanded that Towns stand and walk to a patrol car. When Towns said he was “out of breath” and couldn’t stand, the offers used their stun guns on him, the statement said. After being repeatedly hit, he became unconscious and later died.
Towns’ family in August 2014 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the two officers and the city of East Point. The city settled the lawsuit for $1 million in November.
Chris Stewart, a lawyer for Towns’ family, said the indictment is a step in the right direction.
“We’re happy there has been an indictment for both officers, but it’s not done yet,” Stewart said. “It is an example nationally that officers can be held accountable for their actions.”
Towns, who was black, was killed several months before the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, put a national spotlight on how police treat minorities.
Stewart has previously said Towns’ case wasn’t about race since the officers were also black, but was instead about power and an inappropriate use of force by the officers. Stewart has also praised the police department for quickly taking action against the officers involved and calling in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to examine the circumstances surrounding Towns’ death.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Kate Brumback