A Georgia grand jury has indicted former police officer Justin Gregory Craven (left) for the shooting death of an unarmed driver, Ernest Satterwhite, 68, through his car window following a car chase. What is interesting about the case is the grand jury rejected homicide charges and the prosecutors then asked and received a charge for discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle.
Craven says that he chased Satterwhite about a dozen miles until Satterwhite pulled up to what turned out to be his driveway. Craven fired multiple shots into the car after he said Satterwhite struggled with him and tried to grab his gun.
The alternative charge is a bit curious since it would still seem to depend on the underlying facts. If the shooting was justified in the view of the grand jury in self-defense, then presumably Craven was justified in discharging his firearm into the car.
Under the lesser charge, Craven could still received up to 10 years in prison.
This comes after a Cleveland police officer was found not guilty on Saturday in the 2012 shooting deaths of an unarmed black man and a woman after a high-speed car chase — a story that we previously discussed. Michael Brelo, 31, was charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams following a Nov. 29, 2012 police chase and shooting. Brelo insists that he does not remember standing on the hood and firing the final 15 rounds into the windshield — 15 of a 137-shot barrage. However, a fellow officer said that a few days later Brelo discussed the incident with apparent clarity of memory. Only Brelo was charged among the 13 officers that night who fired the barrage. In all, however, he fired 49 of the 137 rounds. His counsel insists that he remained in danger until he reached into the Malibu and removed the keys. The theory is that the car was the weapon. The failure to charge any other officers and the acquittal has raised questions over the accountability of officers.
The securing of the lesser charge against Craven clearly responds to similar concerns raised about the failure to secure an indictment. However, there remains the disconnect between the rationale for denying the earlier charge and bringing this charge if the grand jurors found the officer’s account to be credible.