Georgia trooper charged with murder in shooting of Black driver forced into ditch during traffic stop

SYLVANIA, Ga. — A Georgia state trooper has been fired and arrested in connection with an attempted traffic stop that ended with the unarmed Black driver shot in the face and killed as he sat inside his vehicle, an attorney for his family said.

Jacob Gordon Thompson, 27, is charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in the Aug. 7 shooting death of 60-year-old Julian Edward Roosevelt Lewis.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, state investigators were called around 9:20 p.m. Aug. 7 to a scene in Sylvania, where Thompson had attempted to stop Lewis for a minor traffic violation.

Lewis’ silver 1996 Nissan Sentra had a burned-out tail light, Francys Johnson, an attorney for Lewis’ family, told The Associated Press.

“No one should have to bury a loved one simply because of a busted tail light,” the Rev. James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP, said Friday, according to the AP. “This was a case of racial profiling.

“We are not necessarily happy right now. Yes, the man was arrested, but we’re done dying.”

A GBI news release indicated that Thompson attempted to stop Lewis on Stoney Pond Road in rural Screven County, but that Lewis refused to stop and led the former trooper on a brief, 2 1/2-mile chase down multiple county roads.

Thompson used a PIT maneuver, or precision intervention technique, to stop Lewis, whose car was sent spinning into a ditch about 60 miles northwest of Savannah.

Johnson said GBI agents told him what allegedly happened next.

“Mr. Lewis never got out of the vehicle and the investigation will show that, mere seconds after the crash, he was shot to death, shot in the face and killed,” the attorney told the AP.

Watch an example of a PIT maneuver from the Georgia Department of Public Safety below.

Thompson wrote in an incident report following the shooting that he feared for his life when he fired a single shot at Lewis.

The former trooper wrote that he initially pulled behind Lewis on U.S. 301, also known as Statesboro Highway, when he noticed Lewis’ passing car had a darkened tail light. Lewis then sped up, at which point Thompson said he activated his emergency lights.

Lewis turned on his hazard signals and motioned with his hand out the driver’s side window but did not stop, Thompson’s report states.

“I radioed dispatch that I was involved in a pursuit and activated my siren. As I pursued the violator, I observed him start to smoke a cigarette,” Thompson wrote. “As we approached the stop sign at the intersection of Simmons Branch Road, Cameron Road and Stoney Pond Road, the violator passed through the intersection and did not come to a complete stop.”

The former trooper wrote that he decided to use a PIT maneuver to end the pursuit safely as they neared Stoney Pond Road. After Lewis’ car crashed into the ditch, Thompson wrote that he pulled his patrol car even with the stopped Nissan.

“Being concerned for my safety, I drew my weapon as I got out of the vehicle,” Thompson wrote in the report. “At some point, I heard the engine on the violator’s vehicle revving at a high rate of speed. I activated the light on my weapon and observed the violator with both hands on the steering wheel.

“I saw him wrenching the steering wheel in an aggressive back and forth manner towards me and my patrol vehicle. It appeared that the violator was trying to use his vehicle to injure me.”

Read former Trooper Jacob Thompson’s report on the fatal shooting of Julian Lewis below, courtesy of WTOC in Savannah.

Thompson said he fired his weapon once, after which Lewis “sat back, motionless.”

“I recall ordering him to show me his hands, but he remained motionless,” the report states. “I advised dispatch that shots had been fired. I looked at the violator and observed that the shot struck the violator in the forehead.”

Thompson wrote that he sprinted to the end of the road to radio in the location of the shooting to dispatchers, then went back to the scene and rendered first aid to Lewis. A volunteer firefighter soon arrived on the scene and assisted him, he wrote.

Lewis was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety said in a statement Friday that Thompson, who had been a state trooper since 2013, was fired due to his “negligence or inefficiency in performing assigned duties; or commission of a felony.” The GBI’s investigation is ongoing.

“In addition to an internal Office of Professional Standards investigation, DPS utilizes the GBI to independently investigate incidents of an officer-involved shooting and relies on their unbiased findings in those cases,” said the statement, which was obtained by WTOC in Savannah.

Johnson said Lewis’ widow, Betty Lewis, learned of Thompson’s arrest as she left the funeral home where she was making the final arrangements for her husband’s burial, which was held Saturday.

“She fell to her knees,” Johnson told the AP.

Johnson told the news service that Lewis, a carpenter, did not own a gun. It was not clear why he did not pull over when Thompson initiated the traffic stop.

“I want justice for Julian. He was too good to die as he did. This is one step towards justice,” Betty Lewis said in a statement released by her attorney following Thompson’s arrest.

According to the Statesboro Herald, a tearful Betty Lewis shared her feelings about the shooting Wednesday during a Zoom meeting with her attorneys, Woodall and members of the media.

“I am hurting. I am in pain over the taking of the life of an innocent man,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t make sense. I miss my husband. I love my husband. The crying, the loneliness just won’t stop. It’s so wrong.”

Woodall said in a statement that Lewis’ fatal shooting is the 56th officer-involved shooting in the state this year. The civil rights organization last week declared a state of emergency over the violence.

“Increased levels of racial violence and police brutality have created a crisis that requires our urgent attention here in Georgia,” Woodall said.

Woodall called for criminal charges against Thompson, as well as a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Thompson’s attorney, Keith Barber, declined Friday to comment on the specifics of the case, according to the AP. He said, however, that he believes his client has “an excellent character.”

“I think he’s a fine trooper,” Barber said. “I think at the end of the day he will be exonerated in this case.”