Georgia high court reverses dismissal of murder charges against ex-jailers in detainee death


ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's highest court has reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed indictments against six former jail officers who had been charged in the death of a man held at the Fulton County Jail.

Antonio May, 32, died on Sept. 11, 2018, after the officers beat and pepper-sprayed him and repeatedly used a stun gun on him, the unanimous Georgia Supreme Court opinion released Wednesday says. They were each indicted on charges including felony murder.

The former officers asked a lower court to throw out their indictments because they were not given notice before they were indicted and weren't allowed to be heard by the grand jury. While grand jury proceedings are typically secret and the person facing potential charges is generally unaware the case is being heard, Georgia law allows “peace officers” to be given advance notice and an opportunity to testify before a grand jury.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney held a hearing on their requests and threw out the indictments after determining that the jailers were considered peace officers under Georgia law.

The high court reversed that ruling, saying the lower court incorrectly found that the the former jail officers' duty to control and supervise people held in the jail amounted to a duty to maintain the public peace. The justices concluded that the jailers were not peace officers and, therefore, weren't entitled to pre-indictment protections.

“While it is true that the defendants' work may have benefitted the public peace, a tangential benefit to the public peace is not synonymous with a duty to maintain the peace within the community as a whole," Justice Charlie Bethel wrote.

May had been arrested that day on a charge of criminal trespass and a warrant from another county. At the time of his death, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said, based on accounts from jail staff, that the officers used pepper spray and a stun gun after May became combative and failed to comply with orders.