Black Man Killed in Incident With Cops Committed No Crime Worth Being Stopped For: Agent

A Black man who was killed in a 2017 incident with sheriff's deputies committed no crime that justified his being stopped by law enforcement, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) agent told jurors Monday, according to the Associated Press.

Former Washington County deputies Henry Lee Copeland, Michael Howell and Rhett Scott, all white, are on trial for the murder of Eurie Martin, 58, who died after the officers allegedly shocked him repeatedly with stun guns.

John Durden, the agent, told jurors that the three former deputies should not have stopped and detained Martin and that he should have been permitted to keep walking, local news outlets reported.

"I don't think there was a crime, enough to stop him for reasonable suspicion," said Durden, who was brought into the trial as an expert on use-of-force training, according to the AP.

A resident of Deepstep, Georgia, called 911 in July 2017 and reported Martin as a suspicious person while he was on a 30-mile walk to see relatives. The defense argues that Martin was walking illegally in the road and took an aggressive stance toward the deputies, prompting Howell and Copeland to order him to stop walking, put his hands on his head and lie down, the AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Georgia Supreme Court
Three former sheriff's deputies in Georgia, all white, are on trial for the murder of Eurie Martin, who was Black. Above, a pedestrian passes by the Georgia Supreme Court in Atlanta. David Goldman/AP Photo

Prosecutor Kelly Weathers asked Durden, "Was Eurie Martin constitutionally entitled to keep walking in your opinion?"

"Yes," he replied.

During cross-examination, Durden agreed that Martin had crossed the white line from the shoulder into the roadway, based on photos presented by the defense.

Jurors were shown 20 minutes of dashboard camera video of Martin's arrest, which included Martin's screams and buzzing from the deputies' stun guns. The deputies are heard giving Martin commands.

Another GBI agent testified that Scott and Copeland fired their stun guns repeatedly during a four-minute period, administering doses of electricity as long as 19 seconds from Scott and 13 from Copeland. Martin got up and kept walking away after being stunned the first time, and then was stunned a second time.

Jurors also listened to 911 calls from the day of Martin's death, starting with a resident who told dispatchers that "I got a guy walking off the side of the road here, just walked in my yard. I don't know where he was crazy, drunk or what."

Washington County Chief Deputy Mark McGraw testified under questioning from Weathers that deputies were trained to use only "objectively reasonable" force. Prosecutors argue deputies were not in danger and did not need to use force on Martin.

But defense attorney Shawn Merzlak argued the three were following their training, getting McGraw to agree that deputies were trained that a stun gun "is a device that should be used before hard-handed techniques because it is the device that is most likely to get compliance without serious injury to the suspect or the officer."

Defense lawyers also got witnesses to acknowledge that Washington County deputies are now taught 50 hours of mental health training, while the three deputies on trial did not get that instruction.

The trial is taking place after the Georgia Supreme Court rejected a lower court ruling that the deputies should be immune from prosecution. Senior Judge H. Gibbs Flanders initially found use of force against Martin was justified under Georgia's stand your ground law. That law allows for people to defend themselves with violence if they have a reasonable belief that they are in bodily danger.

Police Carrying Taser Gun
The three sheriff's deputies on trial in Georgia in the Eurie Martin murder case repeatedly shocked him with stun guns. Above, a police officer with a stun gun in Lisbon, Portugal, on October 7. Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images