Ga. Supreme Court reverses decision to throw out charges for Fulton County jailers in inmate death

The court ruled the deputies did not meet the requirement of “peace officer” because they can’t arrest people.
Published: Oct. 11, 2023 at 10:22 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 11, 2023 at 7:05 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Last year, six Fulton County deputies’ indictments related to an inmate’s death were thrown out. But after a reversal from the Supreme Court of Georgia, those indictments could return.

“We are pleased the Georgia Supreme Court recognized that the special privilege for peace officers to appear before a grand jury is limited and does not apply to the defendants in this case. We will now move forward to trial to seek justice for Antonio May and his family,” Fani Willis, Fulton County district attorney, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the court ruled the deputies did not meet the requirement of “peace officer” because they can’t arrest people, meaning their indictment protections were invalid, court documents show.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Fulton deputies could still face murder charges in Antonio May’s death

“The ruling today was ground-shaking, let’s be clear,” said Rep. Teddy Reese, the attorney for Sheena Pettigrew, the mother of May’s oldest son.

“Hopefully, this will be the day that the tide changes and we see regardless of what the person is in here for, we need to treat this person like a human being,” Reese said.

In September 2018, Antonio May was arrested on a misdemeanor trespassing charge after police said he was throwing rocks at downtown’s American Cancer Society building. He was taken to Grady Hospital and diagnosed with a substance abuse psychotic disorder before being booked into Fulton County Jail.

According to the previous indictments, the six jailers — identified as Arron Cook, Guito Dela Cruz, Omar Jackson, Jason Roache, Kenesia Strowder and William Whitaker — reportedly beat, pepper-sprayed and shocked May with a Taser, causing his death.

Last November, a Fulton County Superior Court judge quashed the indictments. He ruled prosecutors should have given the deputies notice of their indictment, thus allowing the jailers the opportunity to testify before the grand jury that eventually indicted them.

Amanda Palmer, one of Roache’s attorneys, said her law firm is disappointed in the decision.

“We firmly feel that Deputy Roache should have been given an opportunity to appear before the grand jurors and that had they heard from him directly, they would not have indicted him for murder,” the statement said.

Fulton County Jail is under investigation by the Department of Justice for its use of force, mental health care and other issues.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Dept. of Justice investigating living conditions, use of force and other issues at Fulton County Jail