ATLANTA (AP) — A grand jury renewed murder charges in the 2016 death of a black man who was fatally shot while driving a car against a white former Atlanta police officer.
A new indictment reinstated felony murder charges against former officer James Burns barely a month after Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard dropped the original indictment. Howard had cited legal concerns about how the case was originally presented to grand jury two years ago.
Prosecutors say Burns was responding to a suspicious person call in June 2016 when he fired shots into a car driven by 22-year-old Deravis Caine Rogers, killing him. Investigators concluded the officer wasn’t in danger when he opened fire, and that he had no way to identify Rogers as the reported suspicious person.
“Today’s murder re-indictment against James Burns is further proof that the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office is fully committed to the complete prosecution of this case,” Howard said in a statement Wednesday. “We just want to make sure justice is served.”
The new indictment also charges Burns with aggravated assault and violating his oath of office — counts that also were part of the original indictment.
Drew Findling, Burns’ defense attorney, said the new indictment doesn’t erase legal concerns raised by the case previously.
“The previous indictment was dismissed because it was constitutionally flawed and, regardless of this new indictment, this case continues to be constitutionally flawed,” Findling said. “We will continue to zealously fight for Mr. Burns’ constitutional rights as well as zealously advocate for his innocence.”
Findling declined to comment further Wednesday. He has previously said Burns believed that Rogers’ car was accelerating toward him and that his life was in danger.
On June 22, 2016, Burns responded after an off-duty officer working as a security officer at an Atlanta apartment complex called police to report a suspicious person, prosecutors have said. When Burns arrived, he tried to block a 2011 silver Ford Fusion that was leaving the complex.
The Fusion, driven by Rogers, didn’t try to hit the officer and Burns was standing at the rear of his patrol vehicle, authorities have said. They also said Burns had no information describing Rogers as a threat and no way to identify Rogers as the man the off-duty officer had reported.
Burns fired one shot into the side of Rogers’ vehicle, prosecutors have said, hitting Rogers in the head.
The Atlanta police chief fired Burns soon after the shooting, following an internal investigation that determined Burns used unnecessary and excessive force.