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District Attorney Finds That Deputy Who Fatally Shot Suspect Will Not Face Trial

written by: Coweta Judicial District Attorney, Herb Cranford

On Saturday April 14, 2018 the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (“GBI”) was called to Little River Road in Carroll County by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office (“CCSO”) to investigate a deputy involved shooting of Jessie Thedford. Thedford, who was 32 years old, subsequently died as a result of gunshot wounds.

The GBI contacted me on the same day to report the incident and I requested that the completed investigation be turned over to the District Attorney’s Office for review. On August 6, 2018 the District Attorney’s Office received the investigatory file from the GBI. The investigatory file contains interviews with witnesses including the deputies involved in the incident, 911 and dispatch audio, dispatch reports, crime lab results, crime scene analysis including pictures and diagrams, the autopsy report, and video from patrol cars.

The evidence revealed the following: Within approximately 24 hours prior to Thedford being shot, Jessie Thedford’s girlfriend, who was pregnant with his child in April 2018, told her mother and two law enforcement agencies that Thedford had physically abused her on April 13, 2018. On April 13, 2018 Thedford’s pregnant girlfriend told her mother and the Douglasville Police Department that Thedford physically abused her as the couple returned to Georgia from a trip to Mississippi. According to the girlfriend, at the conclusion of that trip, Thedford initially refused to allow her out of the vehicle but finally put her and her small child out of the vehicle, at which time she called her mother to come get her. The girlfriend and her mother then filed a police report with Douglasville PD and the girlfriend got a hotel room in Carroll County to hide from Thedford. At approximately 1:00 a.m. on April 14, 2018 the pregnant girlfriend went to the hospital for stomach pains that she suspected were a result of Thedford hitting her in the stomach during the car trip. The girlfriend’s mother told GBI investigators that hospital staff called Carroll County law enforcement because the staff believed they saw Thedford in the hospital while the girlfriend was being helped. A Carrollton Police Department report shows an officer interviewed the girlfriend at the hospital about the abusive car ride but there was no documentation about whether Thedford had been sighted at the hospital. The officer did document that the girlfriend stated that Thedford had threatened to kill her. That night the hospital released the girlfriend and she returned to the hotel without incident.

During the subsequent GBI investigation of Thedford being shot, the GBI confirmed that the girlfriend was staying at a hotel. The girlfriend reiterated to the GBI that Thedford was very violent and was regularly physically abusive to her. I find that the allegations that Thedford abused his pregnant girlfriend while he drove them back to Georgia are corroborated in a few respects, although the Douglasville PD Officer and Carrollton PD Officer who took the reports observed no visible signs of abuse on the girlfriend.

The fact that the pregnant girlfriend hid at a hotel rather than stay with her family on Little River Road indicates that she was genuinely afraid for her safety following the car ride. Similarly, the fact that the pregnant girlfriend went to the hospital out of concern for her baby and attributed that concern to having been abused by Thedford is indicative of something having actually happened to cause her to be concerned about her baby’s wellbeing.

On April 14, 2018 Thedford told deputies that his pregnant girlfriend had assaulted him in the car, verifying that some acts of violence had occurred during their car ride. Despite Thedford’s claims that his girlfriend assaulted him, only the girlfriend filed a police report about being abused in the car ride. Thedford’s claim of being abused in the car ride is undermined by the fact that he possessed weapons with which he could have defended himself in his vehicle, including a pocket knife found on his person on April 14, 2018 and brass knuckles found in his vehicle on the same date.

On April 14, 2018 around 9:00 a.m. the girlfriend’s mother went to the hotel to check on her daughter. While at the hotel, the girlfriend’s mother received a call from her 12 year old granddaughter reporting that Thedford had been seen at their Carroll County residence on Little River Road. The mother of Thedford’s girlfriend then called 911 at approximately 10:41 a.m. because she was afraid Thedford would hurt her family. She informed 911 that Thedford was violent, may have a gun in his car, “was capable of anything,” had threatened to kill her pregnant daughter by the end of the week, and had a case in Douglas County for abusing her daughter. She also told 911 that Thedford was currently on methamphetamine, which made him “out of his mind.” Thedford’s blood was tested following his death and the crime lab results were positive for Methamphetamine, showing Thedford did have the drug in his system on April 14, 2018. Prior to 11 a.m. CCSO responded to the 911 call. The first responding deputy initially met with the mother of Thedford’s pregnant girlfriend then followed the mother to Thedford’s location at the duplex where the family was living.

In the initial meeting the pregnant girlfriend’s mother told the deputy about Thedford allegedly abusing her pregnant daughter on April 13, 2018. Once at the duplex that same deputy spoke to the landlord of the duplex, who had come to the scene at the request of the girlfriend’s mother. The landlord was renting the A side of the duplex to the pregnant girlfriend’s family and at the time was considering renting the B side of the duplex to Thedford.

Upon the first deputy’s arrival, the landlord told the deputy that Thedford did not have a lease or key and no one was supposed to be in the B side of the duplex. After the deputy spoke to the landlord, the deputy and the landlord walked to the rear of the duplex and saw Thedford exit the rear door of the B side of the duplex. Thedford told the deputy and landlord that he entered the duplex through an open window. The deputy then asked Thedford multiple times to place his hands on a fence but Thedford was uncooperative and repeatedly made motions towards his pants. Consequently, the deputy took Thedford to the ground and handcuffed Thedford’s hands behind his back. The deputy then located a pocket knife in Thedford’s pants pocket.

Among many comments during this time, Thedford said he had been awake for two days and was on parole. My review of Thedford’s criminal history reveals that he was in fact out on parole at this time and that he has been convicted of multiple separate felony offenses, including Burglary, Escape, and Forgery-1 st Degree. At approximately 11:15 a.m. Thedford made the statement that he “cannot go to jail” and he spends the next several minutes pleading to the deputy that he not be taken to jail.

At approximately 11:17 a.m. Thedford is told unequivocally that he is going to jail. Minutes later deputies notice a bulge in Thedford’s underwear and search it. At the location of the bulge, deputies located suspected methamphetamine, which caused Thedford to become very emotional and agitated, complaining that his parole was going to be revoked. Although Thedford actively resisted the deputies, they were able to put Thedford in the rear of a patrol car with his hands cuffed behind his back. Deputies informed Thedford that he was being arrested for “criminal trespass and everything.” Based on a review of the evidence, I find the deputies had sufficient probable cause to arrest Thedford for criminal trespass (OCGA § 16-7-21), obstruction of a law enforcement officer (OCGA § 16-10-24), and possession of methamphetamine (OCGA § 16-13-30(a)).

As deputies continued their investigation, Thedford began to kick the inside of the patrol car. In response to this a deputy activated the patrol car camera facing the backseat where Thedford was sitting. Within two minutes of deputies leaving Thedford in back of the patrol car, Thedford managed to move his handcuffed hands under his feet from his back to his front. Approximately two and a half minutes later, Thedford climbed through the vent window in the patrol car’s cage and into the driver’s seat of the patrol car. In the front passenger seat of the patrol car was a Glock handgun to which Thedford had access once he was in the front of the vehicle.

In addition, other firearms were in the trunk of the patrol vehicle.

At approximately 11:26 a.m. Thedford took control of the patrol car and turned on the vehicle’s emergency lights which prompted a deputy to approach the patrol vehicle. As the deputy approached the vehicle, Thedford accelerated the patrol vehicle forward causing that deputy to fear he was going to be hit by the vehicle. The patrol vehicle only missed the deputy by a few feet.

That deputy said he would have fired upon Thedford in self-defense as the vehicle came towards him if he had been able to set his feet to get off a shot. Multiple witnesses stated that deputies shouted commands for Thedford to “stop.” The first deputy who arrived on scene was further away from Thedford at this moment. After the patrol vehicle cleared the closest deputy, the far deputy fired 3 shots at Thedford, striking him once in the arm and twice in the torso. The deputy who fired stated he feared for the life of the deputy who was almost hit by the vehicle and he feared that Thedford was a danger to the public if he was able to escape the scene in the patrol car in which multiple firearms were located.

The patrol car Thedford stole belonged to the deputy who fired the shots and within minutes of the shooting that deputy stated aloud that there were multiple firearms in his patrol car. Within one minute of the shooting the deputies requested an ambulance and reported that shots had been fired to dispatch. The two deputies removed Thedford from the vehicle and attempted life saving measures, including applying a tourniquet and administering CPR, until EMTs arrived. Deputies can be heard saying, “stay with me” multiple times to Thedford.

Thedford was pronounced dead at the hospital and the medical examiner determined the cause of death was the two gunshot wounds to his torso. The facts known to the deputy who shot Thedford at the time of shooting show the deputy was reasonable in determining that Thedford posed a threat of serious bodily injury or death to the public, especially his pregnant girlfriend, if Thedford had been allowed to escape while in possession of multiple firearms and a vehicle, which itself can be used as a deadly weapon.

The deputy was aware of Thedford’s assault of his pregnant girlfriend and his threat of further harm to her the day prior to the shooting.

The deputy was also aware that the girlfriend’s family was in fear of harm by Thedford. This gave the deputy a reasonable basis to believe Thedford posed a serious and continuing threat to at least one member of the public had Thedford been allowed to escape in a police car with guns inside it.

The deputy was also aware that Thedford had been awake for two days, that he was very likely under the influence of methamphetamine, that he displayed emotional and irrational behavior at the scene, that he repeatedly resisted the deputies, and that he stated he could not go back to jail. This gave the deputy a reasonable basis to believe Thedford posed a threat of serious injury or death to any member of the public Thedford might encounter after escaping in a car with guns. Additionally, Thedford proved he was a threat to the public by placing one deputy in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and death by driving the patrol vehicle at the deputy and coming within feet of hitting that deputy with the vehicle.

Following my thorough review of the facts of this case and the relevant law, I find that the deputy who fired at and struck Jessie Thedford on April 14, 2018 was reasonable in finding it necessary to use deadly force in defense of others. Therefore, I have concluded that this deputy did not violate the laws of the State of Georgia and I will not be presenting this case to either a Civil or Criminal Grand Jury. Consequently, my offices involvement in this matter is closed.

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