UNION CITY, Ga. - A grand jury cleared a former police officer of criminal charges more than three years after shooting and killing an unarmed teenager.
Late Thursday evening a Fulton County grand jury voted not to indict former Union City police Officer Luther Lewis on any charges.
This is the second grand jury to hear the shooting case that left Ariston Waiters dead after being shot twice in the back. In May 2012, the first grand jury opted not to indict Officer Luther Lewis on recommended charges of felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and violation of oath.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard convened the latest grand jury after a Channel 2 Action News/Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation into evidence and witnesses the first grand jury was never told about.
The investigation also uncovered concerns that Officer Lewis had suffered from PTSD after serving in Afghanistan.
Channel 2 Action News saw around 10 witnesses coming and going from the courthouse during the case, including an independent DNA expert who we used in our investigation when we reported that the teen's DNA was not conclusively found on the officer's gun.
"Anybody who's claimed that this had Mr. Waiters' DNA on the gun is absolutely wrong. It has millions of people. Even my DNA looks like it's on that gun,’ Dr. Greg Hampikian, from Boise State University, told Channel 2’s Jodie Fleischer during our investigation.
In December 2011, Ariston Waiters, 19, ran when police arrived to break up a fight that he was watching.
He committed no crime and was already lying face down on the ground with one hand in handcuffs when Lewis fired twice into his back. Lewis said Waiters reached behind and upward toward the gun, while still lying face down, but an expert called his statements "self-contradictory" and inconsistent with the forensic evidence during our investigation.
A Union City police supervisor who never believed the shooting was justified testified Thursday. Channel 2 Action News also talked to a 23-year-old who said the officer crossed the line with him six months before the shooting.
Private investigator TJ Ward helped provide new information that finally made its way to the grand jury, including a cover-up of prior incidents involving the officer. Ward said there were no winners Thursday.
"If the administration would have taken the necessary steps early on, when it was identified that he had PTSD, I think Luther Lewis may have not ever been here today,” Ward said.
Officer Luther Lewis testified before the grand jury for nearly two hours Thursday. Witnesses in the courtroom said he cried during some parts of the testimony.
Sources told Channel 2 Action News that District Attorney Paul Howard personally called Ariston's mother, Freda Waiters, to tell her about the decision, and that she is devastated by the news.
Howard released the following statement Thursday night:
"I believe ‘police use-of-force’ cases should only be presented before Grand Juries when the evidence clearly indicates criminal culpability. In this instance, to present a case for a second time requires extraordinary circumstances. Those extraordinary circumstances we felt existed because of newly discovered statements from fellow officers and the revelation of an additional police/citizen confrontation by former Officer Lewis.
"I would like to thank the Union City Police Officers who came forward and testified in this case. I believe such testimony was not only brave but historic as well. Our system of laws demands with the ‘No Bill’ by the Grand Jury that we move on from this case and focus on the job of keeping our community safe.”
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