This week, DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James declined to press any charges against Avondale Estates Police Sgt. Lynn Thomas for fatally shooting unarmed Jayvis Benjamin, despite the recommendation of a grand jury.
The fatal shooting occurred on January 18, 2013, after Benjamin, a 20-year-old college student with no criminal record, was involved in a car crash. As can be seen in the dashcam video below, Benjamin exited the car with his hands up and walked away from Thomas before the fatal shooting later occurred, off camera.
Benjamin’s family and community called for Thomas to be criminally charged almost immediately after the incident. However, District Attorney James failed to take any action for a full two years. By comparison, the arduously long investigation into the fatal police shooting of Laquan MacDonald in Chicago, which received nationwide criticism, lasted approximately 400 days.
After 800 days, James finally took action, but he took the highly unusual action of convening a “civil grand jury” to review Benjamin’s case, as well as six other police-involved shootings. The civil grand jury was charged with deciding which cases, if any, should be recommended to a criminal grand jury, to face criminal charges.
Of the seven police-involved shootings, the civil grand jury recommended only one case be heard by a criminal grand jury: Benjamin’s. According to James, the civil grand jury “strongly recommended the case move forward for indictment.”
Benjamin’s family expressed vindication that a grand jury agreed with them that the officer’s actions leading to the death of their loved one were criminal. And in May of last year, James confirmed that he would convene a criminal grand jury in the case.
Another 10 full months went by without James taking any action, and his inaction began to garner nationwide attention.
Now, James has reneged on his promise to convene a criminal grand jury, going against the findings of the civil grand jury, and has closed the case. Barring a federal investigation, Officer Lynn will never face criminal charges for the fatal shooting of unarmed, 20-year-old Jayvis Benjamin.
Officer Lynn continues to be on active duty with the Avondale Estates police department.