ATLANTA (AP) _ A grand jury has charged a white police officer with a misdemeanor for killing a black man during an arrest at a housing project, and some black leaders say they are disappointed the indictment was not more serious.
The Sept. 10 shooting sparked rallies and marches by part of Atlanta’s black community, which said the killing had racial overtones and that it was a case of murder.
The victim, Eddie Lee Callahan, was shot six times, five times in the back, at the Carver Homes housing project while he was being arrested by officer Michael Long and his partner on suspicion of car theft.
Some black leaders said the misdemeanor charge of involuntary manslaughter contained in a Fulton County grand jury indictment released Wednesday was not sufficient. The charge is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, District Attorney Lewis Slaton said.
But Mayor Andrew Young, a longtime civil rights leader, said any indictment in the case was unexpected.
″Frankly, I was surprised at the indictment because it’s very unusual for an officer to be indicted in the line of duty. The grand jury heard the evidence and decided it was not a justified use of the firearm,″ Young said.
The mayor said Long will be suspended without pay. Long and his partner, R.A. Watson, have been suspended with pay since the shooting.
Young also said an internal police investigation into the shooting would be suspended pending the outcome of Long’s trial.
The 22 grand jurors - 11 black, 11 white - heard about 20 witnesses over two days and deliberated more than two hours before returning the indictment. Both officers sat in on the grand jury proceedings under a state law that permits public officials accused of a crime to hear the evidence against them.
The officers contended that Long shot Callahan as he was struggling for control of Watson’s gun. But some residents of the housing project said Callahan was handcuffed on the ground when the shots were fired.
Long did not comment on the indictment Wednesday.
Tyrone Brooks, a civil rights activist and Democratic state representative from Atlanta, said the manslaughter charge was ″inappropriate″ and that he will ask the U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate the shooting.
″We are very disappointed that Fulton County did not see fit to bring indictments of murder against the two police officers,″ he said.
Long’s attorney, Jonathan Oden, a former police officer, said, ″Anytime a police officer is going to the assistance of another police officer who’s in fear of his life, he should be able to do whatever is necessary to protect his life and the life of his partner.″
Oden, who is black, said the indictment sends a dual message to other police officers.
″White officers may feel there is a double standard,″ he said. ″Any officer may feel he has to not act immediately out of fear of how it may appear after someone has had time to go back and scrutinize the matter.″