No charges filed in death of Ga. woman who fell from LEOs' patrol car

"We came to the same conclusion as the GBI, which was there were no criminal acts that occurred,” officials said


By Shaddi Abusaid
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — No charges will be filed in the case of a Middle Georgia woman who died this summer after falling from a moving patrol car, officials said Monday.

Brianna Grier died on July 21, six days after falling out of a Hancock County Sheriff’s Office vehicle and suffering a fatal head injury. The woman’s parents said they called 911 on July 15 while their daughter was in the throes of a mental health crisis at her Sparta home.

The 28-year-old mother of twin girls was handcuffed and placed in the back seat of the patrol car, but the back door wasn’t properly closed, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe found. According to the state agency, Deputies Timothy Legette and Marlin Primus thought they had closed the door before driving off, but had not. Grier’s hands were cuffed in front of her and she was not wearing a seat belt when she fell from the vehicle, authorities said.

On Monday, the GBI announced it had closed its investigation into Grier’s death and that District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale decided not to bring the case before a grand jury.

“We met with the family to inform them that the GBI case was completed and given to the Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney who decided against bringing the case to a civil or criminal grand jury,” the GBI said in a statement.

Defending his decision, Barksdale said while Grier’s death was tragic, there is no evidence the deputies committed any crime.

“Based on a review of the entire case file and looking at Georgia law, we came to the same conclusion as the GBI, which was there were no criminal acts that occurred that night, however tragic they certainly were,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There’s a difference between negligence and a criminal act.”

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents the Grier family, placed the blame for the woman’s death squarely on the deputies who arrested her.

“Instead of helping Brianna Grier with her mental health crisis, Hancock County Sheriff’s (GA) deputies took her into custody, let her fall out of a moving patrol vehicle, and caused her death,” he wrote on Twitter after the DA’s decision was announced. “The family of Brianna’s orphaned twin girls deserve ANSWERS!”

Crump confirmed in a text message Monday afternoon that Grier’s family is planning to file a lawsuit over her death.

Barksdale, who represents an eight-county judicial circuit said the tragedy highlights the need for better mental health resources in the state.

“There is not enough funding for people who are suffering from mental illness,” the DA said, noting county jails are filled with people who could be better served with mental health treatment. “They don’t need to be in jail. They need to be in a mental health facility being treated by doctors.”

In July, the GBI released a 10-minute video clip showing the two deputies trying to force Grier into the back seat, then the immediate aftermath when she fell out of the cruiser.

Grier’s father, Marvin, said paramedics and an ambulance were the usual response during his daughter’s prior episodes. This time, however, law enforcement officers showed up to the family’s house and arrested her.

The video released by the GBI begins with Grier sitting on the ground in the driveway outside the residence between the two deputies.

“I’m not drunk, I haven’t had anything to drink,” she insisted as Primus said he could smell alcohol on her breath. She asked them to give her a Breathalyzer test.

The deputy at one point suggested Grier was being arrested for public drunkenness, but they never read Grier her Miranda rights during the video clip.

Grier screamed, cried, made several threats to kill herself and refused to get in the squad car, the video showed.

The deputies eventually got her in the back of the vehicle. According to the GBI, Primus opened the rear passenger’s side while he was on that side of the car and forgot to close it. That crucial detail was not seen in the video made public by state investigators released earlier this year.

Legette, who never went to the passenger’s side of his vehicle, could be heard asking Primus if he’d closed the back door. Primus said he did and told Legette to keep the dome light on so he could watch Grier during the four-mile drive to the sheriff’s office.

About 30 seconds into the drive, Legette stopped his car abruptly and jumped out. Grier was lying in the grass unresponsive a few yards behind his car.

Primus, who followed behind in a different vehicle, seemed incredulous when he pulled up.

“How’s your back door open?” he asked.

The two deputies initially speculated that Grier managed to open the door herself and “jumped out of the vehicle,” which is what Legette radioed to dispatchers when he called for an ambulance.

Barksdale said Monday the decision not to present Grier’s case to a grand jury wasn’t made “willy-nilly.”

“We understand how tragic this is. We understand that someone lost their life,” the DA said. “But even if it’s a tough decision, we’re going to make sure we look at all the evidence and apply the law ... That’s exactly what we did here.”

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©2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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