Grand jury clears officer in 2011 fatal police shooting of Tony Carr and suspected bank robber

A Muscogee County grand jury conducting a “civil investigation” has cleared of any criminal wrongdoing the officer involved in the fatal 2011 shooting of a Fort Benning fire inspector and a suspected bank robber.

District Attorney Julia Slater announced the decision after about 20 grand jurors spent six hours reviewing evidence and hearing testimony regarding the Sept. 6, 2011, shooting in which Officer Vincent Lockhart Jr. fatally wounded Fort Benning worker Tony Carr, after chasing robbery suspect Alrahiem Tolbert from the MEA Credit Union at 2944 Macon Road.

Also killed in the shooting was Tolbert, who while fleeing Lockhart had taken Carr’s government pickup truck from the driveway of a house Carr rented at 2907 Gardenia St.

Slater said the grand jury’s decision Tuesday precludes any further criminal investigation of Lockhart’s actions, though Carr’s family still could file a civil suit against the officer and the city. John Martin, Lockhart’s attorney, said in that instance his client could claim the immunities from civil suit afforded law enforcement officers acting in their official capacity.

The nature of the grand jury’s “civil investigation” confused some in the Carr family and their supporters, who expected the grand jury either to indict Lockhart for a criminal offense or return a “no bill” dismissing criminal charges. The grand jury on a civil investigation only reports whether further investigation or additional court proceedings are warranted.

“I asked the grand jury to give me a civil finding, a special grand jury function, and I asked them to recommend to the DA’s office whether we should pursue any criminal charges in this case,” Slater said. “Officer Lockhart’s name was not on an indictment. They were not being asked to true bill or no bill anything — simply whether or not we should pursue anything criminally. They determined we should not ….”

Had the grand jury decided otherwise, it could have initiated further investigation that would lead to an indictment presented to a second grand jury, she said.

She said she invited Carr’s family to address the grand jury, paying their travel expenses to come here.

Among those testifying was Carr’s brother Michael. He said afterward that he felt misled, and complained that Slater did not summon an eyewitness to the shooting who lived right across the street.

“This is a miscarriage of justice,” he said Tuesday evening, adding he intended to complain to the Georgia Bar Association about the absent eyewitnesses. “That’s ridiculous,” he said.

The family is not interested in filing a civil suit, he said. It’s interested in seeing Lockhart tried on criminal charges: “I want criminal charges on him. It’s not a money thing. It’s more of a ‘this guy should not be allowed to have a gun; he should not be allowed to work in that capacity; he should not be allowed to do any of that.’”

Slater said the grand jury proceedings are secret, but she described some of the testimony it heard:

“We had representatives from the Carr family; we had eyewitnesses; we had law enforcement officers; and we had some professionals and experts who know about use of force within the police department — not just the Columbus Police Department, but the standards of use of force within law enforcement offices.”

She acknowledged those experts would have told jurors about court precedents regarding police shootings. Courts have held that an officer’s use of force must be judged according to the circumstances the officer faced at the time, not information that came to light afterward.

Martin, Lockhart’s attorney, said Slater’s requesting a grand jury civil investigation was appropriate in this case: “I think certainly nobody would want to be in law enforcement if they thought if there was an incident that involved deadly force, that you would immediately be subjected to criminal charges,” he said. “So I think probably it is appropriate that you do have a filter where a grand jury can look at it in a civil context, as compared to just an all-or-nothing criminal indictment.”

Authorities previously have provided this account of what happened the day the shooting:

Around 11:30 a.m., Lockhart pulled into the credit union parking lot as Tolbert was leaving with a gun and cash from the bank. Tolbert ran, so the officer left his patrol car and chased Tolbert on foot about a block south and west to the driveway of the house Carr usually rented while working at Fort Benning.

Tolbert happened upon the government pickup truck Carr had left in the driveway, and got in. Carr typically came home from work at lunchtime to let his dog out, his brother Michael said.

When Tolbert got into the driver’s side, Carr came running from the house and got into the pickup’s passenger side, police said. As Lockhart ordered Tolbert to stop, Tolbert tried to back over the officer, so Lockhart began firing, authorities said. He fired multiple shots as Tolbert backed out onto Gardenia Street, shifted gears and punched the gas, fishtailing west up a hill toward Briarwood Avenue, investigators said.

Fatally wounded by a bullet to his chest, Carr fell from the truck to the pavement, where the vehicle ran over his legs. The truck sped west and crashed into a utility pole at Briarwood Avenue, where police found Tolbert dead from a head wound. His gun and loot from the bank were in the cab with him, officers said. Carr died later at The Medical Center. Police initially suspected he somehow was associated with Tolbert, but later found no connection between the two.

Slater’s office last year received other tips purporting to establish that Carr was involved in the robbery, but additional investigation proved those erroneous.

After reviewing reports of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe into the officer-involved shooting and following up on the tips that proved unsubstantiated, Slater issued a statement Oct. 19 that in part read:

“After careful review, I find nothing in either the investigatory report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation nor the follow up investigation conducted by the Office of the District Attorney to indicate that Tony Carr was involved in the robbery of the MEA Credit Union. Although this office has never implicated Mr. Carr of any wrong doing, I believe it is important for me to release this finding.”

Michael Carr previously said he and his brother were on the phone together from 11:40 to 11:49 a.m. the day of the shooting. The conversation ended soon after Michael Carr heard a stranger’s voice say “Move,” after which his brother told him, “Hold on,” he said. Then he heard loud music.

Outside the grand jury room Tuesday, Michael Carr said he believes that loud music came from his brother’s government truck. He and his brother usually kept their music turned up in their automobiles, he said.

He never heard from his brother again after that, he said.

He said Tony Carr served in the Air Force, where he became a firefighter until his service ended in 1999, after which he worked as a civilian firefighter for the military. Though certified as a fire inspector, his brother’s primary duty was as a firefighter, he said.