Washington County stun-gun death trial starts for ex-deputies

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 7:37 PM EDT
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SANDERSVILLE, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The murder trial for three former Washington County deputies is underway.

The deputies are accused of killing 58-year-old Eurie Martin back in 2017. Body-cam footage shows the deputies tasing Martin at least 15 times in four minutes. He died on the scene.

As the trial got started in earnest on Thursday, both the prosecution and defense explored the choices officers make and the authority they have to do so.

Former deputies Rhett Scott, Michael Howell and Henry Copeland watched as their defense attorneys and the prosecution battled over the actions that led to Martin’s death.

Former deputies Rhett Scott, Micheal Howell, and Henry Copeland
Former deputies Rhett Scott, Micheal Howell, and Henry Copeland

“Mr. Martin changed what was a simple encounter into a situation where deputies are placed into a position by no fault of their own into defending against Mr. Martin’s aggression,” said one defense attorney.

The defense argued deputies did not know or have the expertise to identify that Martin had a mental illness or health issue. They say he committed a felony by not complying with deputies’ orders, giving them the authority to respond with force.

On the other side, the prosecution presented several witness testimonies. At least two were in a truck and recorded video of Martin’s tasing.

“He didn’t understand what they were trying to do. And I started to let the window down one time to tell them. I couldn’t tell he kinda didn’t know. But he wasn’t putting up a fight to me,” said Kelbrick Wiley-Johnson, a witness of Martin’s arrest.

A Washington County chief investigator took the stand to talk about the use-of-force policy. According to the prosecution, Martin was shocked by two deputies at least 15 times during a four-minute window. But Washington County use-of-force policy says only one stun gun should be deployed on a subject at a time.

“To deploy two different tasers on a subject, would that be a reasonable course of action?” said prosecutor Kelly Weathers.

“No, ma’am,” said Trey Burgamy.

Another witness brought by the prosecution said the moments after Martin’s death were incomprehensible, saying one officer kicked Martin’s hood over his face as if he was a dead animal.

As the trial continues, the defense plans to argue why Martin’s mental illness could have been mistaken as intoxication and that his death was an accident.

The prosecution aims to show deputies use of force was an intentionally excessive act that cost Martin his life.

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