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August 22, 2006
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Report: Ga. cop was to be fired for death of unarmed motorist

Bill Osinski; Staff
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Copyright 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gwinnett Police Department officials recommended that former Sgt. George Gilson be terminated for the fatal shooting of an unarmed motorist, according to an internal investigation of the incident.

The report on the investigation, obtained Monday, determined that Gilson violated department policy when he fired his weapon from a moving vehicle. Gilson, who told investigators that he thought the victim was trying to hurt him, resigned earlier this month, forestalling any action on the report.

However, he still faces a Gwinnett grand jury investigation and is scheduled to appear before that body on Aug. 30.

In the predawn hours of June 10, Gilson, a 20-year veteran of the force with an unblemished record, fired four shots at a truck being driven by Jeffrey Cantrell, 41. Police had been called by the son of Cantrell's former employer after Cantrell drove off in a company truck. Cantrell also had called the employer's son to say that he was too drunk to drive.

The report did not specifically conclude that Cantrell was drunk or indicate his blood alcohol level. It said his blood alcohol content was "negative" and other drug test results were incomplete.

A number of police units were involved in an unsuccessful effort to get Cantrell to stop during the low-speed police chase. Gilson joined the effort, pulling in front of Cantrell's truck, but Cantrell evaded him and pulled off Sardis Church Road near Buford, according to the report.

Gilson's patrol car and Cantrell's truck were moving roughly parallel to each other on the embankment, according to the report, when Gilson claimed that Cantrell was swerving toward him.

Gilson's attorney, Derek Jones, was unavailable for comment Monday. Gilson did not return a phone message seeking his comment.

According to the report, Gilson fired at Cantrell because he thought Cantrell was trying to run him down.

"I didn't even have time to think, rethink or evaluate the whole set of circumstances," Gilson told investigators, according to the report. "When I seen [sic] this guy and the movement of his vehicle, himself in full control, hands on the steering wheel, making that movement towards me, there was no doubt in my mind he was trying to hurt me."

In the report, police investigators concluded Cantrell's truck "closed the distance toward Sgt. Gilson on two separate occasions ... being demonstrative of an aggressive move."

According to the report, Gilson told investigators he believed Cantrell was driving a stolen vehicle, might have been intoxicated and was failing to obey his and other officers' signals to stop.

The report does not give an explanation of how Gilson's actions violated department policy on both the use of deadly force and proper pursuit procedures.

However, the report does reference those policies. The deadly force policy specifically lists among the conditions when such force is not justified: "due to the inherent risks of such actions, shots shall not be fired from or at a moving vehicle."

The policy also stipulates that an officer may use deadly force "only when the officer reasonably believes that the action is in defense of human life, including the officer's own life."

The department's policy prohibits vehicular pursuits, "unless there is probable cause to believe the person(s) being pursued have committed or are committing the following: murder, armed robbery, rape, kidnapping and aggravated battery or any action that creates an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to another person or a substantial threat to the safety of another 

Full story: Report: Ga. cop was to be fired for death of unarmed motorist

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