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Diabetic man killed by police told family 'he wants to die'

The family still insists he had nothing in his hands when police shot him, but cops are claiming he brandished a meat fork and knife

By Russ Bynum
Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Before Jack Lamar Roberson was shot dead by police inside his own home, the south Georgia man's fiancee called 911 and said he had swallowed pills and liquor, overturned a refrigerator and told his family "he wants to die," according to a recording released by police Wednesday.

Roberson's family insists he was unarmed when two officers gunned him down last Friday inside the front door of the Waycross home the 45-year-old man shared with his mother, fiancee and young daughter. Police say Roberson threatened the officers with a large meat fork and what appeared to be a knife.

The case has been turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is customary for shootings involving police.

"He didn't have nothing in his hands. I'm hearing he did, but I saw it," his mother, Diann Roberson, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I know what I saw and my son went down with his hands in the air."

In the 911 call, Roberson's fiancee, Alicia Herron, asked for an ambulance, saying she was worried because he had swallowed "a couple of big handfuls" of pills he took for diabetes. He had also been drinking.

"I don't know what will happen," she said.

Herron remained calm throughout the nearly 3-minute call, including when the operator asked her if Roberson was being combative.

"Yeah. He threw the refrigerator down and threw glass everywhere and stuff," Herron said. "He broke his TV and everything."

Herron said Roberson hadn't physically threatened anyone in the house. The operator asked if he had said anything to indicate he might be suicidal.

"He says he wants to die," Herron told the operator. "But I don't know."

Before the call ended, she said: "Just the ambulance is coming, right? No police, right?" The operator said police and paramedics would be notified.

Two Waycross officers came to Roberson's home and at some point he was shot to death.

Lt. Christopher Poole, who came after the shooting, reported hearing radio traffic about officers responding to a suicide attempt, followed several minutes later by an officer's frantic distress call about someone being shot.

In his incident report, Poole said he found Roberson lying face-down in a pool of blood near the front door. There was a meat fork near his head, and the handle of another kitchen utensil poking out from beneath his shoes.

Poole wrote than one of the officers told him "Roberson was holding what appeared to be a large grilling fork in one hand and a knife in his other hand in a threatening manner." The officer told Poole that Roberson lunged toward them and "they fired their weapons to protect themselves."

Waycross Police Chief Tony Tanner said in a statement Monday that both officers "yelled repeatedly for Mr. Roberson to stop and drop the weapons," but he continued to come toward them. Roberson's mother insisted she heard no warning before the police opened fire.

GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. The two officers involved in the shooting, identified in the police report as Lt. Scott Rowell and officer Casey Caswell, have been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation.

Roberson's mother said the family moved to Waycross, located on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp near the Georgia-Florida state line, about a year ago from Michigan. She said her son was a disabled veteran who served in the Navy during the first Gulf War.

"My heart is breaking," Diann Roberson said. "I had a good boy, a good man."

Copyright 2013 Associated Press

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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