North Georgia officers cleared in shooting
A Chattooga County, Ga., grand jury cleared officers who shot a North Georgia man earlier this year.
Members of the U.S. Marshals Service found Thomas Zane Campbell on a porch on Halls Valley Spur in Trion on April 10. He was wanted because he went into hiding in the middle of his own criminal trial, which went on in his absence, with a jury finding him guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. When the officers arrived, Campbell later told investigators, he pointed a gun under his chin.
“Based upon the facts and the law presented,” a member of the grand jury wrote Nov. 3, “we find there is no basis to seek any criminal charges against any officer in this matter and that the officers were legally justified.”
Campbell is housed at Coastal State Prison in Port Wentworth, Ga., with a maximum possible release date of December 2028. His attorney, Charles Wright, is appealing his conviction, arguing Campbell was never fit to stand trial.
Campbell’s parents say he developed an addiction to pain killers after graduating from Gordon Lee High School in Chickamauga about 14 years ago. In 2008, he pleaded guilty in Walker County to drug possession, DUI, attempted burglary and theft by receiving stolen goods. A judge sentenced him to 10 years’ probation.
As a result, he couldn’t own a gun. And yet, in 2015, officers in Catoosa County cited him multiple times after finding him with a handgun and a Winchester rifle.
Wright said he negotiated a plea agreement, and Campbell would have had to serve only six months in a probation detention center. But Campbell declined the deal, asking for a jury trial instead. The case against him began March 27.
His father, Clarence Campbell, said Thomas Campbell panicked in front of the courthouse the next morning, complaining of chest pain. He took off for the hospital, and his family didn’t hear from him for the rest of the day. The trial continued without him, and the jury convicted him. Judge Ralph Van Pelt Jr.
sentenced him to 13 years in prison.
His parents told investigators they had no idea where he was. But on April 10, officers got word he was holed up in a woman’s secluded house, down a long, wooded driveway on the line between Walker and Chattooga counties. Members of the marshals service met him there.
Wright, who was present during an interview between Thomas Campbell and a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, said Thomas Campbell then pointed a gun against his chin. A detective told him to put the gun down. Campbell didn’t. Officers then opened fire, hitting him on the right arm and above each kneecap.
Campbell’s mother, Debbie Campbell, said the officers shot him eight times. She said he is still in a wheelchair seven months later and cannot use his right arm or hand.
The grand jury’s civil review of the shooting is the result of a legislative change passed in 2016. The new law is supposed to provide the public with more information about why officers use force that kills or injures people.
Wright, meanwhile, is trying to appeal Thomas Campbell’s conviction from March. He said he later realized Thomas Campbell may have suffered from schizophrenia and should not have stood trial. Debbie Campbell said her other son found a journal Thomas Campbell kept. He recorded a log of every car passing their Chickamauga home and wrote about his concerns that people were secretly recording him. He also wrote about killing himself.
Wright said he has filed a motion for a new trial in Catoosa County but is still waiting for a court date.
“That’s not unusual down there,” he said Tuesday. “They are very slow in getting the transcripts ready. I don’t know if the transcripts have been completed. But that’s normal stuff for them down there. They don’t get in any hurry for an appeal. If you were in Chattanooga, you’d have a hearing in a week or two.”
Thomas Zane Campbell