North Georgia of­fi­cers cleared in shoot­ing

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY TYLER JETT STAFF WRITER

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

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