Houston DA found 2011 fatal shooting of burglary suspect justified

bpurser@macon.comJanuary 25, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- The Houston County district attorney found the use of deadly force was justified in a 2011 fatal shooting of a burglary suspect that’s now the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit.

Deputy Steven Glidden fatally shot 19-year-old Robert Kendrick Chambers once in the back of the head Jan. 24, 2011, along a trail between a row of residences and a pecan orchard near Feagin Mill Middle School.

District Attorney George Hartwig found in his review of the GBI case file that the shooting was a “justifiable homicide” under Georgia law.

“Deputy Glidden’s conduct was a reasonable fulfillment of his duties as a government officer ... (and) was reasonable and performed in the course of making a lawful arrest,” Hartwig wrote in a Feb. 23 letter to the GBI. “He believed a suspected felon (Chambers) possessed a deadly weapon (firearm) and posed an immediate threat of physical violence to the officer or others in the immediate vicinity.”

The lawsuit references the GBI investigation into the shooting and the district attorney’s letter. The investigative case file and the letter were obtained by The Telegraph under Georgia’s open records laws.

In his review of the GBI file, Hartwig wrote that on the day of the incident, Chambers was surprised by the homeowner as he was burglarizing a residence in the 1600 block of Sweetwater Drive and fled out the back door with a .45 caliber pistol stolen from the home.

Among the deputies responding, Glidden encountered Chambers while walking down a trail behind a residence in the 1500 block of Sweetwater Drive. Chambers’ hands were in his pockets.

Chambers would not comply with Glidden’s repeated commands to take his hands out of his pockets and attempted to walk past the deputy, Hartwig wrote.

“As Chambers did this, he began to remove his hands from his pockets, and Deputy Glidden saw a black gun in Chambers’ hand,” Hartwig wrote. “Deputy Glidden grabbed the gun in Chambers’ hand and ordered Chambers to get on the ground.

“Chambers did not comply and resisted Deputy Glidden. At this time, Deputy Glidden felt Chambers pulling on his holstered Glock duty weapon. Deputy Glidden drew and deployed his Taser at Chambers.”

Chambers was wearing a thick jacket, so the Taser had no affect on him, but Glidden was shocked because of their proximity.

“Deputy Glidden dropped the Taser, and the two continued to struggle,” Hartwig continued. “At some point, Chambers was able to break free from Deputy Glidden and started to run down the path back toward the residential neighborhood.”

Hartwig noted the confrontation between Glidden and Chambers took place in the immediate vicinity of the middle school during school hours.

“As Chambers ran toward the residential neighborhood, Deputy Glidden, believing Chambers to still be armed with a handgun, drew his Glock 9 millimeter duty weapon and fired one round at Chambers, striking him in the head,” Hartwig wrote.

Wrongful death lawsuit

The lawsuit contends Glidden used deadly force “on an unarmed, fleeing Chambers merely to prevent his escape,” which the lawsuit states is “unreasonable” under U.S. Supreme Court case law. Hartwig could not be reached for comment.

Also, the use of force by Glidden was “excessive and unreasonable under the circumstances,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit notes a Taser video in which Chambers is seen on his hands and knees obeying Glidden’s commands and is heard telling Glidden, “I’m on the ground, sir.”

The Telegraph reviewed the video. It shows Chambers on his hands and knees in compliance and stating that he’s on the ground during some point in the confrontation. But it’s unclear from the video what happened afterward.

The lawsuit notes Chambers never got his “alleged gun out of his jacket pocket” or gained control of the deputy’s weapon. Also, the gun alleged to have been in Chambers’ possession had no fingerprint, DNA or other evidence linking the gun to him. The gun was found some distance from where Chambers was shot.

“Glidden shot Chambers in the back of the head, though it defies logic that Glidden would have been in fear for his own life since Chambers was running away from him,” the lawsuit states.

“Glidden maintains that he shot Chambers in his head to protect residents. However, according to his own account, Glidden prevented Chambers from getting his alleged gun or Glidden’s gun. Therefore, Glidden had no reason to believe that Chambers had a gun and no reason to fear for the safety of residents,” the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit was filed by Sharese M. Wells, Chambers’ mother, who is the administrator of his estate, on Jan. 17 in federal court in Macon against Glidden and Houston County Sheriff Cullen Talton. Glidden declined comment. Talton referred comment to County Attorney Mike Long, who could not be reached for comment. Warner Robins attorney Jeff Lasseter, who represented Glidden for the Police Benevolent Association during the GBI investigation, referred comment to Joni Fletcher. Fletcher, director of legal services for the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, could not be reached for comment.

Glidden, 53, who’s been at the sheriff’s office seven years, has a clean record with no prior disciplinary actions recorded in his file at the sheriff’s office, said Chief Deputy Billy Rape. Glidden had two hours of training in the use of deadly force in 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2006, according to his Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council training record. He also had training in the use of force in 2008 and 2007.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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