Family copes with ruling that Warner Robins police shootout was justified

chwright@macon.comMarch 28, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Now that the police officers who killed her brother have been cleared, Miranda Rawls-Solomon said it’s time for her family to do what they have done best in the past.

“We’ve always been a very close family, and we’re going to do just that,” she said in a telephone conversation.

The Warner Robins Police Department released a letter Thursday from Houston County District Attorney George Hartwig that ruled the March 10 police shooting of Anthony “Tony” Rawls, 50, justified. The GBI briefed Hartwig on the case Monday, and he notified police Chief Brett Evans of his decision Tuesday.

Hartwig’s letter gave the first details of how the shootout unfolded.

It stated officers responded to 106 Huntwood Lane near South Houston Lake Road at about 7:45 p.m. in response to a 911 call from Michelle Rawls, Tony’s wife. She said her husband had a gun and was threatening to kill her. The 911 call recorded the threats, according to the letter.

Instead of heeding the 911 operator’s instructions and officers’ warnings to put down the gun, Tony Rawls raised it toward his wife, Hartwig wrote. Lt. Don Edwards rushed Rawls, and the pair fell against a front porch window. Rawls started firing, Hartwig wrote. Edwards, Sgt. Mike Fennell, Sgt. Tim Gray, officer Juan Garcia and officer Casey Mullins fired back.

“The police really, in my opinion, had no choice but to use deadly force and put an end to the threat,” Hartwig told The Telegraph.

Rawls, a lieutenant with the state Department of Corrections who worked at Macon State Prison, died at the scene.

According to Hartwig’s letter, Rawls is believed to have fired eight shots. Officers are believed to have fired 16. One of Rawls’ bullets is believed to have grazed Fennell, tearing off a pocket button.

A Warner Robins Police Department internal review is still under way, according to spokeswoman Tabitha Pugh. According to a statement from Evans, the GBI has not yet completed its investigation.

“No other information about the incident will be released until this review is complete,” Evans wrote.

The five officers involved were released from administrative leave and returned to work.

“They were protecting the lives of those at the residence as well as their own that night,” Evans wrote.

Hartwig doesn’t intend to bring the case to a grand jury or charge the officers. He said he will review the full GBI report, which will include all recordings of interviews and diagrams of the scene, to ensure his initial ruling was accurate. He doesn’t anticipate it changing at this point.

Evans wrote that he contacted “Mrs. Rawls” about Hartwig’s findings.

“We continue to keep the Rawls family in our thoughts and prayers as losing someone under any circumstance is always a tragedy,” he wrote.

The family is accepting the findings, Rawls-Solomon said.

“If this is the findings, and this is what they’ve definitely found, this is something we’re going to have to live with,” she said. ”We weren’t there, so we don’t know.”

Rawls-Solomon said her family is rallying around her brother’s children, who range from age 9 to 26.

“We’re just helping the children deal with this and moving on,” she said.

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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