WAYCROSS, GA — 43-year-old Jack Lamar Roberson was a father, son, and military veteran who was engaged to be married. His life ended abruptly when he was gunned down inside his own home by police responding to a 9-1-1 call regarding a possibly suicidal man. His family members, expecting a medical response, received a combat response. The distraught family is left with the regret of calling the government for help.
Roberson’s fiancée, Alicia Herron, made the call to 9-1-1 on the evening of Friday, October 4th, to request an ambulance because she was worried after he had swallowed “a couple of big handfuls” of pills he used to treat his diabetes, mixing them with alcohol. His mother and 8-year-old daughter were also present in the home.
Herron was asked if Roberson was being combative, and she responded “Yeah,” explaining that he had broken his TV and the refrigerator.
The operator then asked if Roberson had said anything to indicate that he might be suicidal. Herron told the operator, “He says he wants to die, but I don’t know.”
Towards the end of the 9-1-1 call, and specifically out of concern for Roberson’s diabetic condition, Herron specifically asked the operator, “Just the ambulance is coming, right? No police, right?” Yet, it was the police, not the ambulance, who arrived at their home instead.
Officer Casey Caswell and Lt. Scott Rowell were sent to the home in response to a report of a suicidal man and were informed before arriving that Roberson had become combative and was damaging items in his home.
Police arrived around 4:30 p.m., and were evidently let into the house. As officers entered the living room, they saw Roberson emerging from the kitchen. What happened next remains in dispute, but it resulted in Roberson being shot multiple times.
Roberson’s mother, Diane Roberson, said to a local news channel, “We called 911 for my son cause he wasn’t feeling good so instead of 911 coming, the police came . . . I was here — and my son was coming from the kitchen. He saw the officer over there. The officer didn’t say anything. My son raised his hands. The officer took his gun, fired — one, two, three. I heard four shots. My son fell. Nothing in his hands.”
Each witness insists that Roberson’s hands were empty. But officers wrote in their report that he was holding weapons — a large meat fork and what appeared to be a knife — and claim they shot in self defense.
According to Chief Tony Tanner:
“The officers yelled repeatedly for Mr. Roberson to stop and drop the weapons. Mr. Roberson gained ground on the officers and raised one of the weapons in a threatening manner toward the officers. Both officers fired to stop Mr. Roberson from assaulting them.”
But his family says that no commands were given to Roberson. They claim that neither he nor the police said anything before shots were fired, and that Roberson’s arms were raised in submission and he was shot without cause.
Alicia Herron gave First Coast News her account of the events:
“He didn’t have nothing in his hands at any time or period at all before they came, any time while they were here, anything. They just came in and shot him. He didn’t say nothing, the police didn’t say nothing, anything, it was like a silent movie. You couldn’t hear anything, all you could hear were the gun shots go off and I seen them going into his body and he just fell down.”
The only agreement between the witnesses and the police officers was where the confrontation happened. His family members maintain that he was shot unarmed and without aggression. Officers claim that he was dual-wielding kitchen utensils and charging at them like a maniac, ignoring multiple commands him to drop what he was holding.
Channel 4 News reported that over 100 people gathered in the neighborhood immediately following the killing to condemn the actions of the police saying that, “(they) didn’t need to shoot and kill Jack Lamar Roberson.”
Neighbor Bernara Benson described Roberson as “a nice man who never caused any trouble.”
This is yet another in what seems to be a recurring theme of inappropriate police action when confronted with non-violent, non-compliant citizens who pose a greater risk to themselves than to those around them. Here we have a seemingly disturbed individual who desperately needed the help of professionals trained to deal with his specific problem. Instead, what he got was the inept and unqualified “assistance” of the Waycross Police Department. The officers responded to the scene, despite specifically being asked not to come by the caller, and promptly did what they were best trained to do. And rather than being treated and given the help he needed by qualified professionals, 43-year-old Jack Lamar Roberson was shot and killed inside of his own house and in front of his family.
When it comes to the use of deadly force, police officers are necessarily given wide latitude because of the split-second nature of the life and death decisions that they are required to make. The Supreme Court has ruled that police officers may use as much force as is reasonably required to subdue offenders who resist arrest. For deadly force to be considered justifiable, it must be the reasonable choice given the circumstances at the time of arrest. In other words, deadly force can only the reasonable option when there are no other options will succeed in making the arrest.
The legal standards for deadly force vary depending on whether the offense is a misdemeanor or felony, how much of a threat the suspect poses, and the suspect’s attempts to resist or flee the police officer. However, one fact is constant; if it is proved that an officer used more force than was necessary, the officer can be held criminally and civilly liable.
“We conclude that such force may not be used unless it is necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”
Jack Lamar Roberson and his family needed an emergency response qualified to handle his specific medical needs. What he received, instead, was the practiced response of police officers specifically trained to neutralize any and all threats using “as much force as is reasonably required to overcome the resistance.” When it comes to the destruction of property and the taking of lives, the efficiency of the police is second only to that of the United States Military – though that gap grows narrower with each passing day. But that training was of no benefit to Mr. Roberson and completely inappropriate to the needs of his personal circumstance. Perhaps the police are not the right people to call on in situations such as this.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) is looking into the killing of Jack Lamar Roberson.
Even if you believe the account of the incident provided by the police department and accept that Mr. Roberson was armed, one must wonder if there were no other means by which the police could have subdued him. And regardless of whether the pending GBI internal investigation and possible criminal and civil trials decide in the favor of Mr. Roberson or the police officers who shot and killed him; ultimately nothing will return Jack Lamar Roberson to his family. The cops involved have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, but the system they serve is unlikely to rule against them unless there is a truly overwhelming supply of evidence and an even larger public outcry.
News4Georgia conducted interviews with the victim’s family members. View them below:
If you would like to add your voice to the more than one-hundred in Waycross who have already spoken out against what they consider to be an illegal act of police brutality, please use the contacts below.
Waycross Police Department
512 Oak Street
P.O. Box 176
Waycross, GA 31501
Police Chief A. H. Tanner