In a dramatic decision Georgia Superior Court Judge Henry M. Newkirk dismissed the murder and manslaughter charges against officer Raymond Bunn. The dismissal was based on a motion by Officer Bunn that his actions in shooting the deceased, Corey Ward, was justified as Ward drove an SUV at Officer Bunn and attempted to run him down. Judge Newkirk decided that Officer Bunn was immune from prosecution based on Officer Bunn’s justifiable belief that his life was in danger and that Corey Ward’s actions posed a “risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to the officer”. Judge Newkirk found that Officer Bunn reasonably believed Corey Ward was about to run him over with the SUV; and thus was justified in firing his service weapon in his own self-defense. Officer Bunn ahs been facing these charges for over three and one-half years. District Attorney, Paul Howard has indicated that he will appeal the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. Original, full text of this case appears below.
Former Atlanta Police Department Officer Raymond S. Bunn was indicted on December 9, 2005 by a Fulton County County grand jury supervised by District Attorney Paul L. Howard.
Officer Bunn was charged with Murder, Felony Murder, Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Violation of Oath.
The indictment arises from an incident that occurred three years earlier in the early morning of July 14, 2002 at a parking lot on Peachtree Road in Atlanta. Officer Bunn fired two shots at a Chevy Tahoe SUV that was trying to run him down in the parking lot; the driver of the vehicle, Corey Ward, was hit once in the head and died instantly. Murder and Felony Murder are capital offenses in Georgia. Officer Bunn was a seven-year veteran of the Atlanta P. D.
Following the incident Officer Bunn, a former Marine, was called for duty in Iraq by his National Guard Unit. He served in Iraq from February 2003 until January 2004 when he retuned to the Atlanta P. D. In July 2004 he resigned from the Atlanta P. D., taking a position with the Triple Canopy Security firm. In April 2005 he began work with the Blackwater Security Company providing security for Department of State personnel in Iraq. He has one prior incident involving use of force. In this same tough area of Atlanta, Officer Bunn was on patrol and asked the driver of a Jeep Cherokee to turn the stereo radio down so he could be heard. The driver, a female exited the car, and attacked Officer Bunn, striking and scratching him. Officer Bunn, in defense, struck her once and gave her a black eye. He was later exonerated of claims of racism and police brutality. He has an excellent record as an officer. He is 37 years old, married with five children. No trial date has been set.
Manny Arora of the firm Garland Samuel and Loeb represents officer Bunn. Manny Arora specializes in criminal defense matters.The Incident
In the early morning hours of July 14, 2002 Officer Bunn and his partner, Officer Terry Mulkey, were patrolling a tough nightclub area in Atlanta known as “Buckhead”. The area has bars that stay open until 4 a. m. and experiences lots of burglaries, car thefts, break-ins, shootings and riotous drunken behavior. Local residents complain frequently of brawls, fights and shootings. Officer Mulkey was driving an unmarked police vehicle; Officer Bunn was in the front passenger seat. They stopped at a parking lot and observed several vehicles at the back of the lot, and heard the breaking of a car window, and a vehicle alarm go off.
Suspecting that a vehicle theft was in progress, Mulkey pulled the cruiser into the lot and both exited their vehicle, leaving room for vehicles to enter and exit the parking lot. Prior to leaving the cruiser the officers turned on the blue police flashing lights to identify themselves as police officers. Both officers observed a black male, later identified as Jamal Smith, jump through the passenger side window of a Buick Grand National SUV. The window had been shattered and was missing.
Upon exiting their cruiser, the officers shouted “police, police stop” as Jamal Smith jumped out of the window of the Buick SUV and ran to a Chevy Tahoe. They saw him get into the back seat of the Chevy Tahoe driven by Corey Ward. Both officers were wearing pullover shirts with the words “Atlanta Police” in bold on the front and back; both were wearing chains around their necks that secured their Atlanta Police badges. Emergency blue lights were flashing from inside the windshield and in the rear of the police cruiser. Officers Bunn and Mulkey confronted the Chevy Tahoe about 25 feet in front with weapons drawn; they again yelled, “Police stop, Police stop”.
At the distance of 25 feet in front of the Chevy Tahoe Bunn and Mulkey started to approach the stopped vehicle, when the driver hit the gas and accelerated in reverse screeching the tires and then came to an abrupt stop. The officers began to advance towards the Chevy Tahoe again, but then the driver, Corey Ward, punched the gas pedal and came straight at the Officers. The officers retreated to front of their cruiser for safety. Both officers were in front of the cruiser that was sitting at a right angle with its front facing to the Chevy Tahoe. The Chevy Tahoe was bearing down straight at the front right side of the cruiser. Officer Mulkey was on the driver’s side and escaped to a position on the left front drivers side of the cruiser. Officer Bunn was trapped between the right front of the cruiser and the approaching Chevy Tahoe. As the Chevy Tahoe approached him at about 6- 8 feet, he jumped to his right to avoid being hit and fired his service revolver at the driver. The Chevy Tahoe hit Officer Bunn and his left knee was injured seriously when it was caught between the left front of the Chevy Tahoe and the right front fender of the cruiser. Officer Mulkey confirmed Officer Bunn’s version and stated that Officer Bunn fired his weapon before being hit by the Chevy Tahoe. He said he heard the shots fired, a loud thud and Officer Bunn yelling out in pain. Corey Ward was hit in the head by one bullet that went through the front drivers side window. The trajectory of the bullet was from the front of the temple to the back of the head.
Atlanta officer M. R. Carter conducted the investigation. Officer Bunn was interviewed and gave a description of the incident, which was identical to the statement given by officer Mulkey. Both believed that their lives were in danger as the Chevy Tahoe bore down on them. There is no question that the deceased driver, Corey Ward, knew that Officers Bunn and Mulkey had clearly identified themselves as police officers. Two of the occupants of the vehicle, Rodriguez Brown and Jamal Smith say they heard the officers announce their identification, saw their badges and also saw the flashing emergency police lights. Other occupants of the vehicle will claim they thought white armed gunmen were robbing them.
Corey Ward had over two ounces of cocaine in his pocket when he was shot. A large knife was found in the pocket compartment between the driver and passenger’s seats. The Chevy Tahoe was searched and seven bags of marijuana were discovered hidden under the dashboard. Two stolen cell phones were found in the Chevy Tahoe. One cell phone was stolen from a nearby truck the night of the incident.
A study of the crash was conducted using the Vetronix Crash Data Retrieval System that apparently can retrieve data from the airbags in a severe crash. This data showed that the vehicle was traveling at 26 MPH 5 seconds before the crash and at 14 MPH one second before the impact with Officer Bunn and the police cruiser.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) made an analysis of the trajectory of the bullets. The GBI determined that Office Bunn’s position when the shots were fired was at the right front of the cruiser and to the front left of the Chevy Tahoe. The trajectory of the bullet that killed Corey Ward was from front to back of the head. The analysis by the GBI determined that the distance from Officer Bunn to the Chevy Tahoe when he fired was 5 feet or less.
Atlanta Police Department Use of Force Regulations
The regulation in effect for use of force in July 2002 for the Atlanta P. D. provided that “unnecessary use of force against any person or property is prohibited”; and “an employee shall only use necessary force against another person to effect an arrest, prevent an escape . . . or defend himself or another from physical assault. In any event, only the nature and amount of force deemed reasonably necessary by a prudent person to accomplish a lawful purpose shall be used.”
The regulation in effect for use of firearms in July 2002 provided that the primary intention of the policy was to “ensure the safety of both the public and the employees of this department. Therefore while it may become necessary for an employee to discharge a firearm, it is required that the employee make every effort to avoid such drastic action. In all cases only the given amount of force shall be used which is consistent with the accomplishment of the mission. The employee shall use caution and act in a calm and deliberate manner when he/she finds the use of a firearm necessary. No employee will be criticized if he/she chooses not to discharge a firearm if the discharge might threaten the life or safety of another or if the discharge might not be clearly warranted by this policy, state or reasonable judgment. Nor will criticism be made of an employee who when faced with a situation which threatened life or serious physical injury discharged a firearm in self-defense or in the defense of another.” The regulation ends with the caution that “deadly force cannot be taken lightly and that the employee’s actions must be legally warranted and defensible, but also within accepted moral and social codes and consistent with rational and humane social control in a democracy.”
This is a case, like the Morningstar case in Detroit, where an officer faced, and indeed, believed that he was in a dangerous and violent situation. If he did not act, he could be the victim of violence. Like the Morningstar case, Officer Bunn should be judged from the perspective of what he was facing and what he perceived the threat to be.
Both officer Bunn and Mulkey claimed that they feared for their lives when Corey Ward accelerated the Chevy Tahoe directly at them. Both considered the Chevy Tahoe to be a dangerous weapon. Corey Ward knew that Bunn and Mulkey were police officers since both officers had drawn weapons, emergency lights were flashing and clear identification was on their bodies. Two of the passengers, Rogriguez Brown in particular, state unequivocally that Ward knew they were police officers. Brown was sitting directly behind Ward in the backseat and stated that he observed the emergency lights and the police identification and said Ward also observed the same things that he did.
It can be reasonably concluded that Ward feared being caught with cocaine on his person and deliberately chose to go at the officers in an attempt to run them down and escape. There was clearly room for Ward to avoid the officers and simply speed out of the parking lot. Why he attempted to drive at and over the officers and harm them is speculative. But the discovery of 7 bags of marijuana and the possession of cocaine on Wards person probably caused him to panic and go straight at the officers.
The forensic evidence tends to support Officers Bunn and Mulkey in their claims of imminent danger from the Chevy Tahoe. At 14 miles per hour, a Chevy Tahoe is a dangerous instrument, at 25 miles per hour it is deadly. The logical reason for the drop in speed from 25 MPH to 14 MPH is that in the last few seconds, Corey Ward had been shot and thus no longer was pressing down on the gas pedal.
The regulations for the use of force and use of firearms do not provide much in the way of guidance for a police officer faced with a dangerous confrontation. Use of force is authorized to defend from physical assault, but is to be exercised reasonably and with prudence. Us of a firearm is authorized but is to be avoided if possible, but is authorized in life threatening situations and where serious physical injury is threatened. Deadly force must be legally warranted and defensible.
This is not a case where the officers deliberately confronted the occupants of the vehicle to provoke an incident. They legitimately suspected a burglary or break in was in progress, and properly demanded that the suspects stop and obey their lawful orders. Corey Ward used the vehicle as a weapon, and did so recklessly. By comparison, how different would the officers have reacted if Corey Ward had pointed a firearm at them? No different, they would have correctly concluded that they were in imminent danger and would have been justified using deadly force. The Chevy Tahoe was used as a weapon and in view was the use of deadly force, no less that if Corey Ward had pointed a firearm at the officers. Thus it can be concluded that Officer Bunn used deadly force in self-defense and in defense of the safety of officer Mulkey.
The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund is assisting Officer Bunn in this case and ask for your generous assistance.