Torrey Thompson, formerly of the DeKalb County (Georgia) Police Department has been charged with felony murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, and violation of an oath by an officer following the fatal shooting of Lorenzo Matthews, a 22-year-old black male. Matthews was a wanted dangerous felon who had demonstrated willingness to put others in harm’s way to avoid arrest. He was a suspect under investigation for a shooting and robbery in the apartment complex where the incident occurred, and had recently assaulted a police officer.
At 3 a.m. on September 12, 2006, two DeKalb County police officers were dispatched to an apartment complex in Decatur, Georgia, to investigate a stolen vehicle which had been identified in a hit-and-run accident. When the police stopped the vehicle, the occupants jumped out and fled on foot The victim of the hit-and-run advised police that Lorenzo Matthews was one of those in the car. Police were given permission to search an apartment where Matthews was believed to be hiding. The officers called for back-up. Three police officers responded including Officers Torrey Thompson and R. L. Knock.
While three of the officers went to the apartment to search it, Officers Thompson and Knock positioned themselves at the back stairwell of the building in the event that the suspect would try to escape. It was very dark as there were no lights so the officers used their flashlights to illuminate the area.
Meanwhile the other three officers entered the apartment upstairs and encountered Darylon Slade, who complied with a frisk search, and Matthews who immediately fled out the rear door and ran to the stairwell where Officers Knock and Thompson were waiting at the bottom.
The officers yelled “STOP, GET TO THE GROUND” and ordered Matthews “SHOW YOUR HANDS.” Matthews refused orders and ran down the staircase holding what Officer Knock believe to be a small caliber pistol. Officer Knock yelled “SHOW YOUR HANDS! STOP! DROP YOUR WEAPON!” Matthews continued to ignore the orders and at the bottom of the stairs, Matthews lunged at Office Knock while pointing the black object in his hand at him. Officer Knock fired at Matthews but he kept going, jumping over the railing, running toward Officer Thompson.
Since his fellow officer was in the line of fire, Officer Knock did not fire again but yelled to Office Thompson, “shoot him.” Officer Thompson hesitated until he saw the object in Matthews’ right hand. He then fired twice at Matthews. But Matthews kept running, scaling the yard fence and making a bee line for a wooded area some 27 feet behind the apartment building.
Officer Thompson pursued Matthews again ordering him to “STOP”. Matthews turned to look at him and the officer fired again. Matthews disappeared into the woods.
A K-9 unit was summoned to search the wooded area. They found a black cell phone case, and a knife. Eventually Matthews was found dead in the nearby shopping center.
During the investigation that followed, both officers stated that their actions were justifiable. They were threatened by a dangerous suspect wielding what they thought was pistol and making aggressive moves toward them. The entire episode lasted less then two minutes, in the dark, with a confrontation between police and a wanted criminal. Both officers feared for their lives.
Two years after the incident, a special Grand Jury was convened to investigate 12 incidents in 2006 by the DeKalb County Police Department involving the shooting of suspects by the police. This episode was one that they decided to pursue. Torrey Thompson was indicted in July 2008 and faces a murder trial and possibly a life prison sentence.
After analyzing this case, LELDF concluded the proper use of force as outlined in the Supreme Court case, Graham v. Conner (1989), was complied with in this case. The Court said that force is justified when judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene. The “reasonableness” takes into consideration that law enforcement personnel are often forced to make split second judgments in tense, uncertain and rapid-evolving situations. This occurrence was such a case.
Torrey Thompson, 31, was born and raised in Florence, Alabama. He has an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and a Masters degree in Administration. He worked in embassy security in Cyprus and Peru, the latter assignment during a terrorist attack in 2003. He was a Marine for six years and discharged at the rank of sergeant before becoming a police officer in DeKalb County, Georgia. He received four commendations during his service in the DeKalb County Police Department and was never once disciplined. His record was “impeccable” according to his attorney, William Atkins. Officer Thompson voluntarily resigned from the force in November 2006 and took a job with the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked until indicted in July 2008.
The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund is assisting Officer Thompson in this case and ask for your generous assistance.