WOODBINE, Ga. — A former Georgia police officer who fatally shot an unarmed, fleeing black man was sentenced to one year in prison Friday, nearly two weeks after a jury acquitted him of manslaughter charges but found him guilty of violating his oath of office.
Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett in Camden County near the Georgia-Florida state line also gave Zechariah Presley four years of probation. Though spared from a manslaughter conviction, the former Kingsland police officer, who is white, still had faced up to five years in prison for his actions in the June 2018 killing of Tony Green, 33.
Before sentencing, Green’s relatives told the judge the shooting and verdict had divided their community along racial lines. They called for the maximum five-year sentence.
Presley’s wife said her husband was the “backbone” of their family, and their sons would be devastated if he were away longer.
Scarlett said he suspected neither side was satisfied with the indictment or the verdict.
“If we’re looking for this court’s sentence to change those fixed opinions, unfortunately, I don’t think it will,” he said.
Presley’s sentencing came days after a jury found another white Georgia police officer, Robert “Chip” Olsen , guilty of aggravated assault and other charges in the 2015 shooting death of Anthony Hill, an unarmed black man who was naked when Olsen encountered him.
Presley said he tried to pull over Green on the night of June 20, 2018 because he believed Green was driving on a suspended license. Green fled on foot after his car went off the road. Presley ran after him and the chase ended with a brief struggle between the men.
Presley’s body camera was working, but darkness and something covering the camera lens obscured the shooting and the moments leading up to it. But it recorded the electrified clicking sound of Presley’s Taser, followed by gunshots.
Presley’s body camera also recorded him telling another officer afterward that Green had been on top of him, trying to grab his Taser. Presley said: “And then I was going for my gun, and he started taking off. And I fired.”
An autopsy found Green was struck by eight bullets — one to his chest, the rest to his back and hips. Green also had small amounts of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and a tranquilizer in his system.
On the witness stand, Presley added details he had not mentioned previously. He said he opened fire after Green turned back to face him and extended an arm, saying he feared Green had a gun. Investigators determined the object in his hand was a cellphone.
Presley’s attorneys argued the shooting was justified because Presley believed his life was in danger. Prosecutors said the jury shouldn’t trust the revised account of the shooting that Presley gave in court.
The jury acquitted Presley of both voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. The voluntary manslaughter charge carried a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison.
The shooting sparked protests by Green’s relatives and other black residents of Kingsland. They argued a manslaughter charge wasn’t severe enough for Presley, who was fired after the shooting. The grand jury that indicted Presley rejected charging him with murder.