EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in two-part series revealing new facts about what really happened leading up to the death of Eurie Lee Martin, of Milledgeville, on July 7, 2017 in neighboring Washington County. The second part of the story will address more information what happened, as well as some of the reasoning for the ruling made in the case this week by Dublin Judicial Circuit Superior Court Senior Judge H. Gibbs Flanders Jr.
SANDERSVILLE, Ga. – When Eurie Lee Martin set out on a long walk from his home in Milledgeville on July 7, 2017, it was a hot day and the heat index actually felt like the temperature was actually in the triple digits.
Even though it was a sultry afternoon, Martin was determined to walk the many miles it took him to get to the small rural community of Deepstep where he had planned to visit with relatives. It wasn’t like he had never done this before. Martin was known to take that long trek every so often.
Once he got near Deepstep that afternoon, a series of things happened and happened quickly. And by the time they unfolded and ended, Martin was laying on the ground, handcuffed, and dead.
Some of the newest facts involving the case were revealed during an evidentiary hearing held on Oct. 16 and again on Oct. 31 in Washington County Superior Court in Sandersville.
The hearing was presided over by Dublin Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge H. Gibbs Flanders Jr., who was specially appointed to hear the case of three former deputies with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office who ended up losing their jobs and being indicted on murder and other criminal charges stemming from the death of Martin.
Earlier this week, Flanders issued an order that granted a motion by defense attorneys to dismiss the cased based on self-defense immunity from prosecution.
The judge’s decision came in the case of former deputies Henry Lee Copeland, Michael Howell, and Rhett Scott.
Testimony in the trial of all three of those men was to have begun in two weeks, but with the judge’s decision this week that will not be happening.
Flanders’ ruling, which was made public Monday, essentially stops any prosecution of the defendants, based on what the judge called an immunity defense.
Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney Hayward Altman disagrees with Flanders’ ruling, though, and contends the three former deputies should be tried for the murder of 58-year-old Martin.
That’s why Altman announced a short time after the judge’s decision that he would be filing an immediate appeal of the ruling with the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Altman told The Union-Recorder earlier this week that it was the only way to try to get justice on behalf of Martin.
The district attorney said he feels confident that the state’s High Court will reverse the decision.
Altman explained that there was never a guarantee about how any case will go when it is appealed to a higher court, but that he was hopeful of good results in this particular appeal.
In his 19-page ruling, Flanders referred to findings of fact, as well as the law pertaining to self-defense immunity from prosecution pursuant to O.C.G.A. 16-3-24.2.
Flanders talks about a man identified as Mr. Harris, who was out mowing his lawn on the afternoon on July 7, 2017 when he spotted a man walking up his driveway.
It was later determined that the man was Eurie Lee Martin.
“Mr. Harris drove his riding lawn mower between Mr. Martin and his house, and Mr. Martin motioned with a cut-off Coke can he was holding, indicating he wanted to fill the can with water from the spigot near Mr. Harris’ carport,” according to court records obtained by the newspaper.
Harris reportedly was disturbed because he didn’t know Martin, who he described as having been dressed in low-riding cutoffs (shorts), a piece of a shirt, and “filthy,” court records show. “Mr. Harris told Mr. Martin to get off his property, and Mr. Martin left without any problem or confrontation.”
Harris’ home is located near Deepstep, and adjacent to a two-lane highway.
After Martin left Harris’ residence, he began walking again.
It was at that time that Harris decided to make an E-911 call to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to report the incident.
Flanders mentioned all of these facts in his ruling.
The judge also referred to the E-911 recording made during the time by Harris.
“I got a guy walking up and down the road here just walking in my yard and I don’t know whether he’s crazy, drunk, or what, but he’s walking from my back towards Deepstep,” according to the E-911 call from Harris. “Think you need to check him out.”
Harris provided a description of Martin, indicating he was a black man, about 50 plus years old, standing about 6-foot, 3-inches tall and weighing about 220 pounds.
“Mr. Harris did not inform the dispatcher or Deputy Howell, whom he spoke to shortly thereafter, that it appeared Mr. Martin walked up his driveway in an attempt to obtain drinking water,” court records show.
The dispatcher who handled the call later issued a suspicious person check be initiated by a deputy.
Howell testified at the hearing that the sheriff’s office policy required all suspicious person checks to include locating the individual, as well as getting the person’s identity, relevant information from that person and running a criminal records check on such a person, too.
“All three deputies were listening and communicating on the radio among themselves and with the dispatcher to the radio dispatches throughout the time in question,” according to court records.
Howell responded to the scene first.
The following is an account of what Howell said, based on court documents.
“On the way there, once I got to through Deepstep, I was coming up on Mt. Sinai Road, I observed a black male walking in the roadway towards Sandersville,” Howell said. “When I was heading towards Milledgeville, he was walking toward me. It would have been on the right side, passenger side of my car – matching the description that 911 told us that it was a 6’2’’-6’3’’ black male wearing shorts.”
Howell said he then rolled down the window of his patrol car.
During the hearing, Howell was asked to describe Martin.
“He was dirty,” Howell said. “It looked like he hadn’t bathed in a while. He was sweating profusely. I mean, he was covered in sweat real bad. His hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in days. I mean, it was just nasty. He had an evil look in his eye, like he didn’t want to talk to me or whatever.”
Howell recalled that after he rolled the window down in his patrol car that he asked the man, later determined to be Martin, if he was okay and his name.
“He said, ‘Who are you in a loud tone,’” Howell said.
Asked what happened next, Howell said the man later known as Martin continued to walk.
“And my gut told me something was wrong and not to get out of the car,” Howell said. “And I stayed in the car and the gentleman (Martin) kept walking,” Howell said.
That turned out to be the first interaction between the defendants and Martin, according to court records.
It ends, meanwhile, after Martin is tased multiple times, laying on the ground and handcuffed.
“These events occurred within a time span of approximately 11 minutes,” court records reveal.
After initial verbal conversation with Martin, Howell said he called for backup assistance from other deputies.
The two deputies who responded to Howell’s call included Copeland and Scott. Copeland, who at the time was a supervisory sergeant, arrived first.
Howell said while awaiting the arrival of the other deputies that he turned his patrol car around and drove behind Martin as he continued to walk towards Sandersville.
A short time later, Howell said Harris drove up alongside him in his pickup truck. At the time, Harris indicated to the deputy that the man walking in front of him a distance of about 250 yards away was in fact, the same man who had walked up into his yard earlier.
Howell later turned on his blue lights as a precautionary measure to alert motorists there was a pedestrian walking along the highway.
Howell testified that while following Martin that Martin would sometimes walk in the roadway, and then turn around and look at him.
“He (Martin) was fidgeting with – doing something with his hands and continued doing that until Sergeant Copeland arrived on the scene,” Howell said.
Testimony further revealed that Howell activated his radio dashcam and recorded events for 45 minutes.
The video showed Martin walking on or near the highway fog line and looking back at the deputy.
Copeland later arrived on the scene and he along with Howell step out of their patrol cars.
Copeland reportedly asked Martin to come back to the side of the roadway where he can talk with him, but Martin is overheard talking in a loud voice, motioning with his arms and opening and closing his hands, and still continuing to walk away from the approaching deputies.
“At this point, the dashcams continue to pick up the audio from the officers’ body mics, but everyone has moved out of camera view,” according to court documents. “Both Deputy Howell and Sergeant Copeland state as Sergeant Copeland approaches, Mr. Martin throws down the Coke can, takes a defensive stance, and clinches his fists.”
Such acts led deputies to believe that Martin was about to fight.
Howell then asked Copeland if he had a Taser.
When Copeland answered, “Yes,” Howell recalled telling Copeland to “Tase his a**.”