No criminal charges will be brought against the Savannah police officer who shot and killed a 36-year-old man last year during a traffic stop.

The Chatham County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that body camera footage and other evidence showed that Officer Thomas Love was justified in using force against Maurice Mincey on July 17, 2021.

“The evidence shows that Mr. Mincey’s possession of a firearm, failure to respond to verbal commands and sudden e​​xit from the vehicle posed an immediate risk of danger to officers and citizens in the immediate area and the actions taken by Officer Love were justified under the circumstances,” a press release from DA Shalena Cook Jones’ office stated.

Savannah Police have struggled with a spike in police shootings of civilians, with four such shootings just this year. There were five total police shootings in 2021, including Mincey’s in July. 

DA Jones’ agency said it wouldn’t be able to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Love’s actions were “unreasonable and/or unnecessary under the circumstances.”

The body camera footage has not been released publicly. The family was shown the footage in a closed door meeting with the DA’s office, according to a news report. 

Alderman Detric Leggett, who serves the district where the shooting took place, said community members have been asking him for months – as recently as last week – when officers’ body camera footage would be publicly released and when the DA’s office would reach a decision on prosecuting the police. 

The shooting took place on East Bolton Street, where Mincey’s family still lives, according to Leggett.

“The sad thing about that is that it’s a very sensitive topic. The family still lives there. Everyone who comes outside is a close-knit community,” Leggett said. “They congregate on [Mincey’s] mom’s porch.”

Leggett said he wants to have a conversation with DA Jones about the decision and to make sure the family and community on Bolton Street get to watch the police body camera footage for themselves.

The DA’s office said it met with Mincey’s family to share the decision. 

Pointing a gun?

Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones

Mincey was in the passenger seat of a car pulled over by Savannah Police Department officers, including Officer Thomas Love, at around 9:30 p.m. on July 17. The traffic stop was for allegedly failing to adhere to a stop sign. 

The DA’s office states that body camera footage shows Mincey took out a gun from his waistband and held it in his lap or between his knees during the traffic stop. He opened the passenger-side door and began exiting the car with the gun in his hand, the DA’s office stated. 

Officer Love shot Mincey through the driver’s side door and hit him in the back as he was getting out. 

A semiautomatic pistol “fell from Mr. Mincey(’s) hand and slid across the pavement coming to rest a few feet away from Mr. Mincey’s body,” before officers attempted to render aid, the press release said.

Love was sworn-in as a Savannah Police officer in August 2020, according to a Facebook video. That’s less than a year before the fatal shooting occurred. 

He was placed on paid leave after the shooting and has returned to full duty, according to Savannah Police spokesperson Bianca Johnson. She did not have specifics of when he returned to duty. 

After Mincey’s fatal shooting by police, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began its investigation of the case.

In its original press release, the GBI stated that Mincey got out of the car and pointed a gun at officers. Days later, the GBI amended its statement of what happened, removing mention that Mincey pointed a gun and instead that he disregarded commands to put his hands up while getting out of the car and that he had a gun.

The reversal in whether or not Mincey pointed a gun at officers is what fueled some community distrust of the process early on, according to Alderman Leggett.

“It made things feel a little sketchy,” Leggett said.

Investigation to decision

District 2 Alderman Detric Leggett

The GBI turned over its investigation on Nov. 2, 2021, to the DA’s office, a spokesperson said. Jones’ office used the findings to determine whether charges were appropriate and released its decision on Tuesday.

Several other “officer-involved shootings” await completed investigations from the GBI and determinations from DA Jones. 

The most recent shooting, on April 10, occurred on Abercorn Street where a man allegedly had a makeshift weapon and attacked officers after being tasered. 

A week before then, a man accused of carrying a knife and chasing people on Bordeaux Lane was shot and killed by Savannah police after they said the man ran towards an officer, according to the GBI. 

Police rarely face charges by prosecutors after fatal shootings because the law gives considerable leeway to officers who use force on the job, according to a 2021 article in The Washington Post.

Officers’ descriptions of their feelings, observations, and perception of threat are key to their defense, the article states. A 1989 Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Connor, said an officer’s use of force must be compared to what a reasonable officer would do in addition to the suspect’s threat and potential attempt to escape or resist arrest.

However, even one death at the hands of Savannah police is too many, said Leggett.

As elected officials, “we hire and fire people to protect and serve the community,” he said. “It makes it very difficult to govern and give reassurances to people when we can’t hold (police) accountable when things like this happen.”