District Attorney Greg Edwards says the facts are in and that he doesn’t need a citizen’s panel to tell him what he already knows: That Albany police officer Eric Strom shot Sarah Ann Riggins to death in self-defense on Oct. 23 on West Gordon Avenue.
“His actions were under the facts and law justified and do not warrant any consideration as a criminal act,” Edwards said Tuesday.
Edwards had initially said that a grand jury or coroner’s inquest would review the matter after Strom shot Riggins twice on the porch of a home following a domestic incident. Ms. Riggins’ boyfriend, Eddie Anderson, called police to the scene, and authorities say Ms. Riggins was armed and accompanied by her 17-year-old and 20-year-old grandchildren when police arrived. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded that Riggins fired a shot and Strom returned fire.
Following is the complete statement released Tuesday by Edwards:
This presentation concerns the officer involved shooting on October 23, 2009 that resulted in the death of Sarah Ann Riggins at 1207 W. Gordon Avenue, Albany, Georgia; the officer involved was Patrolman Eric Strom of the Albany Police Department.
Shortly after the occurrence of this incident, I indicated that I would either present this matter to a grand jury or alternatively, I would request a coroner’s inquest. I was premature in my making this representation before receiving the completed independent investigation conducted in this situation. Following the receipt of this investigation, I have decided to make this decision on my own review as the District Attorney of this judicial circuit.
As noted, I have received the findings of the GBI investigation and in conjunction with my own observations at the scene and information I have also gathered, I have determined that this instance of an officer involved shooting does not involve any criminal liability on the part of the officer and does not require consideration by the grand jury or use of a coroner’s inquest for further investigative purposes.
With any officer involved shooting there are perceptions by the public that are as wide and diverse as the population, and often the perceptions are driven by media coverage.
Some might believe that if the officer shot somebody, the individual must not have given the officer any choice.
Conversely other members of the public seem to automatically assume that the officer did something wrong before any investigation into the incident begins.
There had been at least one false rumor regarding the past history of the officer that had been circulating. These kinds of allegations are ultimately detrimental to the societal health, growth, and unity of this community and need to be curtailed with truthful facts presented publicly after a thorough investigation.
As is my sworn duty, it was in this light that I considered how best to accomplish the presentation of truthful facts to the public regarding this incident. I have ultimately determined that this is the best method; via this process of a formal press release and through making available all the detailed information relating to the investigation to anyone who wants it via the open records laws.
To begin with I personally responded to the scene in this instance as is my practice and policy with all instances of homicide in this jurisdiction. It aids me in evaluating such scenes and making further presentations to the public either in trial or in this format.
I personally observed the scene involving this officer involved shooting within minutes of the event and saw firsthand what has been later confirmed forensically about what happened and how.
Of course, I have reviewed the forensic information that was recovered by the GBI investigation. The GBI investigation was conducted by persons who were totally independent of the parties; they performed the autopsy, collected the physical evidence, photographs, and performed forensic tests that have led to my findings.
I have met personally with those witnesses at the scene that I could locate and reviewed with them what they indicated they observed.
I have met with the family members of Sara Riggins and I have advised them of my findings and I have provided them with a complete copy of the investigation.
It is regrettable that any person should lose their life as a result of police action; everyone in the community loses something and if nothing else it should strengthen our resolve to seek solutions to the general societal issues that were present here.
In summary, my findings are that Ms. Riggins had been involved in a domestic dispute with Mr. Eddie Anderson at the location. As shown from the autopsy, Ms. Riggins was under the influence of cocaine and alcohol at the time of the altercation. She got Mr. Anderson’s loaded handgun from its secured case. During the altercation she made direct threats to shoot Mr. Anderson and his two teenaged grandsons that were present at the house. She also made direct threats to shoot any responding police officers. Police were in fact called to the scene by Mr. Anderson. Officer Strom arrived at the scene and as he was attempting to talk to Mr. Anderson near his own vehicle parked in the front yard, Ms. Riggins came out of the house to the porch and was armed with the handgun and also a knife.
Officer Strom drew his own weapon and ordered Ms. Riggins repeatedly to drop her weapon. Ms. Riggins did not drop the weapon but instead fired a shot from the handgun. The officer then returned fire striking and killing Sarah Riggins. The witnesses in close proximity to the scene indicate that Sarah Riggins fired first. The fact that she actually fired the handgun is forensically shown by the spent round recovered from the handgun, which was a revolver, and gunshot residue recovered from Sarah Riggins’ hand. The round she fired struck a vehicle in the yard. The knife was recovered from her position on the porch as well.
That in summary is what happened and why I have determined that the officer was acting in self defense of Mr. Anderson, his two grandsons, and himself. His actions were under the facts and law justified and do not warrant any consideration as a criminal act.
Therefore I will not present this matter for any form of criminal prosecution or review and consider the matter closed in that regard.
I offer no opinion as to whether there is any basis for any civil liability against any party, but as I have stated, I have given the complete file to the family of Sara Riggins, so how and if they proceed in this regard will be their decision.
Lastly, the one aspect of this case that must be commented upon was that shortly after the incident occurred, there were persons who appeared on the media and gave statements as to their observations and perceptions of what happened. These representations were that they did not see that Sarah Riggins was armed and that she was possibly offering to surrender when the officer fired. Part of my investigation and consideration were these representations. In making my determination, I gave greater consideration to my own personal observations at the scene, the forensic evidence documented and recovered, and the representations of the witnesses who were in close proximity of what happened.
I would note that no one did anything wrong, such that although these perceptions offered by persons on air did not comport with the forensic evidence and conflicted with observations of other witnesses, that is what they say they saw and thus that is their perception to be considered by the fact finders. I have considered them and made my findings.
Also the media did nothing wrong in that they took statements on the scene from those persons that wanted to talk on air. Media personnel of course don’t know about what really happened at a scene other than what they are told. They have no way of knowing what is accurate or true until events develop and are unfolded.
There is a criminal penalty for a person intentionally giving false information to law enforcement however there is no general criminal penalty for a person giving inaccurate or false information to a media outlet.
Media outlets however must determine for themselves what they are going to present because there may or may not be certain civil ramifications on what is presented.
I close now by advising that this investigation and file is available to the public via the Open Records Laws, and upon payment of costs of copying.
By Kevin Hogencamp