Nearly two years after the incident, a former police officer has been found guilty of lying to investigators about being shot by a black man while on patrol in Jackson.
Towaliga Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Wilson on Thursday sentenced Sherry Hall, 43, to serve 15 years in prison, with an additional 23 years on probation thereafter. It took a Monroe County jury less than an hour to return with guilty verdicts on each charge in a 10-count indictment against her.
The trial was moved out of Butts County at the request of Hall’s attorney, Kimberly A. Berry.
Wilson denied a request by Berry to remove the district attorney’s office from the case.
Hall, a former Jackson Police Department officer, reported being shot and returning fire Sept. 13, 2016, while patrolling Camellia Court around midnight. The incident initially sparked a manhunt focused on finding the shooter — reportedly described by Hall as a black man in a green shirt — but the focus of the investigation turned to Hall herself when “it was revealed that inconsistencies existed with regard to Hall’s statements, witness statements, physical evidence and later examination of forensic evidence,” the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in a statement at the time.
The GBI was asked to investigate the incident, which is routine in officer-involved shootings.
Warrants for Hall’s arrest were filed 10 days after the incident and she was fired from the Jackson Police Department. She was indicted by a grand jury in July 2017 on 11 charges: four counts of making false statements, four counts of violation of oath, two counts of interference with government property and one count of tampering with evidence.
Before the trial began this week in Forsyth, prosecutors dropped one of the charges in the indictment, a count of interference with government property based on damage caused to a ballistic vest by a bullet. The jury found Hall guilty of each of the remaining counts in the indictment, including the second count of interference with government property, which contained an allegation she damaged a department-issued pistol she lied to investigators about having.
The charge of tampering with evidence stemmed from an allegation she planted a shell casing at the scene of the shooting fired from the weapon she lied about having.
Prosecutors argued Hall willingly cooperated with investigators, sitting for interviews and re-enacting the events of the shooting, until she was told they had recovered audio and video from her patrol car camera that she didn’t know was recording.
“That camera is designed to record all the time, regardless of whether it’s activated or not,” Assistant District Attorney Leslie Tilson told jurors in her opening remarks.
In testimony that became emotional at times, Hall took the stand Thursday in her own defense.
Asked by her attorney to describe the events of Sept. 13, 2016, Hall said, “I don’t recall a whole lot, because I’ve spent two years in therapy trying to suppress it.”
Hall went on to describe pulling into the cul-de-sac of Camellia Court, shining her spotlight on a a person and later being shot.
“My spotlight hit on something green that caught my attention … And I saw it was a person sitting there,” Hall testified.
Berry later asked Hall if she recalled a person shooting her.
“I remember feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me and a burning sensation. It was on my right side,” she said.
Hall testified that after being shot, as she had stated in previous investigative interviews, to taking cover behind her patrol car. She described sending a series of text messages, using a voice-to-text feature, while on the ground behind the car because she wanted to “make peace” and thought she was going to die.
Assistant District Attorney James Moss noted that during the time Hall purported to be having a conversation with the man she claimed shot her, no conversation can be heard on the patrol car’s recording device, nor did Hall call over the radio for assistance. Hall’s voice also could not be heard dictating the text messages.
The sound of two gunshots could be heard, but not the three that the scene would suggest of two rounds being fired by Hall and another round by the suspect.
Moss argued sending text messages was inconsistent with the actions of a person afraid for their life, particularly a person with law enforcement training. He argued a number of Hall’s actions were also inconsistent with her assertions about confronting the purported shooter in the wood line of the cul-de-sac.
“You’re already so worried, it’s fair to say. You’re thinking about an escape route … And even then, at that time, you didn’t radio in?” Moss asked.
Prosecutors also called to the stand a forensic pathologist with expertise in examining wounds and the emergency room physician who treated Hall after the incident. The pathologist testified the quarter-size wound Hall displayed as being a result of being shot with a ballistic vest on was an abrasion to the superficial layer of the skin and not something caused by the blunt-force trauma of a bullet striking a protective vest.
The doctor also noted there was no bruising and no injury beyond what could be seen on the skin.
In an emotional sentencing hearing Thursday after the verdict was read, several of Hall’s family members asked for leniency. Moss had asked for a sentence of 40 years with 30 to be served in prison.
Hall had previously been offered a plea deal that would have included five years in prison, but did not accept it.
“Judge, this case has been going on since September 2016. Since that time, Ms. Hall has had the chance to come forward and do the right thing and she has steadfastly chosen not to do that,” Moss said. “What troubles the state about this … is that officers across the country are taking a hit on their honor and integrity to have a person out there who does what she does and tarnishes the badge. Quite frankly, if it had not been for the substantial manpower hours allocated by the very competent Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and the very cooperative Jackson Police Department along with the sheriff’s office, we might be sitting here today trying somebody, a falsely accused and identified person, based on her work. What’s most disturbing and insulting is she chose to take the stand and basically lie. That is troubling.”
Wilson said he was also disturbed by Hall’s actions.
“I feel sorry for the whole family. I feel sorry for everything you’ve gone through. But Ms. Hall, I’m not sorry for you one bit and I’m going to tell you what. One percent of the police officers in the United States are ruining it for 99 percent of the others,” Wilson said. “What you’ve done, you’ve put such a black eye on law enforcement, it’s hard for them to overcome it. We’ve got so many folks fighting us now days and you just added to it.”
Moss, after the sentencing hearing, said he felt the judge’s sentence was appropriate.
“We appreciate the excellent work done by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the cooperation of the Butts County Sheriff’s Office and Jackson Police Department,” he added. “It was clear to the jury Ms. Hall obviously made this entire event up and that’s not the type of person we want as a law enforcement officer.”
Berry, Hall’s attorney, acknowledged prosecutors prepared vigorously for the case.
“They prosecuted this case very hard. The state had many witnesses. The GBI was incredibly prepared. They had numerous crime lab witnesses,” Berry said. “There’s not much else the state could have done. They were coming for her.”
James Morgan, chief of the Jackson Police Department, said investigators followed the evidence in drawing conclusions about the events of that night.
“The evidence led to the facts and justice has prevailed,” he said. “It’s hard. Sometimes you make a mistake, but this was not a mistake. This was a choice. This day and time we have a lot going on — a lot of negativity toward law enforcement. And, in cases like this, it just adds to the fuel. … This case here, it shows as long as we do the right thing and pay attention to the evidence and follow the facts, justice will prevail.”