After walking at least a dozen miles on a hot summer night, 58-year-old Euree Martin asked a stranger for water.
Hardly an unusual request just south of Georgia’s gnat line, but the stranger thought otherwise, calling 911 to report a person acting suspiciously. Or as one civil rights activist later called it, “walking while black.”
Whatever the reason, that call to police set off a chain of events that ultimately led to Martin’s death and possible murder charges against the three white Washington County sheriff’s deputies — since fired — who used Tasers as they tried to arrest the unarmed man.
How it got to that point remains a mystery. Martin was not accused of any crime, according to to the GBI, which investigated the incident. Was there an altercation, as the deputies claimed, that prompted them to deploy their Tasers, shocking Martin repeatedly? Cell phone video shot by a passing motorist doesn’t show the alleged confrontation, only the disturbing aftermath — Martin, face down on the ground, handcuffed, dying of respiratory distress.
“Mr. Martin, as far as we can establish, had done nothing wrong,” said Heyward Altman, district attorney for Georgia’s Middle Judicial Circuit, at a press conference last week announcing he will seek indictments against the former lawmen on charges including felony murder, involuntary manslaughter, false imprisonment and aggravated assault.
‘He was simply walking down the road’
Most people make it through their whole lives without walking 20 miles uninterrupted. Euree Martin had done it several times, leaving the group home in Milledgeville where he resided to visit relatives in Sandersville, usually unannounced.
Martin’s niece, Elaine Brown, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution her uncle had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20s. She described him as a “real nice guy,” quiet and non-confrontational.
“He usually only spoke when spoken to,” Brown said.
As dusk set in on July 7th, Martin was more than halfway to Sandersville, in Deepstep, a town with a population just north of 100 best known as the birthplace of the late Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, when he stopped at a random house to ask for water.
+ Euree Lee Martin in an undated photo. Martin died after being stunned with Tasers by three Washington County sheriffs officers. (Photo photo THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Euree Lee Martin in an undated photo. Martin died after being stunned with Tasers by three Washington County sheriffs officers. (Photo … Read More
The homeowner shooed him away. Martin resumed the long walk to Sandersville. His sister, Helen Martin, told WRDW News that around the same time she received a call from a friend who lives in Deepstep saying she had seen her brother pass by.
Concerned, she called 911 “to let them know who he was, told them his birthday,” she said. “I also told them, asked them really could they go out and check on him. He couldn’t take care of himself really.”
Deputy Michael Howell, responding to the first 911 call by the homeowner, was the first to spot Martin.
“I pulled alongside the black male with my passenger window down and asked the male subject, ‘Are you OK, and what’s your name,’ Howell wrote in the incident report. “And he looked at me and asked, ‘Who are you?’ and he walked off … toward Sandersville.”
That’s where the narrative ends. Deputies Henry L. Copeland and Rhett Scott were next on the scene. But so far there’s nothing on the record — at least nothing that’s been made available to the public — about why they deployed their Tasers.