In what at first appeared to be a stunning reversal of an earlier decision, Superior Court Judge James Blanchard, once of the Augusta and now of the Columbia County Judicial Circuit, rescinded his “nolle prosequi” order in the Malik Williamson gun-felony case.
A nolle prosequi order signifies a decision not to prosecute a case. That means Augusta District Attorney Jared Williams will have to return the case against Williamson to its pre-trial status.
Blanchard clarified that his decision was a procedural matter required because such an order requires a court hearing before it is signed.
Blanchard will be hearing the case in Columbia County due to the recent split up of the Augusta Judicial Council. Because Columbia County has split from the Augusta Circuit, he can no longer hold hearings in Richmond County cases.
Blanchard said that he was not in anyway misled by Williams when he signed the original document; he was just unaware at the time that the document required a hearing before it was signed.
“Jared (Williams) did not try and slide anything by me where the order was concerned. We met and discussed the matter in person,” Blanchard said.
Williams had asked the judge in July to issue the nolle prosequi order because his predecessor Natalie Paine had acted unethically by interfering in an ongoing investigation.
According to Williams’ filing, Paine inserted herself into the case, making the prosecution “insurmountable.”
“The previous District Attorney inserted herself into the investigation of the underlying crime and became a material witness,” the filing states. “Despite this compromised position, she improperly inserted her opinion on use of force assessment by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.”
The current legal wrangling stems from an incident that occurred in Richmond County in July 2019.
A 911 complaint about gunshots fired sent Deputy Ray Parker to an address in downtown Augusta near the intersection of 12th and Maxwell Streets where he encountered Williamson and another man.
According to body-camera footage, Parker asked Williamson, “Where’s the gun?”
Williamson replied, “It’s over there, it’s over there,” but then said, “There ain’t no gun.”
Williamson then attempted to walk away. The video is unclear just exactly what occurs next, but Williamson reached for something in his waistband, and Parker fired his service revolver five times, striking Williamson once in the back.
When the smoke cleared, officers found that Williamson had a pair of brass knuckles that contained a knife in his hand.
Williamson was transported to Augusta University, and police began scouring the area for a firearm.
Video footage shows the then-District Attorney Natalie Paine arriving on the scene, which is normal practice when an officer shooting occurs. After around 30 minutes of searching, officers found a handgun in the bushes. The gun was later determined to be stolen.
Williamson was charged with possession of a stolen firearm and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The GBI investigated the case and eventually found that Parker acted appropriately in the situation, and the deputy was returned to duty.
Records in the case do not include any filings made by the public defender claiming misconduct on the part of the district attorney.
Williamson has been arrested multiple times for DUI, obstruction of a police officer and possession of marijuana and cocaine. Records show that Williamson, despite the numerous arrests, has never faced hard jail time, but rather was sentenced repeatedly to probation.
According to Williamson, the night he was shot, he was simply out partying and celebrating his birthday and was just coming home from the Blue Top Lounge when he was approached by Parker.
“I didn’t do nothing wrong, man. The cops just came over to my house and shot me,” Williamson said.
A civil case was filed in federal court on Williamson’s behalf, claiming he was gunned down on the lawn in front of his home and that he was unarmed. Parker and Sheriff Richard Roundtree are both named in the suit. The federal suit was filed prior to Williams’ attempt to end prosecution of Williamson.
Legal sources say that Williams’ request for the nolle prosequi could have simply stated that there was insufficient evidence to move forward. Williams says that he could have done that, but for him it was a matter of ethics.
According to Williams, Paine sent a letter to the GBI before they had completed their investigation of Parker indicating she would not be prosecuting the deputy.
“By doing that, she interfered. She interfered with the GBI’s investigation, and I think that is unethical,” Williams said.
Paine, however, provided a copy of the letter she wrote, which is addressed to Sheriff Roundtree, not the GBI. Paine said she was well within her rights to allow the sheriff to put the deputy back on the street rather than make him wait eight months for the GBI to verify what she saw on the body cams.
“If (Williams) thinks I did something wrong, then he needs to bring it into court. I will defend myself. If anything, the letter proves I was doing my job,” Paine said.