A day after Fulton County District Attorney and Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant held a press conference to denounce a Fulton judge’s decision to grant bond to the man accused of shooting an Atlanta Police officer, the same judge hiked the cash bond to $2 million.
Christian Eppinger, 22, remains behind bars at the Fulton County jail and faces no chance of getting out, according to Willis, while he awaits a sentencing hearing next week for probation violation. Willis said Eppinger is a gang member with a history of violence and “has got to be removed permanently from society.”
“I want to be very clear to the public that Mr. Eppinger is not getting out of jail,” Willis said at the April 20 press conference.
Magistrate Court Judge Alexandra Manning on April 18 granted Eppinger a bond of less than $500,000, infuriating law enforcement and city officials as well as the public. Willis said she, Bryant and Mayor Andre Dickens were “disgusted” by the decision.
City officials are facing a barrage of criticism because of the rise in crime over the past couple years. The issue fueled a renewed and well-funded Buckhead cityhood movement. Mayor Andre Dickens worked with state lawmakers after taking office in January to stall that effort with the promise of taking a hard stance against crime.
At the press conference, Willis explained that when Eppinger was 16 he was convicted of violent crimes including armed robbery and spent four years in juvenile custody. He was released last year and put on probation. But Eppinger continued a path of violence, she said, as a member of the “Young Slime Life” gang. Officer Rodgers was attempting to arrest Eppinger on a charge of armed robbery and being a member of a street gang when he was shot.
Eppinger violated his probation by joining the street gang and committing armed robbery, Willis said. A Superior Court judge is set to sentence him next week to up to 60 years for the probation violation, she said. But Eppinger appeared before a magistrate judge this week on a bond hearing for the armed robbery, not the police shooting, because he has been in jail for roughly 71 days without being indicted. Georgia law states an indictment must happen within 90 days or they automatically are granted bond.
Magistrate Court judges typically handle cases such as first appearance hearings, preliminary hearings and child abandonment cases. They are not qualified to handle bond hearings for gang members facing felony charges for violent crimes committed with guns, Willis said. Those cases should be reserved only for elected Superior Court judges.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a sizable backlog of felony cases in Superior Court, however, and magistrate judges were granted authority to preside over some of them. Superior Court judges are still required to preside over murder and rape cases.
“I have a problem with the process,” Willis said. “A bond should not have been set for this gentleman because he is just simply too dangerous.”