The Department of Justice has reopened an investigation into the murder of Charles Oatman and the slayings of several Black men who were killed during the 1970 Augusta Riot that followed.
Fifty-two years ago, 16-year-old Charles Oatman died in police custody after being jailed for several months. According to WJBF News, an autopsy report showed that Oatman died from drowning and his body was covered in gashes and cigarette burns. The report was contrary to the one given by authorities, which said he died after falling off his bunk.
Following the teen’s death, 1,000 Black residents in Augusta protested against police brutality, believing that officers were responsible for killing Oatman. During the protests, which lasted from May 10 to May 12, white officers gunned down six Black men.
In the case of Oatman’s death, an all-white jury convicted two Black teenagers. However, an all-white jury acquitted a white officer for the murders of the six Black men.
An associate professor of history at Augusta University, Dr. John Hayes, told NBC 26 that officers massacred the six men.“I say massacre because of the six known victims. The six we know of it’s clear from evidence that they are not threatening police officers. None of them are armed. All six were shot in the back, and some shot multiple times at close range,” he said.
The DOJ is investigating the decades-old cold case under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which was sponsored by Representative John Lewis and created to investigate unsolved killings during the Civil Rights era, WJBF reported.
The Justice Department and the 1970 Augusta Riot Observance Committee are asking the public to provide any information related to the cold case.
Dr. Mallory K. Millender told NPR that a new inquiry into Oatman’s death and the Augusta Riot could mean justice for the victims’ families.