DA declines grand jury for 2021 Sunny Point stand-off death

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, December 30, 2023

The District Attorney’s Office has concluded that the use of force by law enforcement officers attempting to apprehend Brian Jessee in 2021 was lawful and will not seek to present the matter to a grand jury.

On May 24, 2022, District Attorney Herb Cranford’s office began reviewing the investigative file regarding multiple officers’ use of force against Brian Jessee that resulted in his death at his home on Sunny Point Circle in LaGrange November 2021.

The case was reviewed to determine whether any law enforcement officers committed any crime resulting in Jessee’s death which could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

After receiving the investigatory file from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the DA has completed a thorough review and determined that the State would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any officer committed a crime.

GBI Special Agent Jeff Hatchett led the investigation, which revealed that on Nov. 15, 2021, the LaGrange Police Department responded to 118 Sunny Point Circle about Jessee, who was reportedly armed and suicidal. The 911 caller, Christina Rebennack, who had been Jessee’s girlfriend for approximately 6 years and who had been living with him at the location for about 3 years, had moved out of the residence because Jessee was drinking too much and had become violent towards her.

In the days leading up to Nov. 15, 2021, LPD had been dispatched to the residence several times for domestic calls or about Jessee having seizures. None of the calls provided officers a basis to arrest Jessee or have him involuntarily committed to a hospital.

On Nov. 15, 2021, Rebennack advised via 911 that Jessee had been drinking all weekend, had a history of mental health issues, had a history of seizures for which he takes medication, was known to possess weapons, was making threats to kill himself, and is at home with his two 8-year-old sons.

Rebennack relayed to 911 that she was on the way to the residence and was receiving the information from Jessee’s daughter, who lives in a different state and with whom Jessee was communicating at the time. Jessee had told his sister to tell Rebennack to come get the children, but she did not want to go to the house without law enforcement.

According to the GBI report, police met with Rebennack at the entrance to the neighborhood, while officers secured the area. Police were shown text messages from Jessee where he saw threatened violence against officers if they stepped onto his property.

An LPD Crisis negotiator called Jessee’s phone and spoke to him for over 2 hours, during which time Jessee was very agitated and terminated the call multiple times. Jessee would not allow the twin boys to come out of the house but he allowed them to speak with officers on the phone and they appeared to be unharmed and not under any duress.

Jessee refused to speak on the phone afterward but sent officers pictures of firearms, of the explosive Tannerite, and of himself in body armor. Jessee later reiterated that he would shoot anyone who came onto his property.

As the children appeared to be safe, so as not to escalate the situation, LPD decided to provide Jessee with information about the suicide hotline and leave the neighborhood. As officers prepared to leave the scene, the twin boys called 911 to report that Jessee was having a seizure. 911 told the children to leave the house with the door open and meet officers at the top of the driveway, which they did without issue. The children told officers that their dad was on the floor in possession of firearms and wearing his bulletproof vest.

Officers made multiple requests for Jessee to receive medical attention but he did not respond and shut the front door. Officers determined emergency services should not enter the home to check on Jessee, and that the best course of action was to leave him alone in the house for the night.

On Nov 16, 2021, Rebennack began the process to obtain a Temporary Protective Order against Jessee and get him evicted from the home that she owned. Jessee’s daughter then began to receive messages from him threatening to go to a nearby officer’s home and take their kid, because he said he had taken Jessee’s kids from his house. At the time he also threatened to shoot up the officer’s house, and said he possessed over 30 pounds of the explosive Tannerite inside the house, which he said was booby-trapped.

Because of the threats, nearby houses were evacuated and warrants were issued for Jessee’s arrest.

Police later observed Jessee about 100 yards away in the street in front of his house with a rifle slung over his shoulder. When Jessee spotted officers, he ran back toward his house, and within minutes, officers heard 3 to 5 gunshots coming from Jessee’s direction.

Georgia law would have justified deadly force to apprehend Jessee at that moment, given that he was a suspected felon in possession of a deadly weapon who had previously fired that weapon in his neighborhood and who was disobeying commands to put down the weapon.

Jessee retreated into his residence at approximately 4:50 p.m. and a standoff ensued. Jessee later fired additional shots at one of the law enforcement drones being used to monitor the residence.

During the standoff, the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office, the Peachtree City Police Department, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, and the Newnan Police Department. Fulton County SWAT and Coweta County SWAT both brought armored vehicles to assist.

Around 9 p.m., officers approached the residence in an armored vehicle with blue lights and a loudspeaker and demanded that Jessee exit the house with his hands empty, but he did not acknowledge officers. At approximately 9:12 p.m., the armored vehicle breached a garage door of the residence, and Jessee responded by firing several rounds from inside the house and hit the armored vehicle.

Authorities continued to attempt to breach the residence through midnight on Nov. 17 using two armored vehicles, during which time Jessee fired over 100 rounds of gunfire at officers. Law enforcement also deployed gas to try to force him to exit. Jessee stopped firing after several rounds were fired toward muzzle flashes coming from the back basement.

A GBI Bomb Disposal Unit robot was later sent in to locate Jessee. It was unsuccessful but the robot’s cameras captured images of firearms, ammunition, bullet holes, and a container consistent with the appearance of the explosive Tannerite.

The next morning, around 7:30 a.m. the Coweta SWAT team approached the residence and deployed two smoke munitions through a window in the back of the residence. Before the SWAT team entered the residence, they noticed fire coming from the location where the smoke munitions had been thrown. As a consequence, they aborted the plan to enter the residence, pulled back, and secured the house from the exterior.

The LaGrange Fire Department arrived on the scene at approximately 7:44 a.m., at which time the residence had a 60% “fire involvement” but by 8:13 a.m., the structure was fully engulfed with structural collapse occurring. The fire was contained by 8:27 a.m. but the fire resulted in a total loss of the property and its contents.

An LFD report later concluded that the fire was accidental and the cause of the fire was the use of a gas grenade.

Jessee’s body was sent to the GBI for an autopsy, which determined that the cause of death was thermal injuries and inhalation of products of combustion. The GBI also concluded that there were no indications that Jessee had been shot.

“The felony warrants signed by a Troup County Judge on November 16, 2021, make it indisputable that Jessee was a suspected felon before any officers used force against him. After the felony warrants were signed, officers saw Jessee in possession of a firearm in Jessee’s neighborhood after Jessee had discharged the weapon in the neighborhood. Jessee had threatened to shoot officers on November 15, 2021, and November 16, 2021, and Jessee ultimately did fire numerous rounds at law enforcement officers who lawfully sought to apprehend him under arrest warrants and a search warrant,” Cranford said in a press release.

“Even if the use of a smoke grenade, which caused the fire that took Jessee’s life, is regarded as a deadly weapon, officers were lawfully authorized to use the smoke grenade to apprehend Jessee and to prevent Jessee from killing or severely injuring the officers who were lawfully attempting to apprehend him. Consequently, the District Attorney’s Office declines to present this matter to a civil or criminal grand jury and considers this matter closed,” he said.