Late Wednesday night, two bar patrons leaving East Atlanta's Graveyard Tavern were approached by 29-year-old Jamarcus Usher. Fearing that Usher was a threat, one of the bar patrons knocked him to the ground back a few feet with the door of his pickup truck, then shot and killed him after Usher raised a weapon.
Eerily, Usher's MySpace page lists his occupation as "staying alive."
Another bit of strangeness: Usher died in almost the exact spot where, eight years ago, another robbery suspect was shot and killed.
It's not yet clear if this week's shooting has anything to do with the climate of fear that has descended on Atlanta. Generally speaking, people are spooked following a recent spate of violent crime, including the shooting death of John Henderson. Henderson, a bartender at the Standard in nearby Grant Park, was killed Jan. 7 by armed robbers who broke into the Memorial Drive restaurant.
It seems to me that Atlanta and East Atlanta Village in particular has been through this before.
In August 2000, Allen Godfrey, owner of what was then the Fountainhead Lounge (and now the Eastside Lounge), shot and killed a man who was breaking into a car parked outside the Ace Hardware, next to what is now the Graveyard Tavern. It's the same parking lot where Usher died.
Like Usher's death, the 2000 shooting also occurred on the heels of a perceived crime wave. That time around, it was a bunch of car break-ins including one that a local musician interrupted, only to be shot in the face. He lived.
I spent several weeks in late 2000 working on a story about what happened in the Ace Hardware lot that night. I wanted to know how Godfrey was dealing with the burden of having killed someone in what he and Atlanta police accurately described as an act of self-defense. I also wanted to know the story of the man he killed, Charles "Red" Tallington.
As I began researching the story, I had the cooperation of both Godfrey and one of Tallington's relatives. However, Godfrey withdrew his support at the last minute. He feared the article might result in retaliation against him, and he was scared for his wife and infant daughter. It was a tough call, but my editors and I decided not to run the story which was written, edited and scheduled to run on the cover of Creative Loafing.
Godfrey no longer lives in Atlanta, and seeing as how much time has passed, I figured I'd go ahead and post the eight-year-old story here, for anyone interested in reading it.
Warning: It's looooooong.
Allen Godfrey will not speak publicly about the morning of Aug. 26, 2000, when he dialed 911 from an Ace Hardware parking lot and waited, his hands in the air, an operator on hold on his cell, his freshly fired gun on the front seat of his truck.
Godfrey worries hell be sued for the action he thinks he had to take to save his life. He fears his race-conscious neighbors the ones who branded him a nigger-hater will further vilify him, and that crime-weary East Atlanta business owners will scorn him, should he talk too much about what happened last summer. Godfrey dreads that the political powers-that-be will keep his newest bar, Halo its liquor license pending, a half-million dollars invested from pouring its first drink.
I will not talk about that night, the night that it happened, Godfrey says. Ive already given my statements.
Immediately after the August incident, the Atlanta Police Department cleared Godfrey of any wrongdoing. But thats not enough to convince him to revisit the death of Charles Red Tallington. Though Godfrey agreed to be interviewed, he only would discuss events outside of that night. As a result, this story has been pieced together from police records, court documents, a 911 tape and interviews with a relative of the man who died that night.
In April 1998, Godfrey, along with business partners Kevin Arnberg and Dereck Brown, opened the industrial steel doors of the Fountainhead Lounge on East Atlanta's Flat Shoals Avenue introducing a touch of sophistication, if not pretension, to the transitional neighborhood. The trio named their new club after Ayn Rands epic novel, which championed the basic tenet of Objectivism: that self-serving actions win success and improve society.
Three years earlier, East Atlantas storefronts attracted few black-clad hipsters in search of veggie burgers and imported draft. The streets were lined with vacant shops, the silence interrupted by the hum of a few lonesome and long-present retailers. Decades earlier, bustling businesses had lined a picturesque streetscape in the village. Neighbors gathered at the 1920s-era drugstore and stood in line for movies at the Madison Theater. Many of them refused to move as the years passed, one generation giving way to another. They stayed after the businesses closed, after the drug trade flourished, after vacant houses collapsed in disrepair.
Then, in the mid-1990s, a wave of hipster entrepreneurs crashed the village. The newcomers waged bidding wars for retail space. Nightlife morphed from moribund to boisterous. Heaping Bowl & Brew restaurant and Sacred Grounds coffee shop, the first pioneer merchants, opened the floodgates for Burrito Art, the Flatiron, the Gravity Pub, the Earl and the Fountainhead.
As the Fountainheads wrought-iron chairs and plush couches began to overflow with expats of Virginia Highlands and Little Five Points, Godfrey decided to buy a stake in another, cross-town venture. He became part owner of Cobalt, an ultra-trendy club in ultra-trendy Buckhead, the somewhat garish antithesis to East Atlantas quirky charm.
Cobalt opened in August 1999 and quickly attracted an affluent clientele, specifically on Sunday nights, when the doors would close for an hour at a time to control the incoming crowd. The club prospered until two incidents in early 2000 marked the beginning of Cobalts end.
In January of that year, Jeffrey Wiggins, a 28-year-old from Marietta, got into a fight, supposedly over a woman, and was shot in the head a block from the bar. Less than two weeks later, another, higher profile fight broke out one that left two men bleeding to death on a street corner outside the club.
Moments after the men were fatally stabbed, a group of partiers whod been celebrating the Super Bowl at Cobalt fled the scene in an SUV limo. Police later arrested one of the limos occupants: Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Along with two other men, Lewis was charged with the stabbing deaths of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker. The confrontation likely started in the club, but the actual attack occurred two blocks away.
A jury acquitted Lewis and his two co-defendants in June. Cobalt didnt get off so easy. The week after the stabbings, political pressure forced the club to suspend business on profitable Sunday nights. By September, the culmination of Cobalts abbreviated week and its bad publicity shut it down for good.
Godfrey, in an October 2000 interview, said the Cobalt incident left him feeling as if the media raked me over the coals. But it wasnt just the Cobalt incident that irked him. He also was bothered by a recent AJC story. This was not a story about a post-Super Bowl stabbing in Buckhead, though there had been plenty of coverage of the incident. This was a story about an August morning in East Atlanta and it described Godfrey as a vigilante killer.
Charles Antonio Tallington grew up in Kirkwood, just north of East Atlanta Village. His father drove 18-wheelers, but he was locked up, on a murder charge, for most of Tallingtons childhood. That meant Tallingtons mother raised him and four brothers alone. Tallington went by Red, in part because of his light complexion but also due to his hot temper. He was the one prone to do something drastic, his cousin Quintin Wood recalls. When there was trouble, Wood says, the family would always ask, Wheres Red?
Like his father, Tallington spent most of his adult years on probation, in jail or in prison, mostly for beating up girlfriends and starting fights with those bothered him. Beginning with his first adult arrest in December 1988, five months after his 18th birthday, police would arrest Tallington at least a dozen times. Judges would sentence him to 10 years of collective probation. He would spend more than four years behind bars.
In his early years, Tallingtons tantrums often ended with someones injury or his own arrest. Armed with a shotgun in his early teens, Tallington blasted a man in the leg after an argument in the backyard of his grandmothers house, Wood recalls. When Tallington was 18, police arrested him for interrupting a basketball game and punching a teen-aged neighbor in the face for his smart comments. A couple of months later, Tallington got probation for firing a gun near a highway.
Not long into his probation, Tallington kicked down the door of the apartment he once shared with his 19-year-old girlfriend, Lenita Brown. Hed come to the apartment, he told police, because he wanted his fucking clothes. He also broke a few windows and pushed Brown around as she held their baby in her arms. Lenita stated that Charles has done this before and that she is afraid of him, police later wrote.
At age 20, Tallington got into a fight with another girlfriend, 17-year-old Betty Huggins. In the midst of hitting Huggins, whose face he bruised and eye he cut, Tallington threw a 1-year-old child against a door, reopening a burn and causing bleeding on the back of the infants arm, according to an Atlanta police report. About six months later, police arrested Tallington for selling drugs after officers found 18 hits of crack-cocaine hed been hiding in an umbrella.
Tallingtons already-fragile equilibrium was shattered the following spring, when his 38-year-old mother died of kidney disease. By the time Tallington reached her bedside, she was unresponsive. Doctors turned off her respirator within the week. He just got harder after that, Wood says. After that, he became a loose cannon of sorts.
His mothers 1992 death got Tallington started on a serious crack habit, which in turn cost him several more arrests. Shortly after his mothers death, Tallington was picked up again for attacking Huggins. When police found them this time, Tallington and Huggins stood on either side of a bed, Huggins lip bleeding, her blood on the sheets, her clothes torn and her neck red from where Tallington tried to choke her. He refused to go to the police station, screaming, I aint goin no-mother-fucking-where. You aint taking me to no fucking jail. The officer called for backup, and the two cops wrestled Tallington to the floor. That year, battery charges would land him in jail for nine months.
After he walked out of jail in 1993, Tallington seemed to stay out of trouble for a time, perhaps inspired by his and Browns child, and by his mothers memory, his cousin says. Tallingtons relationship with Brown fell apart for good in 1994, she would tell police, but he continued to give her money for their son whenever he could. There had been something about Browns sweet patience that moved Tallington. He was awed by her willingness to forgive his tempestuous rage. She gave him a little grip on himself, Wood says.
And he loved his son. The boy was growing into such a likeness of his father that friends and family started calling him Little Red, which pleased the child immensely.
But Little Reds needs, like the departure of Tallingtons mother, began to weigh on the troubled young man. I think he just thought his back was against the wall, that the world was against him, Wood recalls. Things had to be done, especially pertaining to his son. There was nothing he wouldnt do to provide for his son. He did what he thought to do to make things happen.
But there wasnt much he could do when he was locked up. In the summer of 1995, Tallington was sentenced to six months in jail for past battery against Huggins. About six weeks later, while serving the battery sentence, he was sentenced to a year in jail for additional counts of simple battery against Huggins and the 1-year-old child. Less than seven months into the sentence, Tallington was released.
On May 9, 1996, Tallingtons ex, Lenita Brown, came home, noticed a broken window and found Tallington inside, swinging a butcher knife at her and yelling, What? Are you scared? She wasnt hurt. Tallington was arrested. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and burglary. On Aug. 29, 1996, he spent his first night in prison, at Rivers State. He would stay almost two years.
I cant say prison can make anybody better, Wood says. But I think he appreciated being away from the danger that was out here.
Tallington finished his sentence in May 1998. He laid low for a while, and went a year without an arrest. In that year, Tallingtons son lost his mother, just as Tallington had six years earlier.
On July 22, police showed up at Grady Memorial Hospital, responding to a call that a Brown was lying in the hospital dying because she was beat about the head with a shovel by her boyfriend, according to police records. A police report states that her and Tallingtons 8-year-old son had watched as a man named Christopher Johnson, listed in the police report as Browns common-law husband, swung a shovel at his mothers face. Johnson was arrested the day after police learned of the incident. Brown died four days later. Because medical examiners couldnt definitively link her death to the injuries Johnson allegedly inflicted, Johnson was never charged with murder, according to a police department spokesman.
Little Red went to live with his mothers sister. A year later, a distraught Tallington lapsed back into the type of behavior that had landed him in prison.
From September 1999 to the following August, Tallington was arrested twice for simple battery, one of the counts allegedly against a police officer, the other against his uncle. He also was arrested for shoplifting, after trying to steal a $2 bottle of skin lotion from Krogers. While in jail, he was arrested for starting a fight with another incarcerated man.
In August 2000, Tallington was arrested one last time. A patrol car stopped him as he was walking up North Highland Avenue. A woman had reported a cell phone stolen from her car nearby. Tallington was searched, and the phone was recovered. He told the officer hed just paid a crackhead $30 for it. The officer took him to jail.
At about that time, patrollers and plainclothes officers in East Atlanta Village were working extra shifts to try to control the number of car break-ins, which had swelled to an average 10 per week about three times the norm. The real reason for the increased patrol, however, was a local guitarist named Scott Lambert. Days earlier, Lambert was leaving the Echo Lounge on Flat Shoals Road. When he got to his Acura Integra, parked in a nearby lot, he found a man in the drivers seat.
Lambert yelled at the man to get out, and grabbed him through the drivers side window. The man turned and shot Lambert twice in the face with Lamberts own .357 Magnum, which hed kept in his glove compartment. Some of Lamberts mouth and cheek were shot off, but he lived. The shooter wasnt found.
Atlanta police Maj. Jimmy Banda says that in the 30 years hes worked in the departments Zone 6, which includes East Atlanta, hed never heard of anybody shot during a car break-in, until Lambert. Banda has in fact seen the number of violent crimes cut in half in recent years, ever since young people with a little money began buying and renovating the cheap housing and investing in local businesses. The influx of cars belonging to the neighborhoods new residents was tempting to thieves and burglars, especially when the cars were parked late at night near bars and clubs. But violent attacks were rare.
Its just inherent, with the neighborhood changing, Banda says. The higher the income in the area, the lower the violent crimes. Youre going to have more property crimes, but your violent crimes tend to decrease.
It was nearly last call on a Friday night at the Fountainhead. The bartenders on duty mixed top-shelf cocktails and poured $5 draft beer for the lingering crowd of 20- and 30-somethings, the type who wear sequined cowboy hats and designer jeans.
In the parking lot behind the bar, the air was heavy with humidity. The early morning was still and oppressive after the bars steady blast of A.C. The house music blaring over the bars speakers was muted to a trance-like lullaby. Fountainhead co-owner Allen Godfrey, leaving the bar a few minutes before closing time, unlocked the door of his red Dodge Ram. Two blocks away, Charles Red Tallington was eyeing a blue Mitsubishi Eclipse, the sole car parked in an Ace Hardware lot.
Godfrey started his truck and set his 9mm semi-automatic on the center console, where it usually rested during his five-minute drive home. He was the father of a baby girl, carrying home a large wad of the bars cash, and he didnt want to risk anything as he steered the truck toward Joseph Avenue, which runs alongside the Ace Hardware.
Turning onto Joseph, Godfrey glanced over his right shoulder and saw someone, or rather saw some motion that suggested someone was up to no good. Shards of glass sparkled in the air and shattered on the gravel next to the blue Eclipse. Another car break-in, Godfrey thought warily. He eased the truck into the lot and picked up his cell phone. Several yards in front of the truck, Tallington was rifling through the Eclipse, crouching into the car through its missing window. Godfrey slid his trucks gearshift into park and flashed his brights. Tallington rose. Godfrey opened the door of the truck and leaned out, yelling: Im calling the police. I know who you are. Hed seen Tallington in the neighborhood before.
Godfrey expected him to run. Instead, Tallington locked eyes with the man in the shiny red pick-up.
Holding Godfreys gaze, Tallington started walking toward him, fast. Godfrey grabbed his phone and dialed 911. He tried to hit the send button, but missed. Tallington kept coming at him, faster and faster. Godfrey scrambled to hit the button again. You have to stop, Godfrey screamed over the top of the trucks open door. I have a gun. Tallington hesitated, turned sideways and reached behind his back for something, apparently something in his pocket. Godfrey saw a flash of chrome. He slid his pistol off the console and pressed it into the drivers seat. Tallington was closer now, only four feet away.
Godfrey stepped away the shield of the trucks door, aimed the 9mm and fired once. Tallington fell face-first at his feet.
The line was finally ringing.
911, do you have an emergency?
Godfrey touched Tallington behind the ear. His pulse was weak.
I just shot a man, Godfrey said.
Whats your name and location?
Im Allen Godfrey. Im at the parking lot of Ace Hardware on Glenwood. I need to call my wife.
Sir, stay on the line.
Godfrey removed the clip from the gun, emptied the chamber of its one remaining bullet and set the weapon on the seat of the truck.
Is the victim breathing? the operator asked.
Tallington took one last breath.
He just stopped, Godfrey said.
Can you render aid?
Godfrey checked the pulse again. Nothing.
We need an ambulance, he said.
At 4 a.m., at about the time the Fountainhead served its last drink of the night, Atlanta police heard over their scanners that a Signal 50 had been reported at 1231 Glenwood Avenue, near where it intersects Joseph Avenue.
Three officers met Godfrey near the tailgate of the pick-up, where he stood with his arms raised in the air. Tallington lay near the front of the red truck, his arms also raised above his head, blood pouring from the exit wound on his back, pools forming on either side of his white T-shirt.
On the ground next to Mr. Tallington was a large black and chrome hair pick, one of the officers later wrote in a police report.
Another officer asked Godfrey, Wheres the gun?
Im not armed, Godfrey said. The gun is in the front seat. Ive already cleared it, and removed the magazine.
Godfrey went down to the station for questioning. He spoke for a little more than an hour, until 6 a.m. His statement was consistent with what he said at the crime scene, according to police files.
I thought the guy was going to run off, and he came at me, Godfrey said in his statement. I was scared. I thought he was going to kill me.
Atlanta police contacted DeKalb County assistant district attorney A.H. Bright. He agreed that he didnt see any reason to charge anybody at this time, an officer wrote in his report.
In the meantime, Tallingtons body arrived at the morgue for an autopsy. Two days later, a medical examiner identified the corpse as Tallington, through fingerprints, and determined his cause of death to be a single gunshot wound through the heart.
The autopsy report also describes several inch-long scars, long healed, on Reds hands and forearms. On the side of his left arm, the scars were crudely etched to form two words: Lil Red.
For Tallingtons family, the first half of September passed in eerie silence. No word came from him. No cash arrived in the mail for his son. No phone rang with a collect call from jail.
On Sept. 18, Tallingtons family finally got the news.
My uncle called me and said we need to talk. Its about Red, Wood recalls. I said either he got in a whole bunch of trouble or he was dead.
Medical examiner Sam Buice finally tracked and contacted the family, after realizing hed kept Tallingtons body frozen and tagged for more than three weeks. He says he tried to reach relatives sooner, but had trouble doing so because he thought Tallington was homeless. He also says he believed the police had notified the Tallingtons family of his death. Sometimes police seek out survivors, sometimes he does.
Our office makes every possible effort to find family members, Buice says. Thats the number one top priority, to notify and locate family.
Wood has lingering questions about what happened, and not just the obvious, Why didnt you call the two Tallingtons listed in the Atlanta phone book? After learning his cousin was dead, he took it upon himself to go to the police department and ask how Tallington died.
[The officer] said the guy asked Red to get away from the car and that he had called the cops, Wood recalls. He said the guy said, Stop, Ive got a gun.
My reaction to that was, if youve got the cops on the phone, why would you confront that person? Youre on the street in your car. Why would you go that extra mile? I cant figure that one out for nothing, jeopardizing your own life for some property not even your property.
But when you think youre merely attempting to scare a burglar away and then realize that, in fact, you might have seconds to live thoughts dont flow so fluidly, says Maj. Banda.
He was in fear of his life, Banda says of Godfrey. If somebody was coming toward me after I told them the police were coming, I would assume something was wrong with him. The natural inclination of most people would be to run the other way.
But not Tallington.
Wood says Tallingtons 8-year-old son, who keeps a picture of his father next to his bed, is doing surprisingly well. He recently got into football, and despite his diminutive size, he enjoys playing tackle.
Hes still too young to realize both his parents are truly gone.
Its not real hard, because he doesnt yet understand the concept of life and death, breathing and not breathing, Wood says. But as long as hes got that picture, he knows hes got a father.
"The GA Dome has been used by hundreds of sporting organizations, concert promoters, event promoters,…
The die was cast in 2010 when the hotel tax was re-dedicated to the Falcons…
It takes practice, using proper site alignment and trigger control for accuracy. These hoods hold…
It takes an intelligent person to properly maintain and accurately shoot a firearm. I guess…
Had narrowed the field (for Georgia DipShit of the Year) to Jason Spencer or Hans…
"You would think that the gun manufacturers would make the firearms idiot proof, but I…