A Cobb County grand jury today deemed the shooting to be justified and recommended Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds to not pursue further action against Owens for his use of lethal force on March 24. On that afternoon, Smyrna and Cobb County law enforcement officers attempted to serve Thomas with an arrest warrant after he had failed to pay $170 in probation fees.
Thomas, who had a previous history of evading police but had recently tried to resolve his legal issues, attempted to flee the scene in a Maserati sports car that was being serviced at the Goodyear tire shop where he worked. Owens, who claimed to have feared for his safety, fired at least six rounds at the side of the Maserati. Thomas was unarmed at the time of his death.
Cobb County Police, which faced backlash after initially attempting to investigate the case, eventually handed the probe over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. On June 17, the state agency handed over their findings to Reynolds, who presented the evidence to a civil grand jury.
“The loss of life is unfortunate, and I sincerely sympathize with Mr. Thomas’s survivors," Reynolds said in a statement. "But when he drove the vehicle toward officers in the manner he did, the officer who fired the shots was justified under the law to use lethal force. Police officers in Georgia are authorized to fire their weapons to protect themselves or others from immediate bodily harm. That is what happened in this case.”
The Thomas family, who has criticized the use of lethal force and officers' accounts about the alleged threat to their safety, has recently urged federal authorities to become involved in the investigation. We've reached out to them for comment — and about their future plans for legal action — and will update this post once we receive more details.
Between July 3 and July 5, Atlantans called in approximately 155 fireworks-related complaints to the Atlanta Police Department. According to APD Sgt. Greg Lyon, no one in the city was taken into custody for violating the state's new fireworks law. (We've asked APD to pull similar figures on fireworks complaints and arrests from 2014 to compare the law's effects, if any.)
That doesn't mean the new fireworks law went into effect without a hitch. According to APD, Michael Durie was arrested and charged with reckless conduct on July 5 for allegedly lighting and throwing fireworks from a curb outside Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
"The plastic wrapper from the fireworks was near his feet," an initial APD report says. "There were other people in the area that started running when they heard the noise. They thought it was gun fire and fear full of there lives [sic]. There was no one hurt from this incident."
Atlanta Fire Rescue spokeswoman Janet Ward says the department "has no data on fireworks incidents" from over the weekend at this time. Moving forward, she says, AFR officials will likely discuss with the city's legal department "the possibility and efficacy of placing limits on where fireworks can be employed" for future July 4 celebrations.
However, the state law legalizing fireworks states that the "governing authority of a county or municipal corporation shall not prohibit the sale or use or explosion of consumer fireworks or products." That is, unless it's "expressly prohibited by general law." Whether those limits jibe with that provision remains to be seen. So unless state lawmakers tinker with the law, amateur fireworks extravaganzas — we're looking at you, incinerated Cabbagetown fireworks tent! — might live to see another day without restrictions.
According to APD, a police officer on Sunday night attempted to arrest an ATV rider who fled on foot after his blue Yamaha Banshee stalled near Delia's Chicken Sausage Stand on Marietta Street. APD spokesman Sgt. Greg Lyon says the rider was a part of a pack of "at least 100 ATVs and motorcycles that were driving recklessly." The police report notes some riders were popping wheelies and driving on the wrong side of the road.
As the officer chased the fleeing suspect, another rider picked him up and sped away from the scene. The officer, who fell during the chase, impounded the stalled ATV. According to the police report, APD found a baby bottle in the front grill with a "thick red liquid that is suspected codine [sic]." As that happened, Lyon says, three other riders "climbed onto the hood of the patrol vehicle and began to kick the windshield, causing extensive damage."
Images and video capturing the incident have circulated on Instagram. APD typically holds onto dashboard camera footage until an investigation is complete — for example, the officer-involved shooting of Alexia Christian. But the department has released dashboard camera images of the three riders suspected of damaging the police vehicle.
APD Major Jeffery Glazier, noting that off-road vehicles on city streets have challenged law enforcement officers across the nation, says the dangers posed to pedestrians and drivers have grown, especially now that riders have become "increasingly aggressive" to law enforcement officers.
"We’ve made several arrests and impounded numerous ATV’s," Glazier tells CL. "We are in discussions with all of our law enforcement partners to find solutions to this issue."
Crime Stoppers Atlanta is offering an up-to-$2,000 reward to people with information leading to the arrests and indictments of the suspects who kicked in the patrol car's windshield. To submit a tip, call Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-TIPS (8477), text CRIMES (274637), or visit their website.
Early next month, the Atlanta City Council is expected to approve a $1.3-million body camera contract, which would outfit 1,250 Atlanta Police officers with the devices. APD wouldn't be the first metro Atlanta law enforcement agency to use body cameras, but it would be the largest department to roll out the portable surveillance devices.
Arizona-based company TASER International, Inc., would receive up to $1.1 million for 1,100 cameras for officers patrolling the city and data storage costs. They would get an additional $200,000 for 150 body cameras for officers stationed at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. TASER's contract would initially last for one year, with the city holding two one-year renewal options.
APD Deputy Chief Cerelyn Davis, who shared APD's plan with Council's Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee on June 23, said the department had drafted an initial body camera policy, based on an analysis of law enforcement agencies in 25 major U.S. cities, that would be "positive for the police officers and positive for the community."
According to Davis, APD remains in the "embryonic stages" of its body camera policies. Those procedures, she says, will be ironed out over the next several months based on other police policies — as well as initial first-hand experiences from APD officers — for storing videos and holding certain clips for evidence.
Part of that process involves figuring out which videos, including footage recorded while inside a person's home or which is part of an open investigation, are exempt from open records requests. Other aspects of the policy such as whether to release full or edited videos to the public — a major point of contention with activists in recent months — is currently being hashed out with the city's law department and the Fulton County District Attorney's office.
"Everything we've done to get to this point has been very methodical to make a prudent decision," Davis said.
Last September APD Chief George Turner signed off on body camera policy for a pilot program that lasted through February. The policy outlines how to properly wear cameras, when cameras should be turned on to record, and how to upload camera footage. APD officers who were equipped with the devices filled out surveys to better inform the the city's purchase of the cameras.
The Atlanta Citizen Review Board, the independent investigative body that fields police complaints from citizens, released a report last year that called for stringent body camera policies such as strong training, oversight, and the protection of privacy rights.
"Human nature always finds a way to [adjust] to technology; however, the tried and true concepts of effective management, strong policies, consistent application and enforcement of policies, and respect are more important than technology," the report says. "Otherwise, the only beneficiaries of the [body cameras] are the companies that make them."
After consulting with the city's legal department, APD decided to go through a "special procurement" process with TASER to negotiate a contract similar to the one the company has with the Louisville Metro Police Department, which recently ordered nearly 1,000 devices for its police force. Davis noted that most major U.S. cities with officers wearing body cameras are working with TASER.
Another body camera contract bidder, Decatur-based technology firm Utility, questioned the city's contracting choice. During public comments at the June 23 meeting, Utility CEO Robert McKeeman told committee members his proposal received "significantly superior" internal reports than TASER's body cameras and would potentially save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. Utility's body cameras, he said, would also automatically record video and upload the footage in real-time, both of which would ensure proper use of the devices.
Council's Public Safety Committee moved the proposal along for consideration at its full meeting on July 6. After Councilwoman Mary Norwood asked for more information, the committee decided to vote in a way that would pull the proposal off the next meeting's consent agenda to allow for further discussion.
If approved, officers on duty at the airport and across Zone 4 — which includes much of southwest Atlanta — would receive body cameras first. Zones 1, 3, and 5 would receive cameras next. And Zones 2 and 6, on the north and east sides of the city, would be the last areas where officers would receive body cameras. APD plans to distribute 1,250 body cameras by December 31, 2015.
Atlanta's wheelie-popping dirt bike and ATV riders appear to be back in full force after keeping a low profile in recent months.
Over the weekend hundreds of off-road vehicle riders hit the open road, participating in an event called #RayDay5, and rode in packs throughout East Atlanta, Old Fourth Ward, Westside, and other parts of the city. Like last summer, their presence has drawn the ire of local residents, and left police officials scrambling for a response.
The mass pack rides yesterday led to two arrests and damage to at least one APD patrol car. Around 7:45 p.m. last night, APD spotted about 400 off-road vehicles traveling eastbound on Ralph McGill Avenue near Piedmont Road. One officer, noting in his report the dirt bikes were driving "very recklessly," decided to pursue a three-wheeled vehicle that had run multiple red lights.
The rider, Kirk Frost, a music producer and regular guest on "Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta," allegedly ran several more red lights while traveling on the wrong side of the road around 25 miles per hour, according to APD's report. When Frost eventually pulled over on his red Polaris Slingshot, he was arrested and charged with five counts of failure to obey a traffic control device and single counts of reckless driving, operating an unregistered vehicle, and driving on the wrong side of the roadway.
[W]hen placing Mr. Frost under arrest some of the dirt bike and ATV riders circled back and began to taunt us making the scene very unsafe," the officer wrote in the report.
Demarcus Jordan, a 28-year-old ATV rider, was arrested after police responded to a pack of more than 30 off-road vehicles blocking traffic at a gas station near Moreland Avenue and I-20. According to APD, an officer tackled Jordan to the ground after he attempted to flee the scene on his ATV. He was arrested and charged with reckless driving and operating an off road vehicle on a city street.
Outside of Delia's Chicken Sausage Stand on Marietta Street, two riders got off their vehicles, jumped on a parked APD patrol car, and stomped on the vehicle's windshield. The incident, which was captured in a video and posted on Instagram, was confirmed by APD.
An APD spokesman last summer told CL the department was thinking about how to clamp down on misdemeanor riding violations in way that didn't harm the safety of officers, riders, or residents.
"We simply cannot chase them down city streets," former APD spokesman Carlos Campos following a large 300-person pack ride last August. "We recognize these riders present not only a nuisance, but also a public safety hazard, to our citizens. We must address this in a thoughtful, comprehensive manner."
But following yesterday's havoc, local residents have turned to community message boards and Facebook groups to bemoan the riders' return. We've reached out to APD for comment about how they plan to address the mass rides in the future. If we hear back, we'll post an update.
"We observed the bikes around the city and began following them without actually being engaged in a high speed chase," APD spokeswoman Elizabeth Espy wrote to CL in an email this afternoon. "The air unit was up assisting us with locating the riders."
One solution being proposed from an NPU-X member is the creation of a dirt bike park to give the riders a place to use their vehicles without tearing up public parks or blocking traffic. However, skeptics of the proposal say the park won't keep riders off the streets.
UPDATE, 4:56 p.m. APD issued the following statement about the patrol car that was damaged on Marietta Street. From Sgt. Greg Lyon:
An Atlanta police car was damaged by individuals who were riding recklessly in a pack of at least 100 ATVs and motorcycles throughout the city. One of the ATVs stalled at the intersection of Northside and Marietta. An officer who was monitoring the group attempted to apprehend the driver of the stalled ATV on foot and injured his leg as he fell on gravel during a brief foot chase. As he engaged in a foot chase, several members of the pack doubled back around, climbed on the hood of the empty patrol vehicle and began to kick the front windshield, causing damage. The ATV was processed and impounded.
"This will be my first Father's Day without him," says Spencer, who was holding her baby boy, Noah, as she fought back tears inside the Davis Bozeman Law Firm this morning. "It's just really difficult. Every time I get on I-20 and head to Atlanta...to go there, and not be able to see him, is just really hard."
More than two months after an APD patrol car fatally struck Moore, his family today filed a civil lawsuit against the city. Spencer, one of Moore's two children and the administrator of his estate, is asking for $5 million in damages stemming from her father’s wrongful death.
Around 9:30 p.m. on March 6, Moore started to cross Metropolitan Parkway near Fair Drive, less than three miles from his home in Peoplestown. APD Officer Christopher Blaise, who was allegedly speeding northbound on the four-lane road without his sirens on or lights flashing, struck Moore with his patrol car. Moore later died at Grady Memorial Hospital from injuries sustained in the accident.
According to the lawsuit, Blaise was negligently speeding, driving too fast for conditions, and recklessly driving, among other offenses. Robert Bozeman, an attorney representing Moore's family, today said Blaise was likely "traveling almost twice the legal speed limit” of 35 miles per hour based on obtained surveillance footage and an accident reconstruction expert's findings.
APD Chief George Turner has not met with the Moore family despite their requests. At the Atlanta City Council Public Safety Committee meeting two weeks ago, civil rights attorney Mawuli "Mel" Davis says, several councilmembers were “very sincere in their condolences” expressed to Moore's son, Bernardo Hicks. Two APD officers also privately extended their condolences to Hicks after he spoke about his father's death.
Hicks says the APD police report contradicts the series of events captured on video surveillance. According to the police report, Moore "rolled onto the hood smashing the windshield" following the initial impact. Soon after, Blaise came to a "controlled stop" where Moore fell to the sidewalk, the report says. However, Hicks says, the video footage shows Moore "flying through the air."
"It’s very confusing," he says. "When you view the tape, when you view the evidence, it's very clear. It makes no sense that you have to apply pressure to get justice. Justice should be automatic. But, as we can see, it’s not automatic. You have to fight for justice."
The family's questions about their father's death remain unanswered. They hope a lawsuit will shine a light on the details surrounding his killing, explain why Blaise remains on active duty with APD, or force a public apology for his death.
"This isn’t just an ordinary car accident," Davis says. "There’s something more to this because police are involved. Police, who were driving without lights, without sirens, and killed a citizen of the city Atlanta, should be held to a higher standard. We have not seen that adherence to a higher standard happen yet."
According to Davis, the fact that Blaise has not been "arrested, charged, ticketed, or indicted" has forced the public to question the police department's actions. He says the frustration over the way police are treated differently than the citizens they serve has fueled tensions surrounding police-involved deaths in Baltimore; Cleveland; and Ferguson, Mo.
APD spokeswoman Elizabeth Espy declined to comment on the civil lawsuit.
It's been three years since Waiters, a 19-year-old unarmed African-American father, was shot twice in the back by former Union City Police Officer Luther Lewis during an attempted arrest. A Fulton grand jury at the time decided not to indict Lewis. The U.S. Department of Justice launched a probe but stopped short of pressing charges.
But new evidence released this week has prompted Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to reopen their respective investigations into the incident.
At last night's meeting, Freda Waiters, the mother of Ariston Waiters, presented the Union City Council with a list of demands related to her son's death. Her wishes included the immediate arrest of Lewis for the murder of her son, the resignation of Union City Police Chief Chuck Odom, and officials' support in calling for another federal investigation. Waiters said officials from multiple departments have largely ignored her son's case in what she called a "coverup."
"This was a death that never should've happened," Freda Waiters told Union City Mayor Vince Williams, who sat under the seal bearing the city's nickname, the "Progressive City." "My son should be here, walking around, laughing, talking, like all of us. My child was a human person, like all of us. The way his murder was covered, like he was just an animal on the street, that's not acceptable in this world."
Mawuli Davis, a local civil rights attorney who's representing Waiters, told reporters the new information surrounding the case — as well as overlooked details — should result in the criminal prosecution of Lewis. He asked the Union City Council to send a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for a federal probe. He also urged councilmembers to do the "things within your power" such as terminating officers involved in Waiters' fatal shooting.
In response, Williams said he would do his part to "make sure that justice is served" by handing over all available information subpoenaed by Howard for his investigation. Reading a prepared statement, Williams said at the meeting that officials would not make additional comments to allow Howard to conduct his investigation. He told Freda Waiters that Union City elected officials have discussed taking some sort of action, though he stopped short of sharing specifics, citing legal reasons.
In a recent interview with the AJC and WSB-TV, Union City Police Officer Chris McElroy, who was Lewis' supervisor on the scene where Waiters died, said the shooting has "not sat right with me from the first time I arrived on the scene." McElroy said Odom instructed him to not write a statement about his concerns, and later watched the police chief boast about helping Lewis stay out of jail.
The GBI has also shared a previously unreleased video of Lewis re-enacting the fatal shooting that contradicts parts of previous statements he's made about the events leading up to Waiters' death.
"My fire holster was sitting right here, I let his hand go, I got my gun out and when I come like this, he grabbed my gun," Lewis said during the re-enactment. "I come up like this and I went with everything I had, bam, bam, and just pushed back in and pulled the trigger twice."
After Freda Waiters spoke to the Union City Council, dozens of people gathered on the building's front steps for a prayer vigil in honor of her son. State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, who was addressing the crowd along with other local leaders, noted that he's "never seen a case break open like this" in his time as a community activist and elected official. Freda Waiters, who plans to meet with Howard later this week, says she's hopeful the new investigation will lead to justice in her son's fatal shooting.
"I'm going to keep praying that more is done, not just for my family, but for every family in America that goes through this," she said. "No mother should ever have to lose her child to something like this. For me, and for the other ones that go almost four years with a murder that was covered up and everybody still walks and shows their face, as if it's just another day, is unacceptable."
Outside APD's headquarters this afternoon, about a dozen activists called for police to release surveillance footage available from an officer-involved shooting that led to Christian's death. They also urged APD to allow an independent investigator handle an internal probe into conduct of two of its police officers.
Around 5 p.m. on April 30, APD Chief George Turner said, Christian was detained and placed in handcuffs near Underground Atlanta for allegedly stealing a pickup truck. After being placed in the back of a squad car, she managed to get one hand free from her restraints and subsequently shot a pistol three times at Officers Jeffery Cook and Omar Thyme. Both officers, who were sitting in the same car's front seat and narrowly escaped injury, fired back a total of 10 bullets at Christian. The female suspect was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital where she later died.
State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, today demanded the immediate release of footage from the front dashboard camera of the squad car, any obtained cell-phone footage, and at least two surveillance cameras in the surrounding area. Having that footage, Fort said, would provide greater clarity about what happened in the moments leading up to Christian's death.
"The fact of the matter is, in this post-Ferguson era, that the public demands transparency and openness," Fort told reporters. "That's not what we're getting in this instance. Atlanta has its own legacy of police misconduct going back a long time including the murder of Kathryn Johnston in 2006. That video [in the Christian shooting] is the property of the public."
According to Miracle Jones, a representative speaking on behalf of Rise Up Georgia, APD's release of the video tapes would help Christian's family find closure and show Atlantans that the police department prioritizes transparency. Since Christian won't be charged with a crime, Jones said APD investigators have no good reason to withhold the tapes in their possession.
"Alexia Christian was a mother, a daughter, a sister," Jones said. "Her family and friends deserve to know how she died. A narrative has been released about her death. So releasing the tapes will not compromise anything."
Rev. Joe Beasley, southeast director of the Rainbow Push Coalition, said he and other local religious leaders have asked APD to hand over Christian's case to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Beasley, who said he has spoken with APD Chief George Turner about the shooting, has not heard back from the police chief after being invited to a media press conference last week.
"It's hard to investigate yourself," Beasley said. "But if there's nothing to hide, why not ask the GBI to come in and do the investigation. I suspect Atlanta has as many capabilities as GBI, maybe more. But nonetheless, if there's nothing here, it seems that the chief would be happy to put the onus on someone else."
At a media briefing last week, Turner said the department would not release the footage from the squad car while investigators look into the case. Cook and Thyme are currently on routine administrative leave and face an internal investigation about whether they violated protocol in failing to properly search Christian.
APD spokesman Sgt. Gregory Lyon today tells CL no additional information will be released regarding either the ongoing criminal or internal investigation at this time. He says APD's investigation currently includes the department's homicide unit and Office of Professional Standards, along with the Fulton County District Attorney's Office. Lyon declined to elaborate on why APD would not ask the GBI to conduct a third-party investigation.
"This is our standard protocol with officer involved shootings," Lyon says. "We have a specialized unit of investigators that handle officer involved shootings such as the one that occurred on Thursday."
GREETINGS FROM THE GREAT GRAND MASTER! IN REGARDS OF YOU BECOMING A MEMBER OF THE…
I like Trumps response about finding hoping Russia finds the other 30K emails....Trump reminds me…
The Russian espionage angle is a red scare tactic floated by the Clinton team and…
Isn't the Atlanta area crime due mostly to people with multiple felonies and other repeat…
Mosby had a weak case to begin and tried to start a stampede with inflammatory…
how bout some more pics of the GA delegation?