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."
Atlanta’s police officers will get a thorough education on the public’s right to tape them at work, and have their tapes protected, under an order a federal judge looks likely to issue in the coming days.
The Atlanta Police Department has wrongly arrested people for videoing officers in the line of duty, attorney Gerry Weber from the Southern Center for Human Rights told a federal court in Atlanta Thursday.
APD policy is supposed to state that it is 100 percent legal to film officers at work as long as the filming does not interfere with police work, and that an officer who destroys any such film is liable to be fired.
The police were supposed make that clear in policy — and train officers in the policy — under a court order stemming from a case two years ago. But Weber, who worked on the case, said there have been lapses. It's resulted in harm, he said, both to the arrested persons and to officers who might make mistakes due to nonexistent or out-of-date training.
The attorneys revisited the order in November after local protests over the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Creative Loafing freelancer John Ruch was among two journalists arrested in November 2014 in Atlanta while on duty. Ruch said police illegally stopped him from taking photos and grabbed his camera before the arrest.
Atlanta Chief Counsel Bob Godfrey told the court that the police have made the changes and trained its officers, but admitted “we did not do it in a timely fashion.” Godfrey said officers had been given a copy of the policy and it had been discussed at roll call. He also said APD's Office of Professional Standards has received no allegations of officers destroying anyone’s tapes. (Disclosure: Godfrey is the father of CL Culture Editor Gavin Godfrey.)
But Weber said training should consist of more than handing out or reading a document.
Jones asked Weber to send him a document by Monday proposing what he thinks the police ought to do. The judge said he would review it and wants to come up with an order to APD as soon as possible.
“Let’s get this done, corrected immediately,” Jones said.
APD Major Darin Schierbaum told reporters this evening that officers were investigating reports of a stolen vehicle around 5 p.m. when they approached a car parked on Pryor Street near Underground Atlanta. They then encountered a woman inside the stolen vehicle. The officers apprehended the woman and placed her in the back of a squad car. Schierbaum did not give a description of the stolen vehicle but said it was located in a nearby parking deck.
Schierbaum said the female suspect subsequently fired “at least twice” at the officers, who then retreated before returning fire and striking the suspect. The woman was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital where she later died from her injuries, Schierbaum said. Both officers were unharmed. He also said no bystanders were injured in the shootout.
Few details are available about the shooting that shut down Pryor Street during rush hour. On Friday morning, Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office identified the woman as 25-year-old Alexia Christian. But police didn't say how Christian was able to access to a gun in the back seat of a police cruiser after being detained by officers. According to Schierbaum, APD officers hoped that surveillance cameras in the surrounding area would provide additional details about the officer-involved shooting. After Christian's death at Grady, her body was transported to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office.
The names, ranks, and races of the officers who returned fire and fatally shot the woman are also not yet available. It is not clear how many times the officers fired back. More than a dozen police vehicles have closed off Pryor Street between Wall Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive during the ongoing investigation.
APD reported nine officer-involved shootings last year. Tonight’s incident marks the second of 2015. Earlier this month, two officers shot and wounded a suspect whom they say pointed a gun at them during a foot chase in Mechanicsville.
Last night around 9:45 p.m., Atlanta Police officer Danielle Wertz found three people — Derek Lord, Ronnie Neal, and Kevin White — lying on the sidewalks near Little Five Point's Findley Plaza at Euclid and Moreland Avenues during a routine patrol of the area.
According to APD's report, Wertz first found Lord "folded into an awkward position" but "breathing quickly and heavily" near a bench off Euclid Avenue. White, who was unconscious but breathing at the time, was discovered in "more of a sleeping position" in the same area. The officer then found a third person, Ronnie Neal, across the plaza closer to Moreland Avenue. Neal was unresponsive to Wertz's attempts to wake him up with his voice, flashlight, and shaking, the report says.
"All three appeared to possibly by affected by heroin overdose," Wertz wrote in the report.
After clearing out the area, the officer called for ambulances to take the three men to the emergency room. White was later pronounced dead after emergency responders transported him to Atlanta Medical Center. John Cross, chief administrative and investigative officer with the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office, said his department's investigation into White's cause of death is still ongoing.
Lord and Neal both eventually woke up and became responsive. APD Sgt. Greg Lyon tells CL that neither men were charged with any offenses.
Hill, a 27-year-old African-American U.S. bAir Force veteran who suffered from bipolar disorder, earlier that afternoon had been shot and killed by a white law enforcement officer. His incident was one of many high-profile police-involved shootings that have followed the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last August.
But Anderson considers Hill's death "the most blatant case of excessive force" she's ever seen. That's because he was crawling naked around his apartment complex in Chamblee, knocking on his neighbors' doors, and at one point hanging from a balcony. Despite Hill later being found unarmed, DeKalb Officer Robert Olsen resorted to using his pistol despite having a taser and pepper spray on his belt.
"Anthony was a very good kid," she says. "He had no criminal record. He loved children. He loved singing. He was a very friendly and sociable person. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He actually would take spiders out of my apartment and set them free. I’ve never met anyone like that in my entire life who cared about people so much."
Hill left the military in 2013. Anderson says he struggled in his transition back to civilian life, partially because he failed to receive enough support leading up to his killing. One month after Hill was shot and killed, Anderson hopes that his death will lead to major reforms in how the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs takes care of veterans returning home from combat. In addition, she wants police officers to be better trained in dealing with people living with mental health illnesses.
Hill was unsuccessful in attempts to find steady work after serving in Afghanistan. According to Anderson, the V.A. was supposed to have case workers assigned to check up on him, but he received little assistance aside from a two-day resume class. He should have had a case worker who was more involved with helping him get his life back on track, she says.
"The transition from military life to civilian life is a huge change," she says. "For somebody like Anthony, the V.A. needed to make sure the people who served our country are checked up on and getting the help they need because they risked their lives on the front lines."
His job search after being discharged from the military was also hamstrung by social anxiety and bipolar disorder. When Hill tried to get medical help to stabilize his mood, Anderson says the V.A. tried scheduling him for appointments in Charleston, S.C., and Texas despite the fact he had updated his records. Last January, he was also forced to wait on the phone for two and a half hours to obtain basic information and initially received poor treatment at the Atlanta V.A. Medical Center.
Anderson says that Hill had smoked marijuana multiple times a week to help his mood and was able to start taking bipolar medication last January. But Hill, who was an aspiring singer hoping to sign a record deal, experienced side effects that included a locked jaw and a swollen tongue. She says those side effects prompted Hill to stop taking his medication about 10 days before he died. Hill had a follow-up appointment scheduled with his doctor for March 18, nine days after he was shot and killed, she says.
"He was going to tell his doctor to switch his medicine," Anderson says. "He never got to do that. When he was on the medicine, he was smoking more because the side effects were worse. He was like, 'I don’t want to wake up one day and not be able to breathe because of what this medicine is doing this to me. He decided to stop taking the medicine and use marijuana to help him sleep, to help his brain function better."
Atlanta V.A. Medical Center spokesman Greg Kendall declined to comment on specific details about Hill's medical treatment, citing privacy concerns. He says the V.A. facility offers "a wide range of mental health services to all veterans seeking assistance" such as primary care and specialized programs for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment. The facility also offers a psychiatric emergency department that's open at all hours and a crisis line to speak with mental-health professionals.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hill family during this very difficult time," Kendall said in a statement.
Hill, thought to be in the middle of a bipolar episode when he was killed, was gunned down by a veteran officer who had received limited training on how to work with people suffering from mental-health conditions. Olsen, who was placed on administrative leave pending the investigation's outcome, had no serious discipline issues on his seven-year record. According to his police file, Olsen had completed 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Team training in 2009 that included instruction on how to respond to people whose behavior might be affected by mental illness. He received one more hour of mental illness training in 2011.
DeKalb County Police spokeswoman Mekka Parish declined to comment on the Hill case. But Parish says new recruits have received four hours of mental-health training, plus one hour of additional officer training every three years. Not all are required to take the CIT training. She says the department now plans "to be even more proactive" by increasing officer training to two hours each year. And starting with DeKalb's next class of new officers, the department will mandate all recruits complete the 40-hour CIT training. All current officers who haven't taken the course will be required to do so, she says.
Yet Anderson says DeKalb Police should have required Olsen and officers to receive even more additional training. According to Anderson, DeKalb officers should be required to take comprehensive mental-health training at least once every six months. If that didn't happen, she says DeKalb could follow the San Antonio Police Department's example and establish a mental-health detail that specializes in responding to incidents like the one that took Hill's life.
"[Hill] wasn’t hurting anyone, he was knocking on doors, jumping off a balcony, he wasn’t running toward anyone, people were five feet away from him telling him to get inside. He was out it," Anderson says. "For an officer not to see that is crazy to me. It’s common sense for anyone. A child could’ve seen that. It makes me angry."
DeKalb Police Chief Cedric Alexander has asked for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to launch an independent probe into Hill's killing and all other shootings involving his department's officers. GBI Director Vernon Keenan this week stated that the agency, which has taken on numerous investigations into police-involved shootings in metro Atlanta, needs more resources to continue doing such work.
Anderson, who's had her life turned upside down, would like to see justice served for Hill's in the form of an indictment or even jail time. If that doesn't happen, she hopes that his death will change government policies that save the lives of others.
"I don’t hate Officer Olsen, but there should be some kind of penalty for him," Anderson says. "I tried to forgive him in my heart. It’s a hard thing to do because he took away the love of my life. Our future was broken. We had plans. We wanted to have children and get married."
The shooting death of a black man by a white police officer — the third such police-involved shooting in metro Atlanta since the end of last year — has sparked protests in Smyrna.
Nicholas Thomas, a 25-year-old Goodyear Service Center employee, was shot to death on March 24 while trying to flee police, who were serving an arrest warrant for a probation violation, in a Maserati sports car. According to Smyrna Police, Thomas attempted to run down the officers with the car outside the Cumberland Parkway tire shop where he worked. His family claims the shots came from the side, indicating the police shot Thomas as he passed by.
On March 31, hundreds of people joined the Thomas family for a vigil and protest outside Smyrna City Hall including members of the NAACP, Rise Up Georgia and #ItsBiggerThanYou.
“My son Nicholas Thomas did not die in vain; he died for change, and I believe Martin Luther King is looking down,” Nicholas’s mother Felicia said at the vigil, the AJC reported. Also in attendance was Thomas’s infant daughter, clad in a shirt reading, “I want justice for my dad.”
Protesters last weekend also disrupted brunch at several Cobb County restaurants to call attention to his death.
Thomas' killing comes on the heels of two other controversial police killings in DeKalb County. Anthony Hill, a former U.S. Air Force veteran suffering from bipolar disorder, was shot and killed on March 9. At the time of his death, he was unarmed and naked. Kevin Davis was killed in a still-mysterious police-involved shooting in his home on Dec. 29.
While Thomas' case have basic similarities, there are also differences from the DeKalb shootings, including the undisputed fact that Thomas was fleeing the police during an attempted arrest. Another question is whether the shooting was justifiable and how that will be investigated.
Both Thomas and the officer who shot him, Sgt. Kenneth Owens, have criminal records that could call their decision-making into question, the Marietta Daily Journal reported. Thomas reportedly had a history of fleeing from police that included a 2013 conviction for attempting to run over an officer during a speeding stop in Cobb County. And Sgt. Owens resigned from the Cobb County Police force in 1999 after being arrested for throwing a shoe and boot at his wife in a domestic dispute over the ironing of his uniform.
The Thomas family has hired lawyers, who met with the Smyrna Police to demand the Georgia Bureau of Investigation take over the case. Currently, the Cobb County Police are investigating, though GBI will review the results of that investigation. Owens has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.
Smyrna Police have declined to say exactly why Thomas was being arrested, beyond that it was a warrant relating to a probation violation, and how many shots police fired at him, the MDJ reports.
Meanwhile, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference suspended the Georgia chapter president, Rev. Sam Mosteller, for recent comments he made in response to Thomas’s killing. Mosteller had implied that all African American people should carry firearms to protect themselves from police.
Atlanta attorney Chris Chestnut, who's representing the family of Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran who was shot and killed at his apartment complex on March 9, yesterday told reporters that multiple witnesses believe that DeKalb County Police Department officer Robert Olsen's use of lethal force was unnecessary.
Olsen, a white officer who's served with the DeKalb County Police Department for seven years, had responded to a report of a man pounding on doors and crawling on the ground of his apartment complex. Hill, an African-American man suffering from bipolar disorder, was not wearing clothes when he started approaching Olsen. The officer fired two bullets that hit Hill, who was unarmed, in the chest despite having both pepper spray and a taser with him at the time.
Hill's death, which has already come into question by some neighbors and activists, might now have more supporting evidence, his family's lawyer said. Based on witness accounts told to an investigator working for the family, Chestnut said that Hill was initially 182 feet away from Olsen, before Hill began moving toward him at a "brisk" pace. Hill wasn't asked about his mental condition, according to Chestnut. CL has reached out to Chestnut for comment.
"He's disrobed, so it's blatantly apparent that he is not carrying nor concealing a weapon," Chestnut told the Associated Press. "He's not saying anything to the officer, so he's not threatening the officer. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever for that officer to even draw his firearm, let alone use it."
Cedric Alexander, DeKalb County's police chief, has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to take over the shooting case, something he did when another one of his officers shot Kevin Davis inside his apartment outside Avondale Estates last December, leading to the man's death. DeKalb County Police Department spokeswoman Mekka Parrish declined to comment to CL on behalf because "Dr. Alexander requested the GBI to conduct an independent investigation into the shooting." She also declined a statement on behalf of Olsen, who's since been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation's outcome.
Since the fatal shooting, protesters have staged a handful of events that have called attention to Hill's tragic killing. Two days after his death, about 80 activists marched in the streets of downtown Decatur to share their outrage with the world. DeKalb Police arrested seven protesters, including a 14-year-old girl, for obstructing Chamblee Tucker Road near I-285, charging them with disorderly conduct. This past weekend, protesters disrupted Sunday brunch at Leon's Full Service, Sweet Melissa's, and other Decatur establishments.
Around 2:45 a.m. today, Atlanta Police officers found two men dead just outside Vortex Bar and Grill. APD spokesman Ralph Woolfolk says one of the restaurant employees heard gun shots fired and had "found an individual unresponsive" in the adjacent parking lot. Following APD's arrival, police officers discovered a second victim. According to APD, no witnesses saw either shooting take place.
"Both victims sustained fatal gunshot wounds," Woolfolk tells CL. "Grady EMS treated both victims and advised they showed no signs of life. The medical examiner responded to the scene and assumed custody of the bodies."
The Fulton County Medical Examiner's office has identified 33-year-old Atlanta resident Joseph Hruska and 32-year-old Atlanta resident Chaitanyalila Kelsey as the two victims.
A Vortex manager this morning declined comment given that both victims did not visit the restaurant last night. Little Five Points Business Association President Kahle Davis, who also owns Star Bar, says the commercial district’s business owners are working with APD in hopes of finding the gunman.
"The community is shocked and saddened by the news that we've lost two of our friends and neighbors in a senseless act of violence," Davis tells CL. "We are working with police to find answers, and can provide no further details at this time."
APD has now responded to three killings in Zone 6, including the murder of an Alabama construction worker outside Kroger on Ponce de Leon Avenue, during the past week. That figure matches the number of people murdered in the precinct throughout all of last year.
Atlanta Police have not yet found the two suspects allegedly involved in carjacking attempt that resulted in a killing outside the Kroger on Ponce de Leon Avenue. So grocery store executives are offering a large reward to help the search.
Kroger officials are offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrests of the person responsible for the fatal shooting of Josh Richey, a 38-year-old Alabama construction worker and father of four, who was killed Tuesday afternoon.
Around 2 p.m. last Tuesday, APD says Richey confronted two suspects attempting to steal his white pickup truck in Kroger parking lot in Poncey-Highland. The suspects, who were driving a black BMW 3 Series with tinted windows, then drove away from the grocery store. According to APD Sgt. Greg Lyon, the vehicle might have had a "drive out tag." APD Lt. Charles Hampton, who runs the force's homicide unit, told the AJC the shooting was a "crime of opportunity."
"He would have given them anything they wanted,'' Kathy Richey, Josh's wife, told AL.com. "If they'd opened the door and showed the gun, he would have given them anything."
In addition to Kroger's reward, Richey's employer, RGWilliams Construction, has set up a fund to help his family. Crime Stoppers Atlanta is also offering an up-to-$2,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and indictment of the shooting suspects. If you have information, you can submit it anonymously at 404-577-TIPS (8477) or online at crimestoppersatlanta.org.
APD Sgt. Greg Lyon has confirmed with CL that a Joshua R. Richey was shot and killed just before 2 p.m. behind the Kroger located off Ponce de Leon Avenue near the Atlanta Beltline. Two suspects, who were riding in a black BMW that backed into a parking spot on the side of the building, attempted to break into a white pickup truck, according to a video that APD released. Richey then attempted to confront a person breaking into his vehicle, Lyon said. The shooting followed that encounter.
"The suspects left the scene in a black BMW with tinted windows and possibly a drive out tag," Lyon says.
Both APD and Atlanta Fire Rescue responded to the crime scene. The AJC reports Richey was 38 years old and has four children.
APD officers are looking for the suspects and encourage anyone with information to get in touch with Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-TIPS (8477) or online at crimestoppersatlanta.org. Information leading to the arrest and indictment of the suspects could result in an up-to-$2,000 reward. We've included a video of the black BMW in the Kroger parking lot after the jump.
Kroger's location on Ponce has long been known as "Murder Kroger" to Atlanta residents. Kroger officials last year attempted to rebrand the store as "Beltline Kroger."
We've asked APD for more details about the killing, potential suspects, and whether the incident would affect President Barack Obama's itinerary. The president, who was speaking this afternoon at Georgia Tech, visited Manuel's Tavern down the road from the crime scene. If we hear back, we'll post an update.
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