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Crime & Law

    After months of hiding from COVID-19, many Atlantans emerged from their homes last month with rage rather than apprehension about the uncertain world. With the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, they felt safe enough to take to streets and demand police reform that would stop brutality against Black people. Protesters marched and chanted loudly, so alive as they called for less senseless death. Atlanta Police stood stone-faced as protesters screamed, and many were outraged when fellow officers were fired and then charged with assaulting arrestees and, in the case of one cop, murder. Beneath it all, a grim phenomenon was taking shape: Shootings among residents were rising in the city — homicides, too. Ninety-three people were shot in Atlanta during the four-week period of May 31 to June 27, up drastically from 46 in the same period last year, the latest complete data available. And fourteen people died of homicide in that span, compared to six during the same time frame in 2019. Those shot have included a 10-year-old boy who survived, an 18-year-old who may have been selling water on the street in Midtown when he was killed, and an 80-year-old man who died as the unintended target of a drive-by in his home. The numbers are still climbing. On Saturday, an 8-year-old girl was shot dead near the burned out Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was killed by an Atlanta cop. Atlanta police said it appears a group of armed people stopped the car in which the child was riding before someone shot into it. A few hours later, 14 were shot during a fight at an outdoor party in northeast Atlanta where people had gathered to watch fireworks, police said. That shooting occurred about the same time a crowd was busting out windows of the Georgia State Patrol headquarters. The spate of violence may be happenstance, but observers say it’s a safe bet multiple factors are at play: pent up energy and angst from quarantine; folks trying to handle disputes themselves rather than call police whom they distrust; and Atlanta officers working less proactively because of what they see as anti-police sentiment on the streets and a lack of support from local politicians. “There seems to be withdrawal by police,” said Russell Covey, Georgia State University criminal law professor. “The lack of a police presence may create something of a vacuum of authority.” Asked last week about the situation, Atlanta police officer Jason Segura, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers’ local chapter, said police are indeed pulling back. The violence spike can likely be attributed to officers taking a less proactive approach to preventing crime, he said. “Officers are afraid to do their job,” Segura said last week. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a press conference Sunday that there was “no mass sick out” Saturday night. “We’ve had 75 shootings in the past few weeks, you can’t blame that on APD,” Bottoms said at the press conference. Lately, Segura said, every officer he talks with is angry about the treatment of the nine Atlanta officers who were charged by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard in June. Segura said he and other cops believe Garrett Rolfe, since fired, and Officer Devin Brosnan followed the Atlanta Police Department’s use of force policy in their encounter with Brooks. Rolfe, charged with felony murder and 10 other offenses, was granted a $500,000 bond and must wear an ankle monitor, have no contact with witnesses, abide by a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, and not possess any firearms. He also was ordered to surrender his passport. Brosnan, charged with aggravated assault for standing on Brooks with his boot, and three violations of his oath of office, was released on a $50,000 signature bond. The arrests were galling — and confounding — to other officers, who feel they don’t have clarity on what city leaders want from them, Segura said. After Brooks’ death, Police Chief Erika Shields stepped aside while Bottoms and city council members began talking about “re-imagining” the police department and changing use of force policies. Segura said officers will abide by whatever policy the city writes for them. Bottoms addressed the increased violence during a conference call with the city council Thursday. She pointed out that overall crime is down 30 percent, while acknowledging the spike in shootings. “But certainly we are in a very challenging period right now,” the mayor said, adding that a task force is working as quickly as possible to review the use of force policy. The mayor has so far issued three administrative orders based on the task force’s recommendations. The orders seek to ensure officers’ body cameras are filming during use of force incidents; that witnesses who have their own footage can share it easily with investigators; and that the Atlanta Citizen Review Board is empowered to drive change in policing in the city. Atlanta City Council is set to vote on other policing reform measures Monday, including a proposed ban on the use of choke holds. Bottoms noted that other large cities have seen similar increases in violence recently because of “the state of the country right now.” It isn’t clear how many cities have seen such a spike, but at least two have. “Gun violence soars amid crises of health, public trust, officer reluctance,” read a recent headline in Minneapolis’ Star Tribune. “Gun Violence Spikes in N.Y.C., Intensifying Debate Over Policing,” read one in the New York Times. In Atlanta’s Edgewood neighborhood, resident Quincy Jackson, 34, said he’s been hearing more gunshots lately and is hopeful Atlanta officers and officials can find common ground soon. He’s torn — he sees the merits of the Black Lives Matter protests, but he also knows the community needs police. “I think they have slacked off some,” Jackson said Thursday on Edgewood Avenue, across the street from a mural of George Floyd. “Now it seems like the cops are scared to do anything, like they don’t want to get in trouble.” Down the street, Alethea Carter, who’s lived in the neighborhood all of her 65 years, doesn’t have many warm feelings for the Atlanta Police Department right now. As a Black mother, she said she was heartbroken by the death of Brooks. Now she’s even more upset with the police because, after those events that brought so much pain to so many people, the police seem to be even less invested in doing right by the community. She’s saddened by the rise in shootings on the streets too. “If they don’t kill us,” she said, “we’re going to kill one another. It’s sad.” In DeKalb County, where county cops and political leaders aren’t in the midst of such consternation, homicides were down by five in the same period where Atlanta saw killings increase by eight. Statistics on overall shootings there weren’t immediately available. DeKalb County officers police a population whose size is close to Atlanta’s. In Atlanta, as officials, residents and police work to find middle ground, victims of violent crime and their loved ones are left to wonder if their plights could’ve been prevented. When 80-year-old Clarence Knox was shot in the June 25 drive-by, Atlanta police had known for weeks his home was being targeted. Back on June 3, he’d apparently been laying on the couch, where he often lounged while sipping Miller Genuine Draft and watching old Westerns, when bullets tore into the house. He called his daughter, Rochelle Thibodeaux, and said: “Baby girl, if I would’ve been sitting up on the couch you wouldn’t be talking to me right now.” Knox also called 911 to report the shooting. The attackers, the family believes, were trying to hurt a young relative who Knox let stay in the home. The family told police that, as well as who might be after the young man, Thibodeaux said. Thibodeaux tried to convince her father to come stay with her, but he didn’t want to be run out of his own home. On June 26, the family hadn’t been able to reach Knox for a while, so they summoned police. Officers found him shot dead on the floor, clutching the phone as if he was trying to call 911, his daughter said. Officers reported finding as many as 20 shell casing outside. Now, as Thibodeaux aches with grief, she wonders if police could’ve saved him. “I feel like it could’ve been prevented if they put more police cars in that area after the first shooting. They never even followed up,” she said, frustration clear in her voice. “I know we have a lot of things going on, but this is our 80-year-old father.”
  • A man was shot in the head early Saturday following a two-car collision on the Downtown Connector, authorities said. Officers responded to the road rage shooting near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive about 4:30 a.m., Atlanta police spokesman Sgt. John Chafee said.  According to investigators, a driver and two friends were getting on the interstate when their vehicle collided with a silver Chevrolet Camaro.  Read more on this story on ajc.com.
  • Authorities are searching for a suspect who stole a car and intentionally crashed it inside a Carrollton cemetery.  The stolen Chevrolet Cruze was discovered wrecked inside the Carrollton City Cemetery last Saturday, police said in a Facebook post. The sedan, which had significant front end damage, appeared to have struck at least two headstones at the grave site along Alabama Street, authorities said. According to police, the car was reported stolen from a location on 5th street shortly before being totaled in the graveyard about a mile away.  Read more on this story on ajc.com.
  • An Atlanta protest organizer was one of two people arrested on arson charges Thursday in connection with the fire at the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was killed, authorities said.  Atlanta fire spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford confirmed that John Wade, 33, and Chisom Kingston, 23, were taken into custody in connection with the June 13 blaze. Both remain held at the Fulton County Jail, online records show. Late last month, 29-year-old Natalie White was arrested on arson charges in connection with the blaze. She has since been released on bond. Wade was one of several people who organized large demonstrations across Atlanta in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, authorities confirmed. He also organized an impromptu rally outside the Wendy’s on June 13, hours after Brooks was shot by an Atlanta police officer in the restaurant parking lot. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • A man and a 10-year-old girl were injured during a shooting at a DeKalb County motel Wednesday night, police said. The incident took place at an extended stay motel at 4893 Memorial Drive, DeKalb police spokeswoman Michaela Vincent told AJC.com. Investigators believe an argument between several people led to the shooting. The girl was found at the scene with a gunshot wound to her leg, and she is expected to survive, Vincent said. — Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • A search for an armed carjacker in Cobb County led to an exchange of gunfire that left an officer injured and the suspect dead Thursday evening, authorities said. The incident began shortly after 7 p.m. when a man armed with a rifle carjacked a Tesla near the intersection of Delk and Powers Ferry Roads, Cobb police said. “The suspect evaded officers and also started shooting at them from the car with some sort of rifle,” Cobb police spokesman Sgt. Wayne Delk said. Police from several agencies pursued the man into a townhome community near Powers Ferry and Akers Mill roads. The man fired at officers a second time after ditching the car and running into the neighborhood, police said. “He attempted to force his way into one of the residences, but the homeowner would not open the door even though he brandished his weapon,” Delk said. According to police, the man ran through the neighborhood and continued to shoot at officers, striking one of them in the head. Other officers returned fire, fatally wounding the carjacking suspect.  The officer who was shot was conscious at the scene and taken to the hospital, Delk said. The round that struck him did not penetrate his skull, and the officer is expected to make a full recovery.  The shooting investigation has been turned over to the GBI. It is the 51st officer-involved shooting the agency has been asked to investigate this year.  No additional information has been released. — Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • The bond hearing will be Tuesday for the former Atlanta police officer accused of killing Rayshard Brooks.  Garrett Rolfe, 27, was charged with murder after the June 12 shooting in the parking lot of an Atlanta Wendy’s restaurant. Rolfe surrendered last week and is currently being held at the Gwinnett County jail.  A bond hearing was initially scheduled this week for Rolfe. But was postponed because it coincided with the funeral for Brooks. Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard argued that the Victim’s Rights Act gives family members the right to be heard at any hearing pertaining to a potential release. Tuesday’s hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Fulton County courthouse. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • A malice murder suspect accused of shooting a woman outside of a Jonesboro Waffle House was denied bond Monday, according to court records. Jasmine Monica Kirk, 35, of Jonesboro, was arrested Friday after gunning down another woman as she waited for her to-go order, according to Jonesboro police and the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office. Kirk faces two firearm-related charges in addition to the malice murder charge. Witnesses told police that Kirk walked up to the victim’s black SUV in the parking lot of the restaurant at 8765 Tara Boulevard and opened fire, AJC.com previously reported. The gunfire hit the victim, whose name has not been released, multiple times in the upper torso. >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • A woman authorities say set fire to the Atlanta Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by an Atlanta police officer was arrested Tuesday afternoon, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office said.  Natalie Hanna White, 29, was arrested outside her attorney’s office shortly before 3 p.m., Eric Heinze, deputy commander with the U.S. Marshals Service, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was a joint effort among various law enforcement agencies, including the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office. White was seen earlier in the day in Gwinnett County and investigators tracked her to an office park, where she was arrested without incident, Heinze said. “Good things happen when great law enforcement officers coordinate their efforts and work together to apprehend dangerous suspects who pose a threat to our communities,” the Gwinnett Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.  White lives in Peachtree Corners, according to her booking record. An arrest warrant had been issued Saturday.  MORE: Arrest warrant issued for woman accused of torching Atlanta Wendy’s  She has been charged with first-degree arson and is expected to appear before a magistrate judge at noon Wednesday.  On Tuesday night, a crowd of protesters gathered outside the Fulton County Jail to demand White’s release. They banged pots and pans, blared car horns and projected the words “dismantle white supremacy” and “shut it down” on the side of the jail. The group intends to demonstrate until White is released, one protester told Channel 2 Action News. Attorney Drew Findling, who is representing White, said he had been in contact since Sunday with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office to make arrangements for White to surrender. He declined to discuss specifics out of respect for Brooks’ family, but said White knew Brooks.  “She did know him,” Findling told The AJC. “They did have a close relationship.”  >>Read MORE on AJC.com.
  • Police have blocked off the parking lot of a College Park gas station while they investigate a shooting Tuesday morning. Dozens of shell casings litter the lot outside the Chevron station on the corner of Old National Highway and Godby Road, Channel 2 Action News reported. Crime scene investigators are collecting evidence. Authorities could be seen towing two vehicles from the parking lot just after 6:15 a.m., according to Channel 2. There were multiple bullet holes in one of them.   College Park police have not released any details about the shooting.  We have an Atlanta Journal-Constitution photographer on the way to the scene to learn more. — Click HERE for updates from The AJC.