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Crime & Law
Family filing $5M suit after Atlanta police shot, killed teen during ‘slider’ crime
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Family filing $5M suit after Atlanta police shot, killed teen during ‘slider’ crime

Family filing $5M suit after Atlanta police shot, killed teen during ‘slider’ crime
Photo Credit: Jonathan Hibbert
D’Ettrick Griffin

Family filing $5M suit after Atlanta police shot, killed teen during ‘slider’ crime

The family of an 18-year-old who was shot and killed by police during an alleged “slider” crime in January has taken a major step in filing a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta, their attorney said.

Jonathan Hibbert, who is representing D’Ettrick Griffin’s estate and his family, told AJC.com he filed an ante litem notice Friday afternoon against Atlanta for $5 million. He said the city will have 30 days to either pay the family’s demand or proceed to Superior Court.

“The penalty for joyriding or even grand theft is not death,” Hibbert said. “I believe our honorable Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is interested in doing the very best thing for the city.”

RELATED: Police shoot, kill teen accused of jumping in officer’s unmarked car

Jonathan Hibbert
Jonathan Hibbert
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Jonathan Hibbert

Photo Credit: Jonathan Hibbert
Jonathan Hibbert

AJC.com reached out to Bottoms’ office for comment but hasn’t heard back.

On Jan. 15, off-duty Officer Oliver Simmonds, who is a member of Bottoms’ security detail, was filling up his unmarked police car at a Shell gas station near the intersection of Whitehall and McDaniel streets, the GBI previously said. He was not wearing his uniform at the time.

Griffin jumped into Simmonds’ driver’s seat while he was pumping gas, which is commonly referred to as a slider crime. 

Hibbert said Griffin’s family does not approve of theft or joyriding, but they said the officer went too far in his response.

“There’s a line that law enforcement officers have to be aware of and should never cross,” Hibbert said. “It seems to be that rule of law is being thrown out the window ... They’re acting as the judge, jury and the executioner.”

The GBI said Griffin began to drive away, and the officer attempted to stop the theft. At some point, Simmonds fired multiple shots at Griffin, and the car traveled a short distance before crashing into two parked cars. 

Griffin was found dead in the vehicle. Simmonds had a minor injury to his foot after Griffin allegedly ran over it, but he was not shot. The GBI did not find a weapon on Griffin.

MORE: A suspect’s death reignites debate over cops firing at fleeing cars

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Family filing $5M suit after Atlanta police shot, killed teen during ‘slider’ crime

Hibbert said Simmonds, who has been with the department since April 2010, was too quick to resort to deadly force, which is why the family is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit. If the city meets the family’s demand of $5 million, the suit will stop, but Hibbert said anything less gives them the option to proceed.

“Where would (Griffin) go that he wouldn’t be found? There were four tires that could’ve been shot out,” Hibbert said. “The dividing line of justice ... is about whether we value property more than we value human life. Human life is always valued more than property.”

He also said the police incident report contained accounts of the incident that “are diametrically opposed” to what his sources have gathered. He wouldn’t elaborate on who those sources were. 

After several media outlets, including AJC.com, ran a photo of Simmonds after the incident, Atlanta police said he was receiving threats from “known gang members,” which police accused Griffin of being.

Hibbert denies that Griffin was involved in gang activity, and he doesn’t believe police are telling the truth about the alleged threats.

“I don’t believe this story that APD put out about threats of retaliation,” Hibbert said. “I think it’s just chaff — blowing smoke.”

Griffin had turned 18 years old about three weeks before his death, Hibbert said, and he was set to graduate from West End Academy this spring. The alternative school’s principal, Evelyn Mobley, spoke at Griffin’s funeral, which was captured on video.

Jonathan Hibbert
D’Ettrick Griffin
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D’ettrick Griffin

Photo Credit: Jonathan Hibbert
D’Ettrick Griffin

“D'Ettrick had the heart of every teacher in that building (and) every administrator in that building,” she said. 

His mother, Gaysha Glover, is a MARTA bus driver who has been unable to work because of grief, Hibbert said. He said Griffin’s grandfather is a police officer in Buffalo, N.Y.

Simmonds faces an administrative investigation by the department’s Office of Professional Standards “to ensure compliance with our policies and procedures,” Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos previously said. AJC.com reached out to Atlanta police Friday for any updates on this investigation but hasn’t heard back.

The GBI is investigating the officer-involved shooting. This was the sixth such investigation opened in 2019. As of Friday afternoon, there have been 10 officer-involved shooting investigations opened by the GBI this year, the latest in Barrow County on Tuesday.

RELATED: Georgia sees spike in deadly police shootings in 2018

OVER THE LINE: Police shootings in Georgia

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Family filing $5M suit after Atlanta police shot, killed teen during ‘slider’ crime

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News

  • As lies go, it wasn’t a very ambitious one.  But Avery Niles’ false claim, under oath, that he received an associate’s degree in criminal justice cost him his job on Wednesday.  Niles, who was the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice commissioner, offered to resign effective Sept. 1. He submitted his resignation to the DJJ board, which was meeting to deal with the brewing controversy stemming from Niles’ testimony in a 2017 lawsuit filed by a former department administrator.  In a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp announcing his resignation, Niles wrote, in part: “I am very proud of the work that was accomplished during my tenure and will forever be grateful for this tremendous opportunity.”  He continued, “I want to thank you for allowing me to serve in the capacity of Commissioner, and if there is any other opportunity for me to continue my service with your administration, please let me know.” But the DJJ board chose not to accept Niles’ resignation, voting instead to fire him immediately. Kemp approved the decision, the DJJ said in a statement.  Niles, one of the many Gainesville-based appointees of former Gov. Nathan Deal, had led the DJJ since 2012. He had previously served 25 years with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.  RELATED: » Kemp promises to reform how GA treats sexual harassment victims » Tight job market leaves Georgia’s youth jails chronically understaffed Niles’ tenure at the DJJ was marked by problems often unrelated to the commissioner. Staff shortages at juvenile justice facilities nationwide are not uncommon, and that problem only grew worse in 2018, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. The department’s own weekly staffing reports, obtained by the AJC, found that six of the state’s seven long-term youth detention centers, or YDCs, were dealing with greater shortages in juvenile corrections officers than experienced in 2017.  A spokesman for the DJJ has said Georgia would like to stop placing 17-year-olds in adult prisons for certain less serious crimes, but it lacks the staff to care for them. Georgia is among only a handful of states that still incarcerate juveniles in adult penitentiaries.  The DJJ has also dealt with accusations that it mishandled claims of sexual harassment by staff from other employees, a widespread problem in Georgia government agencies, according to a separate AJC investigation.  The DJJ wasted no time in erasing Niles from its website, removing his photo and a link to his bio within an hour of his dismissal. 
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  • An Indiana man has been charged with endangering the welfare of children after authorities said he took kids to Kentucky and forced them to sell candy for him. >>Read more trending news Shawn Floyd, 54, of Indianapolis was arrested last week in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said in a statement. The 12 children involved in the case were taken into protective custody. Floyd is accused of taking 12 Indiana children to Kentucky and forcing them to sell candy for profit, the statement said. The children were allegedly made to sleep in one hotel room with three adults, and had to purchase their own meals and water, according to the statement. The youngest child was 11, the office said. Kentucky labor law requires a person to be at least 14 years old to be employed. Beshear's office was notified July 12 of about 25 solicitor permits issued in Bowling Green, mostly for minors. The office had also received previously reports of Floyd possibly being involved in human trafficking in several Kentucky counties, the statement said. 'I want to commend the work of the Bowling Green Police Department and our human trafficking investigator,” Beshear said. “Their actions prevented any further possible exploitation or suffering for these children. When it comes to preventing such crimes, it requires cooperation across agencies and promoting awareness of such actions in every community.” Floyd has a pretrial conference scheduled for Sept. 4 in Warren County, Kentucky, WANE-TV reported. Online records show Floyd has bonded out of Warren County Regional Jail. Anyone who has information on people being exploited for commercial sex or labor can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 (or text 233733) for immediate assistance.
  • A California family is mourning the loss of their 9-year-old daughter and warning others about the dangers of underwater pool lights. >> Read more trending news  McKenzie Kinley, who was just shy of her 10th birthday, was killed Sunday after she was electrocuted in her family’s backyard pool in Citrus Heights, according to news reports.  The child was killed after touching an underwater light fixture that was not sealed and was under repair, KOVR-TV reported. “As much as we know, she grabbed the pool light, and it electrocuted her,” the girl’s father, Cliff Kinley, told the news station.  Sacramento County rescue crews rushed to the scene, but were not able to save the child. “Thank goodness it didn’t get anyone else, because there were four other children in that pool,” Kinley said. Kinley said the family is talking about the tragedy to warn other people about the potential dangers in backyard pools. “If nothing comes from losing my daughter, at least this could save others,” the child’s mother, Lisa Moore, told KOVR. The family started a GoFundMe page to help cover funeral expenses.
  • A former Atlanta attorney and his son were sentenced to nearly six years in prison Tuesday for a banking and investment scam that netted them more than $15 million, authorities said. Donald Watkins and his son Donald Watkins Jr. were convicted earlier this year  of deceiving former NBA star Charles Barkley and using the name of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to support the scam. Watkins was sentenced to five years in prison, while his son got 27 months behind bars, The Associated Press reported. The elder Watkins was also ordered to pay $14 million in restitution.  During the trial, witnesses including Barkley testified about losing more than $6 million in investments and loans to the former attorney. Barkley said he was friends with Watkins, who split his time living in Birmingham, Ala. and Atlanta. Other athletes who lost money in the scheme included former NBA player Damon Stoudamire and former NFL players Takeo Spikes and Bryan Thomas. Rice testified that Watkins used her name to promote an energy business without her permission, the AP reported. She declined to get involved, but Watkins included her name in emails to investors anyway, she said. As a lawyer, the senior Watkins once served in Montgomery as a city council member. He helped defend HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy in a fraud that nearly bankrupted the company, now known as Encompass Health. He has also worked on various civil rights cases. Watkins reportedly only had a net worth of few thousand dollars despite portraying himself as wealthy, the AP reported. He attempted to purchase a major league baseball team and the the St. Louis Rams before the team left for Los Angeles.  In other news: