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.”
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.
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.
“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.
OVER THE LINE: Police shootings in Georgia
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