ATLANTA – Freda Waiters left the Richard B. Russell Federal Building too emotional to speak after the U.S. Attorney declined to pursue her son’s officer-involved shooting death any further.
"I'm at a loss for words," Freda said to 11Alive in 2015. "I’m sad of course because of the loss of my son, and even though I'm getting justice for what was done to him, I still miss my son and I can't get him back."
Her son, 19-year-old Ariston Waiters, was shot and killed by then-Union City Police Officer Luther Lewis. According to Lewis, they struggled, Waiters reached for his gun; and he was shot twice in the back on Dec. 14, 2011. He was a father to a baby girl, who is now 5 years old.
“Let’s just be clear, Ariston was doing nothing wrong. He was singled out for whatever reason. That is a tough pill to swallow, because, as I stated to them, a scenario that could exist, that we feel like does exist is that he was singled out for his appearance and that singling out led to his death. There is no clearer cut violation of someone’s civil rights than being falsely arrested and killed,” Marcus Coleman, founder/CEO of Save Ourselves said.
According to reports, Lewis was called to that scene because a large scuffle among high school and middle school students.
"Ariston was totally separate from this group. But, yet, for whatever reason this former officer singled Ariston out and put two bullets in his back,” Coleman said.
According to the investigation, Ariston was unarmed and being handcuffed on the ground when he was shot twice.
But the officer claimed self-defense.
The Fulton County District Attorney took the case to the grand jury in May 2012 and again in August 2015, but Lewis was never indicted.
The U.S. Department of Justice investigated the case back when it happened, but declined to bring charges. But in 2015, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation re-opened the case--but that investigation led nowhere.
“My fire holster was sitting right here, I let his hand go, I got my gun out and when I come up like this, he grabbed my gun,” the officer said.
Lewis demonstrated the shooting for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
"I come up like this and I went with everything I had, bam, bam, and just pushed back in and pulled the trigger twice." (WATCH BELOW)
Over the next five-and-a-half years, Freda refused to give up on justice for her son.
In 2015, she hired a private investigator and said that officers from the Union City Police Department stepped forward to raise questions about Lewis’ story.
"I'm at a loss for words," Freda said to 11Alive in 2015. "I'm like numb. I'm happy."
But again, that investigation would leave her empty--her only solace was that Lewis was no longer on the job.
Although his department did not fire him, Lewis left his position with the Union City Police Department in 2012. He was, however, placed under investigation after failing to disclose he was involved in a fatal shooting while applying for a new job with Airport Police Department at Savannah Hilton Head International Airport last year.
- Ariston shot, killed by Union City Police Officer Luther Lewis | December 14, 2011
- First grand jury refused to indict | May 31, 2012
- GBI re-opens probe into 2011 police shooting | May 18, 2015
- Ariston Waiters' mother demands firing of police chief | May 19, 2015
- Second grand jury refused to indict | Aug. 6, 2015
- Left Union City Police Department | 2012
- Georgia lawmakers pass grand jury reform in police shootings | March 24, 2016
- Family of killed teen fights to keep officer off the force | June 9, 2016
- Lied on application for position with Airport Police Department at Savannah Hilton Head International Airport; suspended | 2016
- Lost certification | 2016
- U.S. Attorney will not pursue any further investigation into officer-involved shooting | March 16, 2017
U.S. Attorney John Horn and the Civil Rights Division representing the Northern District of Georgia met with Freda and Coleman, about the federal investigation into the death of Ariston on Thursday.
“This controversial killing has occupied the Georgia and federal judicial systems for more than five years now,” Coleman, also the Waiters family spokesman, said. “Our position has not wavered; we expect nothing less than a federal indictment against Luther Lewis for the death of Ariston Waiters.”
But the Waiters family did not receive the justice that they were seeking.
“To put it quite bluntly it was not what we were hoping. It has taken five-plus years to get this type of news,” Coleman said just outside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building.
The U.S. Attorney concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to support any type of indictment.
"The review found insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer acted with the requisite criminal intent. Notably, the available charges and standard of evidence are substantially different from those available under Georgia law, and while we acknowledge that this case was presented to grand juries in Fulton County, the statutory elements and standards of proof required for state charges are not identical to those applied in our review," Horn said in a statement.
“Of course, we understand that the window is narrow when it comes to a federal indictment. It focuses on the violations of one’s civil rights. Does a citizen have the right legally to resist an unlawful arrest? I still haven’t gotten that answer,” Coleman said.
It's a decision that is especially troubling to Coleman because of a new legislation in Georgia.
“Ariston's case seems to be impactful on a legislative level – but for some reason on a criminal level, punitive level it is nil. That is going to be a tough pill to swallow,” Coleman said of the grand jury reform law that passed in March 2016.
The law changed the way grand jury proceedings work when an officer was involved. Prior to the reform, an officer who shot someone could be in the grand jury room throughout the duration of the hearing. But with the new law, police officers are limited to their time inside the grand jury room to only their own testimony.
Reform, that Coleman said, was first proposed because of Ariston's case.
“It is also extremely troubling that Ariston Waiters case has been used, over and over again – which has eventually reformed grand jury reform legislation here in this state," Coleman said.
"If Ariston’s case would have come before this newly reformed grand jury that we would have at least seen a trial on the state level. You have an officer that has lost his certification. This case is being referenced and has actually changed legislation, when you’re being told that an officer has the right to make a mistake we have some serious issues in this country.”
But the fight isn't over.
"The fight still continues, just what areas we decide we will move forward from there.” Coleman said. "I don’t know of a clearer violation of someone’s civil rights than to pursue them, arrest them, ultimately shoot them twice in the back – killing them, when they weren’t even the subject of the call you were there for to begin with."
Al Dixon, who represented Lewis during the grand jury hearings, said his former client wants to put this behind him.
"Fulton County put it up to the grand jury twice and didn't indict. Now the U.S. Attorney's Office looked at it and saw there wasn't anything there. I just think [Lewis] is relieved that this might finally be over."
For Coleman, there’s a systematic issue that stems from this officer and the shooting.
“This is the problem with the system. An officer has the legal right to make a mistake. That is a hard pill to swallow when that mistake results in the death of your loved one.”
Full statement from U.S. Attorney John Horn:
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and the FBI-Atlanta Field Division have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to pursue federal civil rights charges against former Officer Luther Lewis of the Union City Police Department, in the fatal shooting of Ariston Waiters.
Officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and FBI notified Ms. Freda Waiters and her representatives of this decision on Thursday, March 16, 2017.
Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statutes, prosecutors must establish beyond a reasonable doubt not only that an officer’s use of force was excessive, but also that the officer did so willfully and intentionally, knowing that he was violating a constitutional right. This is one of the highest standards of intent imposed by law, and means that it must be proven that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. Accident, mistake, fear, negligence, or bad judgment all are insufficient to establish a federal civil rights violation.
The review found insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer acted with the requisite criminal intent. Notably, the available charges and standard of evidence are substantially different from those available under Georgia law, and while we acknowledge that this case was presented to grand juries in Fulton County, the statutory elements and standards of proof required for state charges are not identical to those applied in our review. Accordingly, DOJ’s review of this matter has been closed.U.S. Attorney John Horn and FBI Special Agent in Charge David LeValley both expressed their deepest sympathy to the family of Mr. Waiters for their tragic loss.