ATLANTA — The decision to pull Atlanta police officers from federal task forces is “a positive step,” said the father of Jimmy Atchison, whose case is rooted in the decision.
Atchison, 21, was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer who was working with the FBI on a fugitive task force. The incident is still under investigation so it is not known, yet, what unfolded during the shooting because the officer, Sung Kim, was not wearing a body camera – but it’s important to note that federal policy wouldn’t have allowed him to have it on while working with the task force.
Atchison’s family and lawyers have said Atchison was hiding in a closet, unarmed and ready to surrender, when he was shot in the face.
Officer-involved shooting in southwest Atlanta
On Tuesday, an Atlanta Police spokesperson confirmed to 11Alive that it’s in the process of pulling APD officers from federal task forces, including the FBI, DEA and U.S. Marshals, after the department changed its policy on body cameras. Police Chief Erika Shields ordered Atlanta officers always turn on bodycams – or face dismissal.
Atchison’s father, Jimmy Hill, told 11Alive he believes Shields made the right decision and hopes it might influence federal law enforcement agencies to allow bodycams as well.
“Even though my son didn’t get a chance to have a bodycam to be able to tell his story, it will help others down in the future,” Hill said. "It's a good thing Atlanta police stepped aside and separated from the situation with the FBI, because the public needs to know" what happens inside the task forces.
And, he said, even though, for now, the federal agencies do not allow body cams, Atlanta should continue to do so. "Atlanta police represent the City of Atlanta, and that's mainly what we're concerned about--how you treat your citizens."
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An Atlanta Police spokesperson said a total of 31 officers are being pulled from federal task force duties, but, “they are going to be essentially doing the same thing, just not on a federal task force … And, working for (Atlanta Police), they can/will wear body cameras.... This should not be mistaken for us not working with the feds on anything. It is a very strategic and deliberate move that applies only to working on specific task forces where the mission is to round people up for arrest.... We just want our officers to have body-cameras on when they make arrests."
Federal law enforcement agencies are not commenting on policies forbidding body cameras, but expressed disappointment that Atlanta Police can no longer participate in joint task forces.
“The decision by the Atlanta Police Department to withdraw police officers from federal task forces does not change our mission to protect the citizens of the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia, and the United States… (we) will continue to work with (APD) in the future by sharing information with them and collaborating in any other way to keep our community safe,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge in Atlanta, Chris Hacker.
Jim Joyner of the U.S. Marshals Service Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force echoed Hacker’s sentiment.
“We are sad to see this partnership come to an end, but are always willing to assist the APD if asked in the future,” Joyner stated. "Our collaborative effort has resulted in several hundred fugitives wanted by the APD for violent felonies being located and arrested every year... This is an important mission that we will continue to perform for the citizens of Atlanta, the Metropolitan area, and the rest of the state of Georgia."
Tanya Miller, an Atlanta attorney representing Atchison’s family, said it’s time for federal officials to wear body cameras – even if it’s just on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise, it’ll lead to more problems in future controversial arrests, she said.
“They’re going to hide behind the fact that they have this policy, which makes no sense, that keeps them from being held accountable to the community and to the citizens,” she said. "I don't understand why these (federal) officers would not want the participants on these task forces to wear body cameras."
NAACP official and Atlanta Attorney Gerald Griggs, who has been organizing support for the Atchison family, said he has spoken with Chief Shields, since Atchison's death, about the conflicting body cam policies between APD and the federal law enforcement agencies.
Pulling out of the federal task forces over the body cam issue is "a step in the right direction," Griggs said. "There's no reason why they (federal officers and agents) can't wear body cameras when they're serving these warrants.... There is a need for public trust, and the only way that's going to happen is through oversight. And if they don't want oversight, then they don't need to have the Atlanta Police Department a part of (their) activities... The purpose of law enforcement is not to be judge, jury and executioner. It's to bring the person before the court to make sure they have their day in court."
Tanya Miller credited Atchison’s family for fighting for this – because while Atchison didn’t get his day in court, they said police bodycam video could have explained why.
“The public needs to know what happened, the people need to know what happened. Body cameras would tell the story,” Jimmy Hill said. Atchison’s family has not filed a civil lawsuit. Hill said their priority is to see the Atlanta officer that killed Atchison fired.
“We’re just getting started, we’re going to continue to fight until Officer Sung Kim is fired and justice is served,” Hill said. “I’m not going to be selfish and say, ‘this is about my Jimmy.’ It’s about Jimmys from the past and Jimmys in the future. We want to help everybody.”
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