UNION CITY, Ga. — A case Union City Police ruled a suicide three years ago is back open following The Reveal's investigation.
Our reporting found evidence that the death of a young man could have actually been a homicide. Body camera video from that night captured a chaotic scene.
“He shot himself in the head right in front of me, bro,” said one man, a friend of the victim, Austin Mitchell.
Police looked at Mitchell’s lifeless body slumped over on a couch with a bullet wound to his head.
“Self-infliction?” one officer questioned. “Yeah, it looks kind of like it,” another answered.
But while three men were saying they witnessed Mitchell die by suicide, two other officers expressed doubt.
“He didn’t make sense,” one officer said. “They probably killed him,” another officer said.
“Yeah, they probably did,” the other replied.
'I KNEW IT WAS A LIE'
Michael and Kim Postell can’t accept the death of their son was a suicide. It’s impossible, they said.
“It’s hard when you know your child is not capable of killing themselves,” Kim Postell said.
A good student, well-liked, prom king. They said Mitchell had a life worth living. When police told the Postells their son died by suicide, Michael said, “Off the rip, I knew it was a lie.”
The parents were so sure, they hired private investigator Eric Echols.
“I get that a lot," Echols said. "Families, loved ones, will say, ‘Hey I don’t believe my loved one committed suicide.’ So, I kind of take it at a grain of salt."
But the private investigator said after looking into their case, the evidence is indisputable.
“Austin Mitchell did not shoot himself,” Echols said.
THEY ALL TOUCHED THE GUN
It was March 3, 2019.
Mitchell was at a house on Stonewall Drive with three friends. The police body cameras capture what those friends said about the shooting.
“We're chilling, playing and listening to music and the gun was on the table," one of the friends said. "And he picked the gun up, put the clip in, cocked it back and put it to his head all in like 5 seconds."
“Why?” an officer asked.
“We don't know,” one answered.
“Exactly. That's what we're trying to find out. Why would he do this?” another said.
The friends also made it a point to tell police they all touched the gun.
“Not only did they all touch the gun, move the gun, they left the scene,” Echols said.
After initially calling 911, the friends took off in a car with the gun. That didn’t sit well with some of the officers.
“We couldn't find y'all,” an officer said.
“We left,” one friend answered.
“Why?” the officer asked.
“We were traumatized. I never seen a man kill himself,” another friend said.
All three of the men were taken to the police station. They filled out statements that were no longer than a few sentences, and they were free to go.
LOOKING AT THE EVIDENCE
Aside from the men’s questionable behavior, Echols said there is hard evidence indicating Mitchell's death was a homicide.
“The angle of which the shot occurred," Echols said. "Downward angle. Back to front."
Union City Police labeled Mitchell's death a suicide even though the medical examiner ruled the death “undetermined."
Another outside medical examiner hired by Fulton County took another look at the case. He said the gunshot wound was “very concerning” and “atypical of a self-inflicted wound”.
He recommended a more detailed analysis, but that never happened.
“I hate to say it but black-on-black crime, let’s go ahead and rule it as a suicide and we don’t have to worry about it anymore," Echols said. "And that’s when anti-corruption got involved."
The Fulton County Anti-Corruption Unit opened its own investigation into Union City and Mitchell's case. It found one of the officers told his supervisor, “He felt this incident was a homicide” but the supervisor overruled him.
The Anti-Corruption Unit determined this investigation “was not conducted properly or thoroughly."
REOPENING THE CASE
The Reveal pressed Union City for answers, and as a result, the department said it would reopen the case.
We called the family to tell them the news.
“You telling me that, it’s like a breath of fresh air," Michael Postell said. "It’s just a sigh of relief, you know? But I know it’s not over."
It’s a step in the right direction for the family, who just a few weeks ago, was afraid they would never see any movement in the case that haunts them.
“To see someone do your loved one wrong, take their life and nothing be done about it. What kind of world are we living in?" Postell said. "You can just kill somebody and say, well, he did it to himself? And you just let it go? Sweep it under the rug? No."
The Reveal is an investigative show exposing inequality, injustice, and ineptitude created by people in power throughout Georgia and across the country.
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