ATHENS, Ga. — Days after a man was killed by police after they say he charged at officers with an apparent gun in his hand, Athens-Clarke County Police is releasing new body camera video of the fatal confrontation. That video paints those final moments, in which officers tried repeatedly to resolve the situation peacefully.
The shooting happened just before 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 8 after officers responded to a call of a family member trying to steal a car. That led officers to a church parking lot off West Lake Drive. When they got there, they were met by a man who was holding what they believed was a gun.
Athens-Clarke Police said officers gave multiple commands for 34-year-old Thomas Wayne Swinford to drop his gun. Instead, police said he raised it and pointed it in the seven officers' direction. Body camera video from officers now offers video evidence to support that.
The edited video clip, provided by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, shows the incident from several of the officers' vantage point. Several of the angles included show the moment Swinson raised the gun in officers' direction. In all the clips, though, an officer can be heard over his cruiser's bullhorn asking multiple times for Swinford to put the gun down.
"Thomas, can you sit down the gun and talk with me?" the officer asks.
"Thomas, let's sit that gun down," he repeats.
Another few seconds pass as officers hold their position.
"We can do it. Put your hands up and come to the front of the vehicle," the officer asks.
More seconds pass as the officer tries again to get Swinford to surrender.
"I know there's a lot going on, but we can work this out. We can get through it. Gotta give us a chance, man. Give us a chance," the officer tries again.
"I know you may be feeling alone, but you're not."
Then, the situation begins to turn tense, as the officer realizes Swinford is not cooperating.
"Thomas! Don't do that, Thomas! Don't do that," the officer shouts.
"Drop the gun," he shouts again.
Seconds later, a barrage of bullets as officers open fire.
Authorities said the standoff with Swinford, who has a criminal background as a convicted felon, lasted a full 20 minutes as officers tried to negotiate with him. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has since confirmed that the gun brandished by Swinford was actually an airsoft replica-style handgun.
The Athens-Clarke County Police Department identified the officers involved as Officer C.J. Bidlinger, Officer First Class William Greenlow, Officer Claude Johnson, Corporal Alex Leder, Sergeant Jon McIlvaine, Officer Joshua Santos and Officer Roger Williams.
Several of 11Alive's viewers asked if it was necessary for all seven to open fire. Athens-Clarke Police Chief Cleveland Spurill explained during a Sunday news conference why that was the case.
"The officers don't have the benefit of coordinating in advance to say, 'OK, you shoot. I'm not going to shoot' or 'you shoot and I'm not going to shoot'," he explained. "Its likely that all those officers all made the independent decision to fire their weapon based on the lethal threat."
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is handing the investigation and the officers have been placed on administrative leave, per department policy.
Meanwhile, Swinford's family online is posting about the love he had for his family, and their devastation over his death. 11Alive reached out to some of those family members, but did not hear back.
Spurill acknowledged those feelings, extending his condolences to Swinford's family. He also noted that the situation was difficult for his officers, as well, having been forced to take the life of another person.