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Bodycam reveals frantic moments of Athens officer-involved shooting

The suspect was alive and talking to police at the scene but died at an area hospital.

ATHENS, Ga. — Newly-released body camera video shows a hail of gunfire that ended with an armed suspect being shot by police.

On Oct. 26, police were responding to a noise complaint and a man threatening to shoot his neighbor in the 150 block of Royale Road in Athens when the situation quickly devolved.

Video shows police approaching a man who almost immediately begins ignoring commands to show his hands and to come to officers. He begins to walk behind a fenced-in dumpster as one officer yells, "Stop reaching behind you."

"Nobody said anything, we just want to talk to you," the officer tells the man as he continues to command him to show his hands.

RELATED: Police: Man dies after opening fire on Athens officers trying to question him

Moments later, the video records the sounds of gunfire - roughly seven or eight shots as the officer's camera becomes shaking, his gun is drawn and he finds cover.

The video itself doesn't make it clear who fired first, though the suspect later tells police that he was firing in the air - something that police likely wouldn't be able to know with the suspect partially obscured by the fence and the evening darkness when shots first rang out. Police later said the man opened fire on them first.

The officer on-camera then communicates with others at the scene and calls in "22:59, central, shots fired, Oaks Apartments" to dispatch. He and the other officers yell at bystanders in the apartment complex not clearly seen on camera ordering them to stay back.

After the arrival of backup, slowly they make their way through the lot searching for the man, identified as 45-year-old Nan Zhao, who had just opened fire on them. They find him laying not far away - face-down but communicating.

Officers learn he can't move and, after locating the gun nearby, they move in to treat him. He tells police, as they approach, that he was shooting in the air.

RELATED: Deputies wounded in Rockdale Co. officer-involved shooting identified

"In the air, in the air," he said. "I tried to run away."

"You tried to run away?" the officer asks. "But you shot at police, man."

The man continues to insist that he didn't aim at the officers.

"You shot at the air? Well, we thought you shooting at us man," the officer said.

Despite being conscious and able to clearly communicate with officers after the shooting, Zhao ultimately died of his injuries after being taken to a local hospital.

The two officers involved in the shooting, Sgt. Matt Smith and Officer Paul Harris, were placed on administrative leave pending a preliminary review of the case. 

The GBI later took over the investigation which would mark the 72nd such case they had handled in 2019.


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