Killed by the feds with no evidence - Week 19 police killings

Federal officers aren't required to wear body cameras and have killed at least 550 Americans in the last 20 years.

The family of Jimmy Atchison says the local district attorney has determined that protocol was not properly followed when an Atlanta police officer shot the 21-year-old in 2019 as he was exiting a closet with his hands up during a standoff. The case is an interesting one: Atlanta police officers were alongside a federal task force the day of Atchison’s killing, a common practice among local law enforcement helping out federal agencies. Atchison was a wanted armed suspect, prompting the FBI to create a task force to implement his arrest, another common but somewhat odd practice for agencies that one would think are entirely capable of taking dangerous suspects into custody without hand-holding from the feds. 

Following Atchison’s killing, the Atlanta police chief announced her agency would no longer ride along with federal agencies executing warrants or arresting suspects. Atlanta police are joined by at least five cities whose departments have opted out of participating with federal law enforcement in local raids. The decision came after Atchison’s killing, but his death is not even the most questionable police killing in the Atlanta area involving federal law enforcement. On August 5, 2016, several area agencies joined the U.S. Marshals to arrest Jamarion Robinson, a schizophrenic 26-year-old acting erratically who had fired at an officer a day or two before. The specifics of the altercation are difficult to get at but the result is easy to understand: officers fired an astounding 59 times at Robinson, resulting in 76 gunshot wounds, including six in one hand. The Fulton County District Attorney — the same prosecutor considering charges against the officers who killed Atchison — asked for records of Robinson’s killing from the Department of Justice but was refused, with the agency also allegedly shielding the officers responsible for Robinson’s killing from speaking to DA investigators. (After suing, the DOJ relented somewhat, and prior to Covid the DA planned to bring the case to a grand jury.) 

Atchison and Robinson join at least 549 others who have been killed by federal law enforcement agencies since 2000, my review of Fatal Encounters’ database of police killings and other in-custody deaths shows. Their deaths represent the under-reported issue of federal officers killing Americans while not wearing body cameras because the DOJ actually prohibits their use. That’s ironic (and maddening) considering the tens of millions of dollars the agency has doled out to local law enforcement since Mike Brown’s killing in Ferguson to equip those agencies with BWCs. Even more maddening: the DOJ in October 2020 announced they would allow local cops working on federal task forces like the ones responsible for Athchison’s and Robinson’s deaths to wear BWCs — while still prohibiting the federal officers themselves from wearing them. What you’re likely to get in these cases, then, is BWC footage from some local cop in the back of the line, far from the action of where a federal officer is firing at a suspect. That’s if there’s any footage at all: A federal task force in Portland blew away an Antifa activist during last summer’s unrest in what reads like an execution squad and there’s not apparently any footage of the maelstrom of gunfire that rocked a residential neighborhood.

I can’t imagine what the legal argument would be for prohibiting federal law enforcement from wearing body cams, but I hope the ACLU or other groups will soon pursue litigation to force this minor level of accountability for the scores of federal agencies responsible for those 550 killings in the last 21 years. 

Here are nationwide police killings between Tuesdays of the 18th and 19th weeks of 2021.

Thursday

  • A police officer in Casper, Wyoming shot and killed 42-year-old Thomas Joseph Roeber in what sounds like a bizarre interaction in which the officer was inside a vehicle Roeber was attempting to take into oncoming interstate traffic. No mention of BWC footage. 

Friday

  • Officers with two rural Tennessee police departments shot and killed Robbie Leigh Hodge, 52, after responding to a call of someone firing a gun inside a home. No mention of BWC footage. 

Saturday 

  • A police officer in Little Rock, Arkansas claims their gun went off while the officer had their hand inside the door of a vehicle in which the driver was trying to get away. The cop was dragged for a bit before the driver — still unnamed and in critical condition — crashed into a pole. I’m breaking my rule of only writing about confirmed killings in this instance because of the claim of accidental discharge of a firearm, which you rarely see. No mention of BWC footage.

  • Police in Clarksville, Tennessee shot and killed a man after he shot and injured his girlfriend inside their home. The man, Adonis Traughber, had apparently recently lost his job, was distraught, and had been drinking for several days before he confronted his girlfriend and shot her. When police arrived, the girlfriend claims she heard Traughber say, “I surrender, I surrender, I’m coming out.” 

  • A police officer in Oklahoma City shot and killed a distraught schizophrenic man outside his grandfather’s home Saturday night. Initially responding to a call that the man, Daniel Hobbs, was violating an order of protection, police later said no such order existed. It appears that Hobbs may have been unarmed when struggling on the ground with the officer because police said the officer “was trying to make” a determination of whether Hobbs was armed and “that’s when a struggle ensued.” Police have said they’ll release BWC footage but I’ve filed a request for all available footage under the Oklahoma Open Records Act anyway.

Sunday

  • Police in Greenville, South Carolina shot and killed Jeffery Mark Murray after he allegedly shot and killed a cyclist in a park Sunday morning. The cyclist named Murray on a 911 call before succumbing to his injuries. When police pulled Murray over he allegedly emerged with a gun and began shooting, with the officers returning fire. No mention of BWC footage.

Monday

  • Police in Lancaster, Texas shot and killed a man who was allegedly firing a gun inside an apartment with his mother and her grandchildren inside. Police announced themselves outside the apartment then entered after an un-released amount of time to find Kalon Horton, 29, allegedly armed with a gun. No mention of BWC footage.

  • Two officers in Concho County, Texas were killed by a gunman who apparently survived Monday night. Again breaking my rule about fatal shootings because of the rarity of two cops being killed in one incident. No mention of BWC footage.

  • One officer and a civilian were killed when the officer attempted to serve a search warrant Monday night in San Luis Obispo, California. Little information was available as of Tuesday morning and the story does not mention BWC footage.

In other news:

  • Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp just signed into law a bill prohibiting cities from cutting police budgets — despite the fact that not a single city in the entire state has proposed doing so. In an obvious ploy to garner support among a conservative base both angry at Kemp over unfounded election fraud allegations and also blindly supportive of law enforcement, the Republican-backed bill will probably never even be put into use and will surely be overturned once Stacey Abrams becomes governor. But that isn’t the point with these types of measures. The point is to signal to conservatives that you also believe police are being unfairly scrutinized for their actions despite widespread belief among all Americans that policing and our criminal justice system need deep reform. What’s so interesting about such a measure coming from an arch-conservative like Kemp, though, is because it’s the exact opposite of the small government, constantly-reducing-budgets ethos of the Republican party for the last 40 years. That mindset apparently doesn’t apply to law enforcement, who if Kemp and his fellow Georgia Republicans are to be believed, should never be reduced in size or have their budgets examined or cut. American policing really is one of the only jobs in which you can get the same amount of money or more for doing better, the same, or worse at your job, an issue I discuss with a longtime Chicago cop in an upcoming edition of Where Do We Go From Here.

  • Police in Lubbock, Texas finally released BWC footage of the November 26, 2020 shooting of Michael Pena. Pena is seen for two minutes calmly refusing to put his hands on the hood of a squad before backing up and pulling something out of his pocket. Then, the footage ends on one local outlet’s report. The story, which is written from the perspective of the police chief justifying the shooting, is typical of local news outlets. Nowhere in the story does it mention whether Pena actually had a weapon or what he was pulling out of his pocket. I’ve requested all available records from this case under the Texas Public Information Act.

  • A police union president in Miami has been arrested and charged with raping a woman following a union gala at the Trump National Jupiter Golf Club in April. The woman protested that the official, Lt. John Jenkins, was married and that his wife and children were also staying at the hotel.

  • Scumbag ex-St. Louis cop Dustin Boone, who bragged that he took down a black undercover cop working a 2017 protest over the police killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, by beating “him like Rodney King” now wants his racist texts withheld from his second trial. The Riverfront Times has the full rundown of the texts and they’re truly horrific and include bragging about firing a taser into a suspect’s head, then forcing him to say “I’m a pussy” as he was “puking and seizing.” Other cops on the thread thought that was pretty fucking funny, apparently. Boone brags about several other beatings in the texts, frequently using the N-word.