Residents in the Atlanta area are adding their voices to a nationwide chorus of calls for increased police accountability after an unarmed, naked man was fatally shot by an officer responding to a complaint of a suspicious person at an apartment complex.
More than 100 protesters gathered in the city of Decatur on Wednesday night to protest the death of Anthony Hill, 27. Most said they hoped the latest shooting would become part of an ongoing national discussion on how police officers interact with citizens, especially minorities.
The relationship between law enforcement and civilians — particularly in poor, minority and high-crime neighborhoods — has become a contentious issue in many states across the U.S. following the high-profile deaths of unarmed men and teens by police officers, some of whom have been exonerated of wrongdoing after saying they perceived the males they shot as threats.
DeKalb County police officer Robert Olsen fatally shot Hill on Monday while responding to reports of a suspicious person knocking on doors and crawling on the ground naked at an apartment complex just outside Atlanta. Hill began running toward Olsen and didn't stop when ordered to, DeKalb County Chief of Police Cedric Alexander told reporters Monday.
Hill is black and the officer who shot him is white. No weapon was found and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the shooting. Alexander has acknowledged the national debate surrounding police shootings and said he wanted to make sure this investigation is transparent, open and fair.
Hill had served more than four years in the U.S. Air Force when he was medically discharged a few years ago, his girlfriend, Bridget Anderson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. He was being treated by a VA doctor for bipolar disorder but stopped taking the medication a week or two ago because he didn't like the side effects, including stiffening in his jaw, she said.
Anderson, 22, said she didn't notice any changes in Hill after he stopped taking his medication and she'd never known him to behave strangely.
Anderson had been planning to go to Hill's place Monday evening to cook together and celebrate their three-year anniversary. Instead, she got a call that he had been shot dead by police.
"My heart just tore out of my chest," she said. "I started screaming his name and saying it couldn't be true that he was gone."
Demonstrators remembered Hill as a talented musician who loved the color purple and struggled with mental illness. They marched through the streets for about an hour chanting, singing and occasionally stopping at intersections to sit down and listen to a speaker while police cars blocked traffic.
Hill's mother has hired lawyer Christopher Chestnut and asked for privacy. Chestnut said Wednesday that the police officer could have retreated, used his nonlethal weapons or fought with his hands. Chestnut said his law firm will conduct its own investigation, but argued that a naked and unarmed man posed no imminent threat to the officer or anyone else.
Hill's death at the hands of a police officer is especially tragic, Anderson said, because he had great respect for law enforcement. When no indictment was issued for police officers in the apparent chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black Staten Island man who got into a videotaped confrontation with white police officers, Anderson said she expressed anger and frustration with police. But Hill told her to remember that most police are good people, she said.
Kenneth White, 39, who attended the protest with his wife, Tasha, 40, and two of their young children, said the family wanted to be there to demand that law enforcement be held accountable.
"Police officers have an extremely hard job," White said. "But they signed the dotted line for that job. If they make mistakes, just like I make mistakes, I have to pay the price for it. I think the same should be held to those who are supposed to enforce those laws."
Associated Press writer Ray Henry contributed to this report.