Federal authorities have dropped their investigation into the police shooting death of unarmed Union City teen Ariston Waiters.
“We have completed our review and do not anticipate any further use of the file or any further federal investigation,” a March 6 letter from U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. reads.
The letter accompanied the investigative files, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through the Georgia Open Records Act, that were compiled by the GBI and given to the Fulton DA’s office in an attempt to seek an indictment against Union City Police Officer Luther Lewis.
But an audio recording of Lewis describing what happened included in the files, along with a witness account, offer conflicting details.
“He was (reaching) wrist-deep in his pocket,” Lewis said an interview recorded by the GBI. “I made a decision to go for my gun.”
Lewis fatally shot 19-year-old Waiters on the night of Dec. 14, 2011, following a report of a fight and shots fired.
Waiters was in the area of the melee and fled when police arrived and a bystander identified him as the shooter, according to reports from the GBI file.
Lewis followed Waiters into a wooded area behind the townhome community, where the shooting took place.
After a Fulton County grand jury refused to indict Lewis, Waiters’ family and State Sen. Vincent D. Fort (D-Atlanta) asked Yates to begin a federal investigation in June.
Yates agreed, but ended federal involvement in the case last month with the letter to Howard.
U.S. Attorney’s officials declined to comment on the case.
“I’m very disappointed,” Fort told the AJC. “It seems to me that if there was ever a case that cried out for indictment in terms of police force, this was it.”
Two separate wrongful death lawsuits have been filed against Lewis and Union City by Waiters’ mother and by his father.
“We were hoping to find justice for Ariston Waiters through a Fulton County or federal criminal investigation,” said Mawuli Mel Davis, the attorney for Waiters’ mother, Freda Waiters. “We will continue to press on with our wrongful death suit.”
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Lewis didn’t want to comment on the case, but deferred to his attorney, Al Dixon, who could not be reached.
Details in the case differ. While Lewis said he had to fight to get his gun away from Waiters, Amber Dorsey told GBI agents she saw a different scene.
“Ariston was in a jogging motion … the officer told him to stop,” Dorsey said. “The officer shot. He said something else, then he shot again. Ariston didn’t hit the ground after the first shot, but the second one kind of threw him.”
Dorsey told agents that Lewis and Waiters were between 15 and 18 feet apart when she saw the shooting.
But the GBI autopsy report showed that there was evidence of a muzzle imprint on Waiters’ back and residue from gunfire around the bullet hole on the green jacket he wore.
In an interview with the GBI, recorded and included with the investigative file, Lewis said he was attempting to handcuff Waiters and had the teen face down on the ground with a knee in his back, when Waiters somehow bucked and knocked the officer to the ground.
Waiters reached into his pocket, Lewis said.
“I told him, ‘get your hands out of your pocket … I’m going to shoot,’” Lewis told agents.
All the while, Lewis was holding onto the end of the handcuffs that hadn’t been locked around Waiters’ wrist.
Lewis drew his firearm.
“He grabbed my gun,” Lewis said, saying that Waiters was reaching behind himself and twisting the officer’s gun. “I pulled the trigger, and it wouldn’t fire.”
The chambering mechanism was jammed, he said, because of the way Waiters was holding onto the top of the handgun.
Lewis said he pulled back hard on Waiters to free his gun, and slammed the youth to the ground.
“When I came back forward, (the gun) was just in his back … and went ‘Bam! Bam!’” Lewis said. “As soon as I shot the second round, I came back off of him.”
Waiters’ free arm went limp as the two shots entered his back, according to the report. Lewis told investigators he then handcuffed Waiters’ hands behind his back as the teen returned to a face-down position.
“Why … did you grab my gun for?” Lewis said he asked Waiters.
Lewis remains with the Union City Police Department.