Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced Monday that his office had concluded a MARTA police officer was justified in shooting a man he believed was armed following a massive street brawl outside a rail station last year.
Former MARTA Officer Robert Waldo, 31, killed 19-year-old Joetavius Stafford when he shot him three times nearly 14 months ago. Some witnesses said Stafford was unarmed and surrendering. Howard contended Waldo was pursuing an armed felon and shot Stafford because he believed he was going to shoot him, both of which would make the shooting lawful.
Rodney Stafford, who witnessed the shooting, said that Waldo shot his brother while he was on the ground.
“Intense interviews of several witnesses established that was simply untrue,” Howard said in a prepared statement.
Howard said he hired an expert to reconstruct the shooting who found that the angles of the bullets were consistent with Stafford being upright when he was shot. The reconstruction contended Stafford was shot first in the chest and then twice in the back when his body spun around, Howard said.
Stafford family attorney Gregory Feagle said Howard had selected facts to justify the shooting while ignoring other witness accounts, some of which were independent of Stafford’s family and friends.
“Certain conclusions of the district attorney are presented as established fact when in reality there are contradictory witness statements,” said Feagle, who represents the Stafford family in a wrongful death lawsuit against MARTA. “He was perceived as a threat when in fact he was not, and the district attorney appears to be resolving factual disputes.
“We believe the evidence will show that Joetavius was attempting to surrender with his hands up when he was shot.”
The shooting took place after a high school football game in at the Georgia Dome on Oct. 15, 2011. Howard’s statement said the investigation showed Stafford and his friends had been ejected from the stadium after “engaging in a wild chair- and-fist-throwing fight” and that telephone records show that Stafford asked a friend to bring him a weapon.
After the fight broke out again by the Vine City MARTA station, witnesses saw Stafford get a pistol from a car, which he then fired toward the crowd after another MARTA officer pepper-sprayed him, Howard said.
Waldo, who quit the force earlier this year, told investigators he saw Stafford shoot and then run toward the back of the rail station. Waldo said he pursued and lost sight of Stafford and then saw him jump from some bushes to the sidewalk and ordered him to get to the ground.
Instead, he said, Stafford turned toward him, which the officer viewed as an aggressive action. No gun was found by Stafford’s body, but a gun tied to him by DNA evidence was in nearby bushes.
While some witnesses interviewed by the GBI said they saw Stafford surrendering, Howard noted one “independent female” witness said Stafford’s hands were still at his waist, out of sight of Waldo, when he was shot.
Feagle said the lawsuit would investigate whether Waldo mistook Stafford’s movement for aggression because he was exhausted from working massive overtime. MARTA overtime records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicate Waldo had worked 37 hours of overtime during the week of the shooting.
“It is … well known that fatigue is known to impair judgment,” Feagle said.