At the end of the Thursday work day in the heart of Atlanta — in an area where just over 10 years ago Brian Nichols killed three people as he made a courthouse escape — police engaged in a fatal gunfight with a person in custody.
Steps away from the Underground Atlanta precinct, and within a block of the Fulton County courthouse and administration building, officers shot and killed a woman who allegedly fired shots from the backseat of a patrol car about 5 p.m.
It all began when a woman who police believed had stolen a car was put into the back of a patrol car, Atlanta police said Thursday night. But somehow, and it wasn’t known how, the woman had a gun and fired shots at two officers, Major Darin Schierbaum said. Officers returned fire, striking the woman at least twice, Schierbaum said. No officers were injured.
The sound of gunshots was startling to those near the downtown intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Pryor Street just as the afternoon rush hour was beginning.
Valencia Riden said she heard six or seven shots as she approached the intersection, but wasn’t sure where the shots were fired. And she didn’t stop to ask.
“We just took off running,” Riden said.
As some witnesses took cover, others downtown found themselves stranded as officers quickly closed roads in the area and an Underground parking deck. Most had no idea what had happened, but there was no mistaken what they’d heard.
“We heard three shots,” said Tressa Madden, who was trying to cross the street at the time. “We heard three more shots and everybody ran back across the street.”
Madden saw an officer fire a shot, but she wasn’t sure at whom he was firing.
Witnesses watched as officers pulled the woman from the patrol car and administered CPR. The woman was then loaded into the back of an ambulance and driven to Grady Memorial Hospital, where she later died.
Officers surrounded the patrol car, its windows shattered, where gunfire was exchanged for the investigation into what happened.
At a time when the use of deadly force by police is facing increasing scrutiny, Atlanta police began releasing details about the incident within the hour, leading up to a news conference shortly before 7 p.m.
“Atlanta police commanders wanted to release information as quickly as it could be confirmed,” police spokesman Sgt. Greg Lyon said. “We owe it to the people we serve to be as transparent as we can in these types of situations.”
The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office was unable to release the woman’s name late Thursday, pending notification of family.
Schierbaum said he also couldn’t confirm whether the woman was searched and handcuffed prior to being put in the back of the patrol car. The patrol car’s front and back windshields had gaping holes from gunshots while officers investigated the shooting.
Some roads in the area were temporarily closed during the investigation to give officers space. A parking deck near Underground was also temporary closed. Later Thursday evening, officers cleared the scene, re-opening roads and the parking deck.
The names of the officers involved were not released.
— Staff writers Ty Tagami, Rhonda Cook and David Wickert contributed to this article.
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