A video that captured a Clayton County police officer pointing a gun at a group of teenagers sparked conversations about how departments train officers to de-escalate situations.
In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Clayton County police Chief Kevin Roberts said though he believes the officer involved handled the situation professionally, the matter raised questions about police and citizen interactions on a greater scale.
“No one wants to see their teenage son or daughter looking down the barrel of a gun, and we as a community have to take steps to ensure that these type of things don’t happen as often,” Roberts said.
The incident — and the video of it that has been viewed thousands of times since appearing on social media Monday — brought swift backlash to the police department.
The six-minute video shows a Clayton police officer pointing a gun at the teens while they stand with their hands above their heads. A crowd of frustrated neighbors is overheard rising in defense of the teens while the armed officer has them detained.
It comes amid mounting tension between police and the black community. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of officers sparked renewed outrage over police brutality and inspired protests across the nation.
Less than a week before the Clayton incident, 26-year-old Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by a police officer in the parking lot of a Wendy’s in Atlanta. The fatal shooting spurred the third week of protests in the city.
Many point to the slew of recent deaths as the tipping point that caused so many Clayton County residents to pull their cars over and begin filming Monday night.
“Adults have every right to protect the children in their neighborhoods, even if that child is not their own,” one person commented on the police department’s Facebook post. “It’s completely unrealistic to expect people to see a cop with his gun pointed at five kids who have their hands up in the air, and just continue on with their day.”
Roberts said he has “no problem” with citizens stopping to film police interactions.
“There is no law against that,” he said. “But the citizens began to agitate the situation, possibly making these young men feel threatened.”
Since Monday, the police department has said that the video did not provide the total context of what happened between the police officer and the teens.
“The initial video that was submitted was, in my opinion, incomplete,” Roberts said.
Clayton police on Tuesday released 17 minutes of body camera footage showing the exchange. It also released two 911 calls regarding why an officer was sent to the area in the first place: a gas station clerk reported five teens coming into the store and playing with a gun in the parking lot.
In an incident report, the unnamed officer said when he encountered the teens, he pulled out his gun in case they were armed.
“I told the juveniles to listen to me for their safety and I gave them instructions on what I wanted and needed them to do,” the officer wrote in an incident report. “I held my service weapon in the low ready and was waiting for backup to arrive.”
According to the incident report, the officer told the teens not to move “because I didn’t want to hurt one of them.”
“I told the juveniles to don’t move because it was making me nervous,” the report said. “While waiting for backup, I started speaking with the juveniles. I was de-escalating the situation.”
Clayton police said the teens told officers they had a BB gun and had thrown it in some nearby bushes. When police located it, they confirmed it “closely resembled a live semi-automatic pistol,” the police department said in a statement.
Roberts said it shows there was “definitely legitimacy associated with the handling of the call by that police officer.”
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Rayshard Brooks case and Atlanta protests
Some commended the officer involved in the incident, saying he did well in keeping the situation from getting out of hand. Others said the incident is still troubling, as the de-escalation method employed still involved a gun rather than a less lethal device like a Taser.
Roberts said requiring a Taser in a situation where a gun may be involved is “not a fair request at all.”
“To ask someone to use a Taser when there is a possible firearm present puts you in a losing position already,” Roberts said.
Some Clayton County residents gathered in protest Wednesday in “a continuation to end police brutality” and bring about justice reform. In a list of demands posted online, protesters called for a review of “all standard operating procedures and policies, with an emphasis on police de-escalation training requirements and use of force.” The list also requests the adoption of the “8 Can’t Wait” use-of-force policies.
“I had meetings (Tuesday) on these steps where folks made demands of me ... to commit to things that we were not ready to commit to,” Roberts said. “What we are committed to is partnering with the citizens of Clayton County to ensure that we keep them safe.”
In other news:
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.