Coweta County sheriff defends deputy’s shooting after seeing body camera footage

A man is in critical condition after a police chase and car wreck led to an officer-involved shooting in Coweta County, according to the GBI. A deputy said he shot Nicholas Bolton, 34, while trying to keep him from hitting another deputy with a car, according to GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles. The shooting happened at the Newnan Crossing Shopping Center near Bullsboro Drive about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Miles said. A deputy was on patrol at the shopping center when he noticed a car parked in the lot behind the T-Mobile cellphone store, Miles said. The deputy notified dispatch and got out of his patrol car to investigate. -By Asia Simone Burns, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Coweta County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday called a deputy’s actions “necessary and justified” after he shot a man through the windshield of an SUV following a police chase.

The sheriff’s office confirmed Deputy John Collins fired the shot that sent Nicholas Bolton, 34, to a hospital in the early morning hours of Sunday.

An attorney for Bolton’s family told Bolton is clinging to life after the shooting, which she said was an “unjustified use of excessive force.”

“They could have taken him into custody. Instead, they delivered an injury that may cost him his life,” said attorney Tanya Miller, who described Bolton as “virtually homeless.”

Newly released body camera footage of the incident shows how the situation escalated from a confrontation in a parking lot into a police chase and shooting.

The GBI released the footage from three deputy body cameras to Channel 2 Action News amid an investigation into the incident.

The incident started at the Newnan Crossing Shopping Center near Bullsboro Drive about 2:30 a.m.

A deputy, who was on patrol at the shopping center, noticed a car parked in the lot behind the T-Mobile cellphone store, GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles previously said. The deputy notified dispatch and got out of his patrol car to investigate.

RELATED: Coweta County deputy shoots man after chase and crash, GBI says

In the video, a deputy finds Bolton asleep in the back seat of a white SUV. Bolton appears to stir when the deputy shines his flashlight through the window. He appears to be lying on piles of his belongings.

The video shows Bolton climb into the front seat. At that point, the deputies begin speaking with him through the window of the SUV.

“Let me explain something to you real quick,” a deputy says. “We don’t know you. We’re investigating why you’re here.”

“For what?” Bolton asks in reply.

“For loitering,” the deputy says. “You’re loitering. And now that you’re not stepping out of the car, you’re obstructing an investigation. So you can either get out and talk to us, or we can take you out and go to jail.”

The video shows the deputy once again giving Bolton the options of getting out or going to jail. He then appears to put the car in drive and begins pulling out of the parking spot.

Deputy John Collins

Credit: Coweta County Sheriff's Office

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Credit: Coweta County Sheriff's Office

The video shows a deputy pointing a gun at Bolton’s vehicle as he pulls off. The deputy commands Bolton to turn the car off as he continues driving away.

The deputies climb back into their patrol cars and a chase ensues. According to the video, the chase lasts less than a full minute before Collins uses a PIT maneuver to stop Bolton’s SUV.

Deputies previously said Bolton’s car was still running, wheels spinning, following the crash. The GBI’s statement said deputies tried to box in Bolton’s car with a patrol car, then walked over to him. The GBI said Collins fired “after he saw what he believed to be Bolton actively trying to drive his vehicle in the direction of the (second) deputy.”

In the video, Bolton’s vehicle spins and appears to come to a stop facing Collins’ patrol car. The deputy’s car appears to roll forward a little more and come to rest against Bolton’s SUV. The second deputy pulls to the left side of Bolton’s vehicle, blocking it in. That deputy then steps out and gives Bolton a verbal command to get out of the car. Collins then appears to fire through the man’s windshield.

The time between the second deputy stepping out of his car and Collins firing his gun appears to be less than three seconds, according to the video.

RELATED: Dashcam video shows tense moments before fatal shooting

Four deputies then surround Bolton’s car with guns drawn, the video shows. One breaks the window of the locked SUV in order to open Bolton’s door.

A deputy alerts dispatch that Bolton has a gunshot wound to the head, but is breathing.

A voice is heard saying; “Was there a weapon?”

“No,” a deputy says.

Bolton was taken to Atlanta Medical Center. No officers were injured in the shooting, the GBI previously said.

Collins, who has been with the sheriff’s office for 16 months, was the only deputy placed on leave in connection with the shooting. In a statement, the sheriff’s office said it believes the deputy’s actions were necessary.

Miller, Bolton’s attorney, said the video speaks for itself.

“You saw that the officers had guns drawn from all angles and clearly Nicholas was boxed in with no place to go,” she said. “Rather than take him into custody, shooting to kill was apparently easier, with the limp excuse that he was trying to hurt them.”

The incident is still under investigation.