The Athens-Clarke County police chief said he believes a deadly shooting involving several of his officers Friday was justified after viewing body camera footage.
Chief Cleveland Spruill said in a news conference Sunday afternoon seven officers were forced to shoot when 34-year-old Thomas Wayne Swinford raised what they thought was a firearm, Channel 2 Action News reported. It was later determined to be an airsoft handgun, according to the GBI.
Officers confronted Swinford around 6:30 p.m. Friday after it was reported he was involved in a domestic dispute and had a weapon, the news station reported. As a felon convicted of a 2003 burglary in Oconee County, Swinford was not supposed to have a gun. He was released from prison in 2009, online records show.
Spruill walked through the footage during the news conference, describing a tense 20-minute standoff with Swinford in a church parking lot on West Lake Drive. Officers are heard telling the man to put down the gun several times.
"Come on Thomas, just put the gun down,” one officer said in the body camera video. “Let's talk."
“I know there’s a lot going on, but we can work this out,” he later said. “We can work through it.”
Spruill said the officers were exercising “remarkable restraint” in not firing right away when Swinford showed a gun. Eventually, the chief said Swinford raised the airsoft gun toward the officers.
“In fact, at one point, (Swinford) came from around the vehicle walked very quickly toward the officers, and raised his arm on the right side of his body up toward the officers and pointed the gun at the officers,” he said.
Multiple officers on scene feared for their lives and fired, he said. Those officers were identified as Officer C.J. Bidinger, Officer 1st Class William Greenlow, Officer Claude Johnson, Cpl. Alex Leder, Sgt. Jon McIlvaine, Officer Joshua Santos and Officer Roger Williams.
Swinford was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
His family described him as a loving husband and father.
“We just want everybody to know what a loving, kind person he was,” his sister, Traci Day, told Channel 2. “And to remember him that way, not for the way he left us.”
The Athens-Clarke County officers involved in Swinford’s shooting were placed on paid administrative leave until the department completes an internal investigation. The GBI will also conduct its own investigation.
The officer-involved shooting is the 18th the GBI has been asked to investigate in 2019.
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