A former Atlanta police officer was sentenced to 20 years with five to serve in prison after he pleaded guilty to repeatedly kicking an unarmed teenager and choking him until he was unconscious during an arrest three years ago.
Matthew Johns, 33, heard his sentence in a Fulton County courtroom Monday. The former officer pleaded guilty July 10 to three counts of aggravated assault, one count of aggravated assault/strangulation, two counts of making a false statement and two counts of violating oath of office in connection with the 2016 incident, AJC.com previously reported.
On Sept. 15, 2016, Atlanta police chased a stolen BMW south on I-75. The pursuit ended on Lawton Street in southwest Atlanta when a Georgia State Patrol trooper struck the vehicle from behind, causing it to spin out.
A 15-year-old passenger identified as Antraveious Payne got out of the car and laid on the ground with his hands up, showing he did not have a weapon and was willing to surrender, prosecutors said.
Johns, who had been with the department for nine years, ran toward Payne and kicked him in the head three times before pressing his knee into the teen’s neck, rendering him unconscious, authorities said.
Payne suffered a number of cuts and bruises, a neck strain and a serious concussion during the arrest, prosecutors said. The incident was captured on officers’ dashboard cameras.
Johns told investigators he thought Payne was reaching for a gun, but the other officers on scene said the three suspects never resisted, Channel 2 Action News reported.
Johns was placed on administrative leave and then fired by Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields the following July after she took over the department.
Once Johns’ fellow officers viewed the tape, they said he acted inappropriately and agreed to testify against him, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said in a statement. Johns was indicted on criminal charges last October.
Johns would have faced up to 40 years in prison if found guilty in a trial, but prosecutors were poised to consider a sentence of up to five years after he entered a guilty plea, AJC.com reported.
The former officer was originally scheduled to be sentenced in July, but a Fulton Superior Court judge granted a 30-day reprieve after the defense revealed Johns had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
The defense argued Johns had served in the military and interpreted a threat differently than the other officers at the scene because of his PTSD, Channel 2 reported. Prosecutors argued that Johns did not show any signs of PTSD prior to the incident and that the diagnosis was not relevant to the assault.
Payne, who is now 17, had been in the Cobb County jail since Dec. 3 on aggravated assault and street gang charges. He was released Aug. 19 after spending 259 days behind bars, jail records show.
“There were no demonstrations or marches by concerned citizens, no chants or any destruction of property,” Howard previously said about the case. “It was not necessary because the criminal justice system did exactly what concerned citizens demand of it; fairness, transparency and action.”
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