Attorney questions ‘excessive force’ caught on video during arrest; Atlanta officer placed on leave

After seeing bystander video of Atlanta police officers throwing a man to the ground during his arrest, an Atlanta attorney is calling for all charges against his client to be dropped.

Antonio Harris, 29, was one of four people arrested in northwest Atlanta on July 14 on a misdemeanor charge of pedestrian in the roadway after an encounter with officers. Harris was also charged with physical obstruction — another misdemeanor under city code.

His attorney, Gerald Griggs, said those charges have nothing to do with what led one officer to push Harris and another to lift him off his feet and take him to the ground, as shown in a video widely shared on social media and obtained by Channel 2 Action News.

 

“It’s excessive force,” Griggs said. “At no point did they need to escalate to that level of force.”

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It started when Harris and a group of men tried to enter the A.K. Food Store on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, and the officers turned them away. The store was temporarily closed during an investigation into suspected narcotics sales in the area, according to a police report.

The group, including Harris, became agitated.

The officers said Harris threatened them, telling them things would be different “if you didn’t have that badge on,” according to the report. Officer Marcus Fortson then walks up to Harris, the report says, and tells him to “do it.”

“He turns around and walks away,” Griggs said. “The officer, he says, called him some expletives (and) he continued to walk away. Then the video starts.”

The cellphone video of the incident is just 30 seconds long. It shows the officers following Harris, telling him to get out of the road as he continues questioning their orders. 

Griggs said police escalated what should have been a conversation with Harris to “hard-hand tactics and a take-down.” 

“This does not rise to the level of needing to slam an individual on their head simply because they were walking away,” he said. 

The officers say in the report Harris turned and took a threatening stance when they went to place handcuffs on him, so they used force to create distance and restrained him to make the arrest.

In body camera footage of the incident released Thursday afternoon by APD, it appears Harris’ back is turned when Fortson makes the first physical contact. 

Fortson has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation, according to a spokesman for the department.

If not for the circulation of the cellphone video, Griggs said it’s likely no one would have questioned their actions. 

He said he was disheartened to learn of the incident so soon after another viral video showed an officer trading punches with a suspect during a drug arrest in southwest Atlanta earlier this month. 

MORE: WATCH: Atlanta police officer, suspect trade punches during arrest

“They are supposed to protect and serve the community,” he said. “Who’s policing the police?”

He’s hopeful both incidents will encourage an open dialogue about the culture of policing in Atlanta, which he said could use some change. 

“I hope that this case and the other case can send a message to the rank and file in the police department that, one, we’re not going to tolerate bad officers, and, two, it says we’re not going to tolerate good officers not reporting bad officers.”

Griggs is representing Harris on the misdemeanor charges pro bono. He has his first hearing before a judge next month.

“If they’re not dismissed, then we will fight them in court,” Griggs said, “and hopefully my client will be exonerated.”

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