Two Atlanta police officers have been released from the hospital after being grazed by bullets in a deadly shootout with a gunman near Piedmont Park on Tuesday morning, authorities said.
The gun battle stretched several blocks in front of the park, from the area of 10th Street to The Prado, according to Maj. Michael O'Connor. Six officers were involved before one fired the fatal round, fatally wounding the gunman, he said.
The man, later identified by the GBI as 39-year-old Atlanta resident William Simpkins, died at Grady Memorial Hospital. Police believe he is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The call came in about 8 a.m. as a report of a man firing rounds into the air in the 1000 block of Juniper Street, the GBI said. The first officer to arrive tried to speak with Simpkins, who had a handgun.
“At about the 15 feet-away mark, the suspect turns around and begins to indiscriminately shoot at the police officer,” O’Connor said from the scene. “At that point, we were engaged in an active gun battle.”
The GBI said the man ran to the intersection of Piedmont Avenue and South Prado, where officers again fired their weapons, this time striking Simpkins.
Dozens of rounds were fired, O’Connor said, and two officers were hit.
“One was shot to the head,” O’Connor said. “It’s a graze wound to the head, so he's fine. And I had an officer who later realized, after the adrenaline wore off, that he had been shot in the foot.”
Both officers were treated at Grady and later released, authorities said. All six of the officers involved work in the police department’s Zone 5, which covers Piedmont Park and other parts of the city. They will be placed on administrative leave per department policy.
Abby Downs, who lives near Atlanta Botanical Garden, said she was on a walk when she saw multiple patrol cars make quick turns and race down Piedmont Avenue.
“About the time they got onto Piedmont, they hopped out of their cars with the guns and started shooting down Piedmont toward the botanical gardens,” she said.
She took cover inside her house when she heard the gunfire. When things died down, she walked back outside to see a large police and emergency response, she said.
O’Connor, who commands Zone 5, said investigators are working to learn what prompted the incident. He has reviewed the officers’ body cameras and said the man at times pleaded with them to shoot him.
“He apparently was having some form of mental crisis, and what we see here is consistent with that,” he said.
O’Connor praised the officers for their quick actions. Given the highly populated area and proximity to a busy park, he said the gunfight could have ended much worse. No bystanders were injured.
“It’s unfortunate that the suspect was killed, but he made that decision,” O’Connor said. “We didn’t make that decision. We’ve got to respond to what’s in front of us.”
An autopsy will be performed by the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The GBI is leading the investigation into the officer-involved shooting, which shut down Piedmont Avenue in front of the park for several hours. It is the 21st police shooting the GBI has investigated this year, according to agency spokeswoman Nelly Miles.
Once the investigation is complete, the GBI’s findings will be turned over to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office for review. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also tracks officer-involved shootings that don't involve the GBI, and those numbers sometimes differ from the GBI's tally.
— Please return to AJC.com for updates.
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