Fulton County District Paul Howard said he is eager to appear before Atlanta City Council members who want to know why at least 20 investigations into officer-involved shootings, some dating as far back as 2015, remain open.
“My office is overjoyed that the City of Atlanta is concerned about positioning itself as a model for the handling of police-involved shootings, and we hope that this meeting is just the first step in the process of Atlanta becoming that model city,” Howard said in a statement. “We cannot wait to get started.”
The DA was responding to a letter sent last week by Dustin Hillis, chairman of the council’s Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee. Hillis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution such protracted delays are unacceptable.
“It’s not fair to the families and it’s not fair for the officers,” Hillis said. “If they deserve to be punished, then they should be prosecuted. But if not, they shouldn’t have to spend four years behind a desk without any police powers, especially when you have a department short some 200 to 300 officers.”
In his letter, Hillis requested a list of all outstanding cases, an explanation of the timeline for each investigation and when they will be resolved.
“The public has a right to know,” he said.
In some cases, it may be too late to prosecute, if charges are indeed warranted. The statute of limitations on aggravated assault charges is three years, for example.
The delays also hinder civil actions. Attorney Chris Stewart, who represents the families in two of the more controversial shootings still awaiting resolution, said the case files are off-limits until the DA ends his probe.
“Everything is just stuck,” said Stewart, whose clients include the families of DeAundre Phillips, fatally shot 28 months ago outside an Atlanta Police Department annex by Officer Yasin Abdulahad, and Scout Schultz, a Georgia Tech student killed by campus cop Tyler Beck in September 2017.
For the families, the wait is “beyond frustrating,” Stewart said.
“They want answers that I just don’t have,” he said.
But answers may soon be forthcoming. Howard said last week that he expects to have an announcement on Abdulahad’s fate at the end of July, and Stewart said he anticipates the investigation into Beck will also be completed this summer.
Howard has long contended that his office’s public integrity unit, which investigates officer-involved shootings, is underfunded and understaffed.
“He’s right,” Stewart said.
But the district attorney’s office budget is set by the Fulton County Commission, so Howard’s appearance before the City Council, likely to occur June 11 in a closed executive session, is unlikely to result in any significant changes.
“I hope some answers will come of it,” Hillis said.
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