Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard held a press conference on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, to ask for help from the public in the investigation of three police-involved shootings. The DA’s office has also posted several billboards around town asking for help. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Fulton DA seeks witnesses to recent APD SWAT shooting

Paul Howard wants the public’s help in two other investigations, too

If you were gassing up a 2003-05 Chevrolet Tahoe at the Valero station on Moreland Avenue at 12:19 p.m. on March 13, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is waiting for your call.

Same for the driver of a 2008-10 dark gray Ford F150 pickup, stopped across the street from the Valero at the same time, in plain sight of a man holding a gun at the intersection of Moreland and Memorial avenues.

By then a second series of shots had been fired in a non-lethal exchange between the Atlanta Police Department’s SWAT unit and a father-and-son duo, Kenneth Gilbert, 56, and 29-year old Kenneth Gilbert Jr.

The incident, like all officer-involved shootings in the state, is under investigation by the GBI. Typically, the GBI presents its findings to the district attorneys, many of whom conduct concurrent probes before deciding whether an officer’s actions were justified.

But in a first for his office, Howard is making a concerted effort to involve the public in the process with the purchase of five billboards across Fulton County. The billboards ask people to come forward with any information about the Moreland Avenue shootings and two other recent cases — the fatal shooting in January of 18-year-old D’Ettrick Griffin by Oliver Simmonds, a member of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ security detail, and a shooting in December by officers from South Fulton and East Point police that left 35-year-old Devin Nolley paralyzed from the waist down.

“On several occasions we’ve had jurors and citizens say to us, ‘Why don’t you provide us with citizen testimony?’” Howard told reporters Wednesday. “My experience is our community seems to make a greater belief when a citizen who is not involved with either of the parties comes forward.”


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The solicitation for witnesses of the shootout between the Gilberts and APD stands out from the other cases in that it targets specific people — captured by security cameras — who have not been interviewed by authorities. Two white Ford pickup trucks were also seen in surveillance photos and will be spotlighted on the billboards, which have been reserved for the next three weeks at a total cost of $9,147, said DA spokesman Chris Hopper.

“If we can get just one witness, I think it’s worth it if that person can come forward and shed some light on what has happened,” Howard said.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard held a press conference on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, to ask for help from the public in the investigation of three police-involved shootings. The DA’s office has also posted several billboards around town asking for help. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Such input could be particularly crucial to the Gilbert investigation, where officials are dealing with sharply conflicting accounts of what transpired.

Police say Gilbert Jr. pointed a loaded Taurus pistol at four APD officers he believed had cut him off while driving in East Atlanta. A SWAT member shot Gilbert, who then allegedly returned fire. The senior Gilbert was also shot. Both men survived.

The case has been something of a headache for Howard, who came under fire after it was revealed the Gilberts were freed on a signature bond.

“I’ve never heard of something like this happening before,” Atlanta Police Union President Steve Zygaj told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month.

Howard defended his decision, saying his office was following guidelines set by President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which calls for independent criminal investigations of incidents involving police use of force.

Information provided by APD “would not qualify as an independent or external investigation,” he said at the time.

Content of one of the billboards. The second incident the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office is attempting to gather additional information about occurred in the evening of Tuesday, January 15, 2019, at the Shell Gas Station near the intersection of Whitehall Street and McDaniel Street in Atlanta. In this incident, 18-year-old D’Ettrick Griffin was shot and killed by Oliver Simmonds, an off-duty police officer who is a member of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ security detail. Griffin allegedly jumped into the driver’s seat of Simmonds’ unmarked SUV while Simmonds was pumping gas. Simmonds shot and killed Griffin as he attempted to steal the vehicle. The billboard related to this shooting is located at the intersection of Whitehall Street and McDaniel Street. HANDOUT
Photo: HANDOUT

Wednesday’s announcement was just the latest in a series of progressive policy initiatives put forward by Howard, now in his sixth term as district attorney. Last week, he announced the creation of a Conviction Integrity Unit that will review previous Fulton County prosecutions as warranted by compelling new evidence.

Content of one of the billboards. The third incident the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office is attempting to gather additional information about occurred Friday, December 28, 2018, along I-285 near Camp Creek Parkway around 12 p.m. In that incident, 35-year-old Devin Nolley was shot during an altercation involving East Point police officers and City of South Fulton police officers. The billboard related to this incident is located on I-285 Westbound near the Camp Creek Parkway exit. HANDOUT
Photo: HANDOUT

“It shows an awareness of what’s of concern to his constituency,” said Atlanta criminal defense attorney Esther Panitch, who served as foreperson of the Fulton grand jury earlier this year. “It’s encouraging, but we’ll have to wait and see how all this plays out.”

And it is consistent with a national movement in the nation’s urban centers toward more progressive prosecutors.

In Philadelphia, Larry Krasner was elected district attorney in 2017 on a platform that called for an end to mass incarceration. New district attorneys in Houston and Boston’s Suffolk County, meanwhile, have prioritized marijuana decriminalization and the repeal of mandatory minimums for drug offenses.

Anyone with information about the three officer-involved shootings is asked to call the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office Hotline at 1-833-432-7285.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard speaks at a news conference on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, to ask for help from the public in the investigation of three police-involved shootings. The DA’s office has posted several billboards around town asking for help. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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