Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr (left) listens as Monteria Robinson talks about the death of her son Jamarion Robinson. Howards announced the filing of a lawsuit against the United States Department of Justice in the death of her son during a press conference on December 28th, 2018. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Photo: PHIL SKINNER
Photo: PHIL SKINNER

DA: Investigation into task force shooting presents great ‘difficulty’

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has announced he will investigate last month’s fatal shooting of Jimmy Atchison by an Atlanta police officer assigned to a federal fugitive task force.

Atchison, a father of two, was shot by investigator Sung Kim as he hid in a closet, unarmed, according to witnesses. Atchison, wanted for an alleged armed robbery of a cell phone, had fled to a friend’s apartment in northwest Atlanta after heavily armed task force members appeared at his door. Authorities have not said what prompted the shooting.No guns were recovered in the apartment.

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“Why didn’t they use tear gas? Why not a flash bang (device)?” said Atchison’s father, Jimmy Hill.

“It’s very frustrating. We don’t know anything more than we knew January 22nd,” the day Atchison was killed, said his aunt, Tammie Featherstone. Atchison would’ve turned 22 on Tuesday.

Based on an earlier investigation into the shooting death of a former Clark Atlanta University football player by members of another federal fugitive task force, Atchison’s relatives are left wondering whether they’ll ever receive answers.

Howard met recently with Hill and Featherstone, warning them that his office won’t have access to the weapon that fired the fatal bullet or to the physical evidence taken from the scene.

Normally, the GBI provides oversight into officer-involved shootings in Georgia. But since Kim was working with an FBI task force, the FBI will lead the probe.

Tanya Miller, the family’s lawyer and a former Fulton senior assistant district attorney, said Howard “expressed his concern at how the investigation was being handled.”

Just one month before Atchison’s death, Howard announced he had filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice accusing federal authorities of hindering his office’s investigation into the 2016 death of Jamarion Robinson, 26. The onetime Clark football player, who had struggled with schizophrenia, was shot 59 times by members of the U.S. Marshals Regional Fugitive Task Force.

Howard accused the Justice Department of refusing to release requested documents about the shooting and blocking his investigators from interviewing officers involved in Robinson’s death for more than a year and a half.

There are differences between the two cases, namely the lead agencies involved. But Howard’s comments indicate he’s concerned that, once again, the federal investigation into Kim’s actions won’t be as thorough as he’d like.

His department will launch its own probe. “We will conduct an investigation. But, because of the circumstances that I’ve outlined, it will probably take more time and present a greater degree of difficulty in reaching a conclusion,” Howard said in a statement.

The Fulton district attorney is likely to at least receive a copy of the FBI’s findings, per standard protocol. The Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s office also would have access to the report.

But, of those three, only Howard can bring criminal charges, if warranted, against Kim.

“This was an Atlanta police warrant,” Miller said. “Atlanta police were investigating. It happened in northwest Atlanta. This was an Atlanta police officer. Yet there’s little opportunity for local accountability with everyone hiding behind the skirt of the FBI.”

An FBI spokesman declined comment on the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

Kim is also being investigated by Atlanta police’s Office of Professional Standards, said APD spokesman Carlos Campos, to determine whether he followed the department’s policies and procedures. In his statement, Howard said a “substantial gap in the normal investigative process” was created because Kim was not wearing a body camera.

“It’s also important to point out, even though the local police departments require their officers to wear and use body cameras, for some reason, federal law enforcement are not required to do the same,” he said.

But Campos said officers who deal with fugitives, whether they serve on a task force or not, have never worn body cams. The devices are required only for patrol officers, who respond to 911 calls, and those who hold a few other positions.

The wait for answers, if not accountability, could be a long one for Atchison’s relatives. Jamarion Robinson’s family has been waiting since Aug. 5, 2016, when 14 task force officers showed up at his girlfriend’s apartment to serve an arrest warrant. Robinson was wanted for allegedly firing a gun at officers during a previous encounter, according to Howard’s lawsuit.

Howard said he was unable to obtain such basic information as whether a weapon found in the apartment played a role in the officers’ actions. And prosecutors, granted access to only three of the officers who didn’t fire, contradicted previous statements that Robinson was shot to “protect” the people in the apartment. Robinson, it turns out, was alone in the apartment at the time.

The officers responsible for the shooting have, thus far, escaped accountability,” said Will Claiborne, the attorney for Robinson’s mother.

“We’re not aware of any discipline being given to any of the other officers responsible,” he said.

For now, Kim, who joined APD in 1993, has been placed on paid administrative duty, stripped of police powers pending the outcome of the investigations into his actions on Jan. 22, Campos said.

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