An unarmed Ariston Waiters was lying faced-down on the ground, being handcuffed by a Union City police officer, when the officer fatally shot him, a new lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Fulton County State Court claims that Union City police officer Luther Lewis had his knee in the back of Waiters, 19, when the officer shot from point-blank range.
“How close?” said Mawuli Mel Davis, the attorney who filed the civil complaint against Lewis and the city of Union City on behalf of Waiters’ mother Freda Waiters. “Close enough to leave burn marks on his skin. As everyone knows, Waiters was murdered.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Union City police refused to allow a registered nurse – one who provided her credentials to officers – into the shooting scene to render aid to Waiters as he lay bleeding following the shooting.
The Dec. 14, 2011 incident sparked a firestorm against Union City police. When a Fulton County grand jury this spring declined to indict Lewis, U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates opened a federal investigation into possible criminal violations of civil rights laws.
“She said she was a mother herself, and was going to get to the bottom of this,” Freda Waiters said of her June meeting with Yates.
The FBI has completed its part of the federal investigation and has turned a report over to Yates’ office, Davis said. FBI officials could not be reached by phone late Wednesday evening to confirm Davis’ statement.
Lewis and another officer were called to Hickory Lane Drive on the evening of Dec. 14 in response to a report of teens fighting and gunshots fired in the area. They arrived to find a large number of juveniles when Lewis spotted Ariston Waiters walking away from the area.
“He didn’t run from police,” Davis said.
The attorney cited the lawsuit’s claim: “When Lewis seized Waiters, he did not have probable cause to believe that Waiters had been involved in criminal activity; he only knew that Waiters had been walking away from an incident involving several teenage girls.”
According to the lawsuit, Lewis sneaked up on Waiters in a wooded area, service handgun drawn, and ordered Waiters to the ground.
Lewis never informed fellow officers or police dispatchers that he was going after Waiters, the complaint alleges.
Waiters complied, laying on his belly with his arms outstretched above his head, the suit states.
Lewis then knelt beside the teen, putting one knee into Waiters’ back as he affixed handcuffs to the teen’s left wrist, the complaint said.
At some point, as Waiters reached his right hand behind himself to be cuffed, he was shot, the lawsuit alleges.
“Waiters was attempting to comply with Lewis’ commands,” the complaint says. “Lewis fired two shots. When he fired one of the shots, Lewis’ service weapons was in contact with Waiters’ back.”
Attorney William Atkins, who is assisting Davis’ law firm with the litigation, said, “This officer definitely acted with gross negligence. … Officers have all sorts of options before they get to their guns.”
Atkins said police training typically provides for six steps officers can take to subdue suspects. “This officer skipped the first five, as far as we can tell,” Atkins said.
This was the second wrongful death suit filed against Union City on Waiters’ behalf. His father sued the city in July, though Waiters’ mother being appointed the administrator of her son’s estate.
Davis and Atkins said they held off as long as they did to file their complaint in hopes that the federal investigation would wrap up so that they could review the investigative documents the Fulton County District Attorney’s office created in an attempt to indict Lewis. But Davis said he had several conferences with Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. while preparing the lawsuit.
Lewis remains employed with Union City police, according to Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council records.
Neither he nor Union City Police officials could be reached Wednesday evening for comment.
Atkins said the lawsuit will continue, even if the federal investigation finds no criminal activity.
“We will seek some form of equitable relief in addition to whatever reward a jury will return,” he said, “even if that means additional training for officers.”
Freda Waiters, who is helping to take care of her son’s 1-year-old daughter, said she still is unsure exactly what happened. She wants to hear that from Union City police, but has heard nothing since the incident.
“It’s as if it never happened,” she said.
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