Family members of a man killed in a controversial officer-involved shooting outside an Atlanta police annex last month are calling for the officer’s dismissal after his version of events was clearly contradicted by newly released surveillance video.
The footage from the Jan. 26 incident shows that Officer Yasim Abdulahad was fully inside the car driven by Deaundre Phillips, 24, when it disappears from view of the annex parking lot on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. Abdulahad, an 11-year veteran of the force, told the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that he was hanging halfway out of the vehicle when he fired his gun, striking Phillips once in the head.
“We’re asking the city council, Mayor (Kasim) Reed, (Atlanta Police) Chief (Erika) Shields and (Fulton County District Attorney) Paul Howard to fix this,” said attorney Chris Stewart, who represents Phillips’ family. “What more do you need? Situations like this can’t go unchecked by City of Atlanta elected officials and those responsible for holding powerful individuals accountable. You shouldn’t be able to take a life and then cover it up.”
Abdulahad and his partner, Officer El Malik Roberson-EL, said they approached the car after smelling “an odor of marijuana.” But Stewart said the GBI, which is investigating the shooting, told him that while there was a small amount of marijuana in the car, it had not been lit.
“The entire reason for Officer Abdulahad going over to the car was a lie,” Stewart said.
Abdulahad also told investigators that Phillips was sitting in the driver’s side of the car, which belonged to a friend who had gone to the annex to pick up some documents. However, the video shows Phillips was initially in the passenger’s seat, not the driver’s, before getting out to talk with the officers.
In a statement, Atlanta police spokeswoman Elizabeth Espy declined to address Abdulahad’s future with the department.
“The department is appreciative of the GBI’s efforts and willingness to conduct an impartial investigation on our officer involved shooting,” the statement read. “APD places enormous value on transparency and objectivity, and will accept the findings of the GBI’s investigation.”
That investigation is nearing completion, according to Stewart. The GBI does not make recommendations one way or another but simply provides its findings to the district attorney.
“Once we receive this information, as we have been called upon many times in the past, we will make our assessment and then let the chips fall where they may,” Fulton D.A. Howard said in a statement.
On the video, Phillips can be seen getting out of the car to talk to the officers, but it’s unclear whether he knew who they were. Abdulahad and Roberson-EL were dressed in plain clothes and driving an unmarked, red sports car.
It’s also unclear whether Phillips lunged back into his friend’s car in an attempt to flee, as the officers contended, or whether Abdulahad pushed him into the vehicle.
Atlanta police alleged Phillips was a gang member but have not supplied any details. Stewart said Phillips’ criminal record was confined to charges, including criminal trespass and obstruction of an officer, that date back six years, when he was in high school.
Fulton County Jail records show one other arrest for Phillips, in 2014, for speeding, driving without a license, cocaine possession and additional drug charges.
“Without the video, we’d still be thinking some young gang banger criminal tried to take an officer’s life and got killed,” Stewart said.
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields pushed for the video’s release, saying in an interview last week she was “committed to transparency.” Shields also apologized for how the investigation was handled in the initial stages, saying communication with Phillips’ family “was not what it should’ve been.”
The shooting triggered immediate protest and some “very graphic” threats against police, Shields said.
She described Abdulahad as a “widely respected officer.”
Stewart said he believes that Shields, after some early missteps, will deal with the incident in a fair manner.
“She’s going to hold him accountable,” he said.
Regardless, it stands as the first big test of Shields’ nascent administration. She took over as chief in January.