Athens police released bodycam video Thursday from two officers involved in a deadly shooting last month, and it shows the suspect firing the first gunshot.
About 8 p.m. Oct. 25, two officers were dispatched to The Oaks Apartments off Gaines School Road after receiving a call about a noise complaint between neighbors, AJC.com previously reported.
When Sgt. Matt Smith and Officer Paul Harris arrived, they were told 45-year-old Nan Zhao threatened to shoot his neighbor, the GBI previously said. The officers found Zhao beside a dumpster off Royale Road and got out of their patrol car to question him.
That’s when the bodycam video starts, showing the two officers trying to get Zhao to show his hands.
“Stop reaching behind you,” one officer is heard saying. “We just want to talk to you ... show me your hands.”
Zhao allegedly ignores their commands. A gunshot is heard before either officer returns fire toward Zhao, the video shows.
After the shooting, Zhao told the officers he “shot into the air,” but one of the officers replied “you can’t do that to police, man ... we thought you were shooting at us.” Zhao later died at a hospital.
Police Chief Cleveland Spruill Sr. told Channel 2 Action News that the video clearly shows his officers acted in self-defense.
“What we know is he took a gun out, fired it at the officers and in my eyes, that warrants the use of lethal force by the officers to protect themselves,” Spruill said in a press conference.
Smith has been with the Athens police department for 14 years and Harris has been with the agency for seven months, officials said. Both were placed on routine administrative leave following the officer-involved shooting, officials said.
The GBI was called in to investigate the incident, the 72nd officer-involved shooting investigations in 2019 and the sixth in Athens. As of Thursday afternoon, there had been 75 such investigations in Georgia this year, according to the GBI.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also tracks officer-involved shootings that don't involve the GBI, and those numbers sometimes differ from the GBI’s tally.
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