Atlanta police will no longer partner on task forces with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration or U.S. Marshals because the federal agencies won’t allow officers to wear body cameras, the department said.
“The city believes that the public trust we lose from not wearing body cameras is not worth whatever gains we achieve by continuing to serve on these missions without the accountability that body cameras can provide,” said APD spokesman Carlos Campos, who said ending task force participation will not hinder efforts to combat drugs or collar fugitives. “We don’t have to be on a task force to go after gangs.”
In January, an Atlanta officer working with the FBI shot and killed a suspect who was hiding in a closet. Investigator Sung Kim was not wearing a body cam.
Suspect Jimmy Atchison was wanted for armed robbery when he fled to a friend’s apartment, where he was shot. Witnesses said Atchison, who had allegedly stolen a cellphone at gunpoint, was unarmed. No guns were recovered in the apartment.
APD has since expanded its body cam policy and now requires “basically anyone who does enforcement daily” to wear them, Campos said. About 1,200 have been issued to about two-thirds of the force, including the department’s fugitive unit.
Attorney Tanya Miller, who represents Atchison’s relatives, said the family applauds APD’s new policy.
“If Officer Kim was wearing a body cam we wouldn’t have all these unanswered questions about Jimmy’s death,” Miller said,” she said. “I can’t understand why the FBI would be against transparency.”
In a statement, FBI Special Agent in Charge Chris Hacker thanked Atlanta police for its participation and said the agencies will continue to work together in the future, if not on task forces.
“I want to assure the people of the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia that the men and women of the FBI will continue to do their work diligently and with the utmost respect for adherence to the Constitution,” Hacker said. The statement did not address its policies on body cameras.
In 2016, members of a U.S. Marshals Regional Fugitive Task Force shot former Clark Atlanta University football player Jamarion Robinson 59 times. Officers had been trying to arrest Robinson for allegedly firing a gun at officers in a previous encounter when he was shot. A weapon found in the East Point apartment where Robinson died. He had struggled with schizophrenia.
None of the officers involved were wearing body cameras. In December, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard sued the U.S. Department of Justice, accusing federal authorities of hindering his investigation into Robinson’s death.
Howard has also expressed doubts about the scope of the FBI’s investigation into the January shooting. In March, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced an independent review of the FBI’s findings. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation also is investigating.
Howard offered effusive praise for Shields’ decision in a letter sent to the chief and shared with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“In Atlanta, a city steeped in civil rights tradition and a place which strives to follow the example set for us by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., your decision to remove Atlanta police officers from federal task force operations for the sake of transparency and accountability should not be understated,” he wrote.
Calling it a “monumental moment in our city’s history,” Howard said Union City and South Fulton’s police chiefs support Shields’ position, as does Union City Mayor Vince Williams.
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