17-year-old arrested in Atlanta shooting death of prominent trans woman

Credit: GoFundMe

Credit: GoFundMe

A 17-year-old has been arrested in the April 18 shooting death of a prominent transgender woman at a southwest Atlanta shopping plaza, police announced Thursday.

Jermarcus Jernigan is facing charges of murder and aggravated assault in the death of Rasheeda Williams, 35, who was better known as Koko Da Doll or Hollywood Koko. Jernigan went to a northwest Atlanta police precinct Wednesday to identify himself as the person of interest being sought in the case.

Police had previously released surveillance images, taken from inside a Martin Luther King Jr. Drive gas station, of a man wearing a white hoodie with a distinctive black emblem and asked for the public’s help to identify him. Jernigan said he was the man in the photos, but he denied shooting anyone, according to his arrest warrant obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It was surveillance footage that tied the teenager to Williams’ death, an investigator said in the warrant.

Williams was seen on two cameras in the area of Holmes Plaza on the night she died. The first video, which was obtained by the AJC, showed her speaking with a man in an Atlanta Falcons jersey at an apartment complex. That man also spoke with police and said he and Williams went their separate ways after a brief conversation, according to the warrant.

The second video was taken from a Wendy’s on Hamilton E. Holmes Drive, across the street from the parking lot where Williams’ body was discovered. Police said it showed a man in a white hoodie arguing with Williams before firing shots and running off.

She was still breathing when she was found by two women, including one who may have been the last person to see her alive. The other told 911 dispatchers she believed Williams was shot in the face, and she was unconscious.

She was pronounced dead at the scene once authorities arrived.

The witness said she saw Williams arguing with the man in the white hoodie before she heard the gunshots and ran over to help. It was not clear what they argued over.

Jernigan initially denied any involvement with the homicide, but he put himself at the scene of the crime, police Officer Rashard Clantan said in the warrant. That admission, along with the video evidence, was enough to secure the warrant, Clantan said.

In addition to the murder and assault charges, Jernigan faces a count of possessing a gun during the commission of a felony. He is being held in the Fulton County Jail.

Williams was on her way to becoming a star before the shooting, according to those who knew her. She was featured in an award-winning documentary, “Kokomo City,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and was getting ready to drop a rap album.

The film, which is slated for theatrical release this summer, highlights the experiences of Black trans sex workers in New York and Atlanta. In a statement on Instagram, director D. Smith, a former cast member of “Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta,” said it was “extremely difficult to process Koko’s passing, but as a team, we are more encouraged now than ever to inspire the world with her story.”

At a vigil held in her honor Saturday, Poohbella Alford said Williams aspired to leave sex work and focus on her entertainment career. Williams also had plans to create her own hair brand titled Hollywood Koko Collections, said Alford, who identified herself as Williams’ sister.

She was the second Black trans woman to be shot and killed this month in southwest Atlanta. Ashley Burton, a 37-year-old hairstylist, died April 11 at the City Park Atlanta apartments on Fairburn Road. A third transgender woman was shot in another part of the city in January.

Atlanta police said they share the public’s concern regarding the recent attacks, but that none of the recent shootings appeared to be motivated by hate.