DeKalb DA won’t pursue charges in fatal police shooting

Matthew Williams' mother and sisters held a demonstration in Atlanta ahead of the one-year anniversary of his death.

Credit: Shaddi Abusaid / shaddi.abusaid@ajc.com

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Matthew Williams' mother and sisters held a demonstration in Atlanta ahead of the one-year anniversary of his death.

Credit: Shaddi Abusaid / shaddi.abusaid@ajc.com

35-year-old’s family planning lawsuit, attorney says

DeKalb County’s district attorney will not pursue charges in the police shooting of a 35-year-old man killed last year during what his family called a mental health crisis.

DA Sherry Boston met with the family of Matthew “Zadok” Williams for nearly two hours Tuesday to inform them of her decision. She determined no crime was committed and that the officers’ use of force was justified under the law.

After the meeting, Williams’ family was visibly upset that no officers were charged.

“Nobody had to die that day. Nobody,” said Williams’ mother, Chris Ann Lewis. “I am extremely disappointed and actually shocked that there are no charges here.”

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Matthew Williams and his family.

Credit: Family photo

Matthew Williams and his family.

Credit: Family photo

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Matthew Williams and his family.

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

Williams was fatally shot by a DeKalb County police sergeant in April 2021 after a neighbor dialed 911.

“I tried to walk to my car. He pulled a knife on me,” the caller told a dispatcher on the recorded call. “There’s a man with a knife outside of my house and I need somebody there to take him away.”

Body camera footage released by the department appeared to show Williams chase after an officer with a knife when they arrived at the complex. A second officer shot at him, but missed. Williams then retreated into his home, prompting a police standoff outside his door.

He was killed when Sgt. Devon Perry fired into the home, striking Williams who was crouched behind an ottoman in his living room. Williams’ family called the shooting unnecessary and criticized the officers at the scene for not calling in a mental health professional to defuse the situation.

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Body camera footage appears to show Matthew Williams run toward police with a knife before he was killed.

Credit: DeKalb County Police Department

Body camera footage appears to show Matthew Williams run toward police with a knife before he was killed.

Credit: DeKalb County Police Department

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Body camera footage appears to show Matthew Williams run toward police with a knife before he was killed.

Credit: DeKalb County Police Department

Credit: DeKalb County Police Department

Lewis and her daughters family organized rallies nearly every week, collected signatures and repeatedly called on Boston’s office to bring charges against the officers involved. They also delivered a petition signed by nearly 40,000 people to the office of DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, urging him to take action.

ExploreA year later, few answers for family of DeKalb man killed by police

“They kicked the door open and they shot him and they left him to die,” his sister, Hahnah Williams, said previously. She contends DeKalb police violated several department policies when they fatally shot her brother inside his home. The GBI finished its investigation last summer and turned the findings over to the district attorney’s office in July.

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05/25/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Attorney Hahnah Williams, sister of Matthew "Zadok" Williams, leads a march outside the Georgia State Capitol Building in May 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

05/25/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Attorney Hahnah Williams, sister of Matthew "Zadok" Williams, leads a march outside the Georgia State Capitol Building in May 2021.
 (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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05/25/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Attorney Hahnah Williams, sister of Matthew "Zadok" Williams, leads a march outside the Georgia State Capitol Building in May 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Boston said the case was never presented to a grand jury because she didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to charge any of the officers involved.

She said she apologized to Williams’ family for the “tragic loss of life,” but had to follow the facts and the evidence of the case.

“I did my job, and I did it fairly and I did it impartially,” Boston said.

Police responded to the southwest DeKalb complex on April 12, 2021, after the neighbor reported a suspicious man “lurking around the woods” near her home.

“I don’t know if he’s armed or not ... I think he’s homeless,” the caller told the dispatcher in the first call. She later called back saying the man approached her with a knife as she walked to her car.

When police arrived they encountered Williams outside his unit.

Video from the officers’ body-worn cameras showed one of them ask Williams if he lived at the condo, which police initially believed was vacant. The knife wasn’t visible at first.

“If you don’t live here, man, I’m kindly asking you to leave the property, all right?” an officer told him.

That’s when Williams appeared to pull out the knife and move toward the police.

A second officer fired a single shot but apparently missed Williams, who got up and ran. He managed to scurry onto his roof, kick through a glass window and dive into his bedroom before police surrounded his home, one witness said. Body camera video released by the department showed him crouching behind the ottoman as several officers stood outside his front door, guns drawn.

The video appeared to show an officer kick open the door several times. Each time the door was opened, Williams would quickly shut it from inside. His family said he was probably terrified.

After several attempts to get Williams to come out, Perry implored him to bring the standoff to an end.

“Let me see you throw (the knife) down. You throw it down, we’ll put our stuff down,” the sergeant pleaded. “Please, sir. I’m begging you. You’re a Black man. I’m a Black man. You don’t have to die today.”

It was Perry who opened fire a second time, according to the footage, shooting three rounds into the living room and striking Williams in the shoulder and hand. Williams’ family said he would still be alive had police gone in quickly and rendered aid. Instead, they waited more than 90 minutes for the SWAT team.

He was dead by the time authorities entered the unit.

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Matthew Williams

Credit: Family photo

Matthew Williams

Credit: Family photo

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Matthew Williams

Credit: Family photo

Credit: Family photo

Once Williams was inside his home, the officers had plenty of options, his family said. They could have called in a mental health professional or gotten a relative on the phone. Instead, Williams was shot and killed.

ExploreLawyer for family of DeKalb man shot by cops: ‘They left him to die’

Body camera footage appeared to show Perry acknowledge that Williams was mentally unstable during a conversation with police Chief Mirtha Ramos at the scene.

“He is definitely mentally ill,” the sergeant told his boss after the shooting.

Boston said after Williams lunged at police with the knife, the officers were justified in using deadly force. She noted he was asked at least 20 times to put the down the weapon and come out of his home.

Attorney Mawuli Davis called the DA’s decision a blow to the family and said he plans to file a civil lawsuit against the department and the county.

“This is not the end,” he told a crowd of supporters gathered outside the DeKalb courthouse. “They just want justice.”