Ex-East Point officers indicted in shooting that left man paralyzed

Devin Nolley

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Devin Nolley

A Fulton County grand jury has indicted two former East Point police officers in an I-285 shooting that left a man paralyzed from the neck down.

Devin Nolley was shot twice in the back following a December 2018 police chase that ended on the Perimeter, according to his attorney. Now he lives in a West Georgia nursing home, unable to take care of himself or look after his young daughter.

“I am totally dependent,” he told Channel 2 Action News in 2019 after spending nine months at Grady Memorial Hospital. “I can’t even swat a fly out of my face or just scratch my head.”

Former East Point police officers Rodney Etienne and Shiron Nicole Varner were indicted Monday on charges of violating their oath, reckless conduct, aggravated assault and aggravated battery. They’re the latest in a string of current and former Fulton County law enforcement officers indicted by the district attorney in use-of-force cases.

Nolley’s lawyer, Jackie Patterson, called the shooting entirely unwarranted.

The Dec. 28, 2018, incident began after East Point police said they spotted a stolen black Nissan in the parking lot of a RaceTrac gas station on Camp Creek Parkway, the GBI said at the time.

Officers followed Nolley to a nearby Publix before getting out of their cars and approaching him. That’s when he allegedly backed into an unmarked patrol car, prompting officers to open fire in the busy parking lot as he drove away.

Nolley led police onto I-285 where South Fulton officers joined the chase, according to the GBI. Police managed to stop the Nissan on the interstate, but shot at Nolley a second time as he ran toward the woods, hitting him twice.

Patterson said Wednesday that the Nissan wasn’t stolen and that his unarmed client posed no threat as he ran away that Friday morning. He also argued there was no reason for officers to approach Nolley in the first place.

“He decided he didn’t want to talk to the police since he hadn’t done anything wrong, so he got in his car and just drove off,” Patterson said. “Now he’s a quadriplegic. He can’t do anything from the neck down.”

He praised Fulton DA Fani Willis’ decision to present the indictment to a grand jury, saying “partial justice has been done.” Now he hopes the former officers spend time in prison.

A $30 million lawsuit filed by Nolley against the East Point and South Fulton police departments in 2019 is still pending, according to his attorney.

Willis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she doesn’t take lightly the decision to charge law enforcement officers in use-of-force cases.

“We just look at the facts and we look at the evidence,” she said. “We believe that these officers violated the law so we decided to bring forth charges.”

Willis said her office declined to indict a South Fulton police officer who also shot at Nolley after determining that officer’s actions were lawful. Since taking office last year, Willis said her team has resolved nearly 50 use-of-force cases, choosing to indict in some instances and declining to bring charges in others.

The DA said while the majority of officers follow their training and uphold their duty to protect and serve, “no one is above or below the law.”

“When officers violate the law, I took an oath to hold them responsible so that’s what we are going to do,” Willis said.

State records show Etienne voluntarily resigned from the East Point Police Department in April 2020 after nearly three and a half years with the agency.

Facing termination over stolen evidence money, Varner resigned in June 2019, records indicate. In a signed letter to the Georgia POST Council, she admitted taking “a large sum of money” from an envelope after being placed on administrative duty over Nolley’s shooting.

“While on administrative duty I was unable to to work any extra duty jobs,” she wrote, explaining that she was strapped for cash and had several family emergencies during her search for part-time work.

“I am in no way excusing my behavior and take full accountability for my actions,” Varner wrote. “I am aware that my integrity has been compromised and may not be restored.” It wasn’t immediately clear if she was ever charged over the missing funds.

As of Wednesday afternoon, neither Etienne nor Varner had turned themselves in. A spokesman for the DA said defense attorneys are still negotiating the former officers’ bond conditions.

Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this article.