Daughter of man who died after arrest in Atlanta recounts his final moments

GBI investigating use of force after 62-year-old father became unresponsive, later died
Johnny Hollman died after a "physical struggle" with Atlanta police, the GBI said.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Johnny Hollman died after a "physical struggle" with Atlanta police, the GBI said.

Johnny Hollman’s family has a rule: Always call a family member during an encounter with police.

That’s exactly what Hollman did Thursday night after officials said he was involved in a car wreck in southwest Atlanta. Police responded to the scene and Hollman quickly called his daughter, 47-year-old Arnitra Fallins, who told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she listened in on the incident between her father and officers as she drove to the scene to help.

“...He was saying, he couldn’t breathe. He was like, ‘I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!’” she recounted the phone call Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Hollman died.

The GBI has opened an investigation into an Atlanta police officer’s use of force after the 62-year-old man became unresponsive while being taken into custody and later died at the hospital.

The police department requested an independent investigation Friday into the death, the GBI said in a statement. The state agency said Hollman and the arresting officer were involved in a physical struggle, but Hollman’s official cause of death has not been determined.

“The Atlanta Police Department has opened an internal investigation into the incident and the officer has been placed on administrative leave, as is standard policy,” a spokesman for the department said.

According to the initial investigation, police responded to the car crash at the intersection of Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard and Cunningham Place around 11:20 p.m. Hollman was about two minutes from his front door when the incident happened. He was driving home, chatting with his ex-wife on the phone after picking up chicken and apple pie from a gas station nearby, Fallins said.

“(My mother) said she heard him holler and he’s like, ‘Someone hit my (expletive) car.’ She said he jumped out of the car and the phone was going dead. So she was like, ‘OK, he’ll probably call me back,’” Fallins recounted her mother saying.

She waited for that call back, but it never came. Fallins was the person Hollman called instead. She rushed to the crash location in hopes of helping her father, who she said she could hear repeatedly yelling, “Help me! Help me!”

Hollman was determined to be the at-fault driver and became agitated when officers tried to issue him a traffic citation, Atlanta police stated. The GBI added that he “became non-compliant” and an officer tried to take him into custody. The man and the officer got into a physical struggle as Hollman refused to follow the officer’s commands, and the state agency said an officer used a Taser on him.

According to police, a witness then helped the officer put Hollman in handcuffs. The GBI said it was at that point investigators “determined that Hollman had become unresponsive.”

It took 17 minutes for Fallins to get to the scene, she said, and at that point authorities were already trying to resuscitate her father. She said she remembers seeing him on the ground surrounded by emergency medical personnel before he was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he died.

Officials did not provide other details about the struggle and did not specify if Hollman suffered any injuries as a result. Fallins said she briefly got to see her father in the hospital. Holding back tears, she said her father was visibly injured.

“Some kind of injuries happened at some point. We don’t know what happened,” Fallins said, adding that “you could see he was looking swole. He wasn’t even that big, but he looked swole. And he looked bruised in his face.”

For the past 40 years, Hollman had been involved with the Lively Stones of God Ministries, which meets at the C.A. Scott Recreation Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. He had also served as the chairman of deacons for 15 years.

As a father of five, a grandfather to 22 children, and a great-grandfather to others, he was always trying to catch up with his family. Fallins said he often recited the line, “My bad days are always good compared to somebody else’s.”

The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy. Once the investigation is complete, the results will be turned over to the Atlanta Judicial Circuit’s District Attorney’s Office for review.

The GBI is asking the public for any details that could help determine the circumstances around Hollman’s death.

“We just want justice for our dad. My siblings and myself are just going through it because my dad called all of us, he called every last one of us yesterday,” Fallins said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the GBI regional investigative office in Conyers at 706-388-5019. Anonymous tips can also be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS (8477), by visiting the GBI’s tip website or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.