Wrongful death suit filed on behalf of man shot by FBI task force

Credit: Emily Haney

Credit: Emily Haney

City, officers named in suit

Atlanta Police Department officers loaned to a FBI joint task force knowingly violated department policies and training resulting in “in the summary execution of a young man who should have been taken in alive,” a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Friday claims.

Jimmy Atchison, 21, was shot in the face in January 2019 by Atlanta police officer Sung Kim following a chase that ended in the broom closet of a friend’s apartment. Atchison was wanted for allegedly stealing a cellphone at gunpoint.

The case received renewed attention this summer, with Black Lives Matter protesters often reciting Atchison’s name during demonstrations.

Atchison family lawyer Tanya Miller, citing information shared with her from the GBI’s investigation of the shooting, said the father of two was surrendering when Kim fired the fatal shot. The GBI does not discuss open cases.

The shooting remains under investigation by outgoing Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who has said he was prepared to seek charges in March. That became impossible after COVID-19 suspended virtually all grand jury proceedings in the state.

The delay has frustrated family members, said Tammy Featherstone, Atchison’s aunt. That frustration was compounded this summer, when Howard charged former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe with felony murder and other charges five days after Rayshard Brooks died from two gunshot wounds in his back. Brooks scuffled with Rolfe and Officer Devin Brosnan, who faces lesser charges, as they attempted to arrest him for drunk driving. Brooks temporarily broke free, taking Brosnan’s Taser and pointing it in Rolfe’s direction before the officer fired his gun.

“It makes you feel like if it wasn’t on camera, it doesn’t matter,” Featherstone said Wednesday.

The suit, filed on behalf of Atchison’s two young children, does not spell out a specific total for financial relief. But Miller said she believes $20 million is fair, basing that on a 2019 settlement paid by the city of Minneapolis to the family of a woman killed by police.

“It’s time to hold everyone responsible for Jimmy’s death accountable,” Miller said Wednesday.

According to the suit, Kim and four other local officers were assigned to the AMMO Task Force even though the department knew the FBI does not sanction the use of body cameras, which APD mandates for most of its officers. Following Atchison’s death, former APD Chief Erika Shields ended the department’s relationship with the task force after it refused to allow officers on loan to wear the cameras.

“As long as no one complained, the city was content to let it happen,” Miller said.

The suit alleges Kim and the other task force members pursuing Atchison on foot “threatened complex tenants with arrest if they refused to permit defendants' immediate, warrantless entry."

Atchison was finally cornered by four officers, Miller said. Federal prosecutors provided the family with some details, she said. Among them: Atchison received conflicting commands, ordering him to stay in the closet and come out with his hands up. He chose the latter.

Kim, a 26-year APD veteran who retired last year, said he shot Atchison in self-defense, believing he was armed. He was not, investigators later confirmed.

According to the suit, “each violation of laws, regulations, or rules represented a series of conscious decisions by each defendant to value federal money and free weapons over police restraint, to value expediency over truthfulness to the court, to value ‘results’ over the rights of Atlanta citizens, and to value lawlessness over honoring the letter and spirit of the Constitution that they are sworn to uphold.”

APD officers Kelly Lambert, Christian Malstrom, Mark Gardner and Scott Priestly are also named in the suit, along with FBI agent Matthew Winn and five unidentified officers. All were members of the AMMO task force.