“He was a non-violent person. He wouldn’t kill a bug,” his sister, Hahnah Williams, said as she and her siblings consoled their grieving mother Wednesday afternoon.
They don’t believe Williams would have attacked officers and are calling on the DeKalb County Police Department to release the body camera footage of the deadly shooting. The department did not make the video available Wednesday when asked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
According to the GBI, officers responded to the Terraces Apartments near I-20 about 4 p.m. after receiving a call about a man with a large knife. Authorities have not said who made the initial 911 call or released the audio, citing the ongoing investigation.
While police say Williams lunged at officers twice, one neighbor told the AJC he saw the man run from police and dive through a glass window into his bedroom before the first shot rang out.
“Based on what we’re hearing, whatever happened is very, very different from what police are reporting,” said attorney Mawuli Davis, who is representing Williams’ family. He said he’s concerned investigators are crafting a false narrative to detract from the latest fatal shooting of a Black man.
“We are in a time in our history as a country and a state where we can no longer hide behind open investigations,” Davis said. “If there is body camera footage it has to be released immediately so that this family can see, so that the world can know what the truth is.”
Williams’ family described him as a “day trader” and “homebody” who spent most of his free time with loved ones. He didn’t party much and never went to clubs. His only previous run-ins with the law involved traffic violations, Hahnah Williams said.
She said at this point, the family has more questions than answers, but she believes her brother was outside his condo working on a plumbing issue when the first officers arrived. Witnesses told her they saw him outside carrying a blue bucket, but never saw a weapon.
“They caught him by surprise while he was working on his own home and that’s why he ran,” Hahnah Williams said. “He was so scared, he kicked his own window in just to get away.”
Jason Neal, a brick mason who has lived in the complex for more than 15 years, had just gotten off work when he noticed several patrol cars blocking the street at the front of his neighborhood.
He said he didn’t see the initial interaction with police, but saw Williams run toward his home and scurry onto the roof before kicking in a glass window and diving through it head-first. He said he never saw a weapon in the man’s hand as he ran back to the house.
“He kicked the window a couple times and just went in,” Neal said. “He must have been scared.”
Several minutes later, he heard a single shot and a scream. A few minutes after that, he heard police fire three or four more shots from outside the home, he said.
Authorities said Williams had two separate encounters with DeKalb officers that resulted in shots being fired, but investigators are not sure when he was hit and injured.
“Once contact was made, he lunged at officers with the knife causing one of them to discharge their firearm,” DeKalb police spokeswoman Michaela Vincent said.
The second encounter happened when additional officers arrived and spotted Williams at the entrance of his condo, according to the GBI. Authorities said Williams was still holding the knife as officers tried to arrest him.
Police tried using a Taser on Williams but it didn’t work, GBI spokeswoman Natalie Ammons said. After that, at least one officer fired at Williams again. His body was later discovered inside the home.
Neal called the shooting tragic and said he believes Williams might still be alive if police had called in a negotiator to speak with him.
“He was already in the house. He wasn’t outside at all,” he said. “It kinda bothered me that the police would shoot you in your own house. They should have brought in the negotiators to talk to the man.”
Williams’ family said he must have been terrified, especially if police surprised him outside with their guns drawn.
“He went into the house because he thought he would be safe there,” Williams’ mother, Chris Ann Lewis, said as she held a photo of her only son. “He thought he would be safe. How could you kill a man who’s inside a house if you’re outside? How is he a threat?”
She didn’t know her son had been killed until the GBI came to her home the following day and told her. She later went back to Williams’ home and found his shoe in the yard. She believes it fell off as he was running away.
In a brief statement, DeKalb police said the department is conducting an internal review into the police shooting while the GBI conducts an independent investigation. Some departments release body camera footage of police shootings shortly after they occur, while others wait for the GBI to submit its findings.
DeKalb police have been involved in some controversial police shootings in recent years, some prosecuted, some not. The most high-profile case led to the conviction of an officer who his superiors had once determined probably didn’t belong on the streets. But staffing shortages forced Robert “Chip” Olsen onto patrol duty and, when concerned neighbors phoned 911 about a naked man walking outside his Chamblee apartment complex on March 9, 2015, Olsen responded to the call.
An adverse reaction to medication had led Afghanistan War veteran Anthony Hill to disrobe. He was approaching the officer seeking help. Olsen ordered him to stop but Hill, unarmed, kept coming. Olsen fired two shots at close range. Hill died at the scene.
A DeKalb jury found Olsen guilty of aggravated assault but acquitted him of felony murder. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison plus five years probation.
Williams’ family said he typically supported law enforcement and often defended cops during discussions about police reform.
In Minnesota, a veteran police officer has been charged with second-degree manslaughter after she said she mistook her gun for a Taser and fatally shot a 20-year-old man over the weekend. The latest police shooting of a Black man set off several nights of protests in a Minneapolis suburb still reeling from George Floyd’s death last year.
The youngest of six children and the only boy, Williams’ family said he went out of his way to make sure his siblings had whatever they needed. He helped support his older sisters by watching their children or paying off their bills as they worked their way through law and medical school. When one of his sisters was diagnosed with cancer, he let her live in one of his homes rent-free so she could focus on getting better.
Williams’ family said it feels like they’re trapped in a nightmare they can’t wake up from.
“I want the video released so the truth can be out there,” Lewis said. “What they’re saying makes no sense. There’s no reason for them to have shot and killed my son.”
— Staff writer Christian Boone contributed to this article.