Family compensated for wrong-house police shooting in East Atlanta
Credit: John Spink
This photo taken Sept 1, 2015, shows the Boulderwoods Drive house where DeKalb police responding to a burglary call entered the wrong home, shot and killed a dog, wounded the homeowner and seriously injured a fellow officer, the GBI said. JOHN SPINK / JOHN.SPINKSR@AJC.COM
It's been almost two years since DeKalb County police officers showed up at the wrong address, burst into a family's home and opened fire, shooting Chris McKinley in the leg and killing his dog.
Now the county is paying $60,000 to the East Atlanta family to avert a lawsuit. The DeKalb Commission unanimously approved the settlement earlier this month.
Confused police fired seven shots after they were startled by the family dog when they burst through the back door of the home on Aug. 31, 2015, according to a police internal affairs report. Their gunfire left three victims: McKinley, a 9-year-old boxer named Yanna, and one of the officers, who was caught in the crossfire and shot in the leg.
“There is positively no justification for the officers entering the home and shooting Mr. McKinley and the family dog,” according to a demand letter sent by the family’s attorney, Mark Bullman, to the county last year and obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Georgia Open Records Act. “Nevertheless, Mr. McKinley received what could easily have been a fatal gunshot wound, and Yanna was killed, by the actions of the reckless officers.”
The incident remains under investigation by DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston’s office, a spokeswoman said.
Police made a clear mistake as they were checking out a potential burglary, said DeKalb Commissioners Jeff Rader and Kathie Gannon.
“I mean, the guy got shot. We’re just trying to make them whole,” Rader said.
The $60,000 payment compensates the McKinleys for expenses including $35,000 in medical costs, nearly $8,000 in home repairs and more than $9,000 in lost income. The county settled the claim outside of court, avoiding a potential lawsuit.
“They were harmed, and they asked if they could have those things paid for,” Gannon said. “It’s reasonable.”
The internal affairs report, provided by DeKalb police to the AJC upon request, details a series of mistakes and mix-ups that led to the shooting.
The chaos began when the McKinleys' neighbor called 911 to report a suspicious man loitering and possibly trying to break into a house at the end of Boulderwoods Drive. But when the 911 operator relayed the location to officers, she mistakenly told them to go to the intersection of Boulderwoods Drive and Bouldercrest Road, according to the internal affairs report.
Because the officers didn’t have an exact street address, they misidentified the McKinleys’ brick-and-tan one-story home as the location of the potential burglary.
The McKinleys were watching a movie while their 1-year-old son was sleeping in the next room when the officers entered the unlocked back door of the McKinleys’ house.
The officers later told investigators they announced, “DeKalb County Police Department,” but the McKinleys and neighbors contradict that account. Bullman, the family’s attorney, said in his letter to the county that the officers didn’t announce themselves.
Officer Quhanna Lloyd said in a statement he heard McKinley scream, “Who let you in my house?” just after McKinley opened a door and the dog entered the room. Lloyd said he heard a gunshot behind him, turned around and then joined Officer Travis Jones shooting at the dog.
Jones, in his statement, said he fired on the dog when it ran through the door after hearing Lloyd command, “Do not let the dog out.” The third officer, Timothy Harden, didn’t fire his gun.
Jones, shot in the leg, retreated from the house and lay down. More police and ambulances soon arrived.
“You shot my dog!” McKinley yelled, according to Lloyd’s statement.
McKinley, who is white, didn’t even match the description of the suspect, who the 911 caller said was black, according to the internal affairs report.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the homeowners had done anything wrong or to provoke the shooting,” according to the GBI’s findings after reviewing the case.
After being placed on administrative leave, Lloyd completed firearm re-qualification and returned to full-duty status in November 2015. An internal review board concluded Lloyd wasn’t justified in using force and recommended that Lloyd’s precinct commander take corrective action, but the report doesn’t say whether he was punished.
The internal review board found that officers Jones and Harden didn’t violate policies, rules or regulations.
DeKalb Police Chief James Conroy said officers need to do their best to ensure they’re responding to the correct location when they don’t have an address. He said he couldn’t discuss the specifics of the McKinleys case because it’s still under investigation by county prosecutors.
“We take as many steps as possible. Give us a description, tell us about a vehicle in a driveway — that’s something the 911 operator asks the callers,” Conroy said. “Sometimes, we go with the best information we have in good faith.”
As for the McKinleys, they moved from their home after trying for months to cope with the shooting incident, Bullman wrote in his letter. Bullman declined to comment for this article.
“Mr. McKinley’s prognosis is good, and he has been released from his doctors’ care for his physical injuries. But he will carry the scars for the rest of his life, as a reminder of what DeKalb officers did to him and his family,” Bullman wrote.
Mark Niesse covers voting rights and elections for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also reports on the Georgia House of Representatives and government. He has been a reporter at the AJC since 2013 following a decade at The Associated Press in Atlanta, Honolulu and Montgomery, Ala.