Matthew Zadok Williams’ family files federal lawsuit against DeKalb County

Credit: Madgie Robinson/Fresh Take Georgia

Credit: Madgie Robinson/Fresh Take Georgia

DeKalb police fatally shot Williams during an encounter at his home in 2021

Matthew Zadok Williams’ family filed a federal lawsuit Friday, alleging DeKalb County police officers violated federal antidiscrimination laws when they fatally shot him at his townhome about two years ago.

Citing the federal Americans with Disabilities and Rehabilitation acts, the 35-page lawsuit says Williams was suffering from a mental health crisis during his encounter with police. It accuses the county of “disability discrimination” and of “failing to adequately train police officers to safely arrest persons with mental illness.”

“He was everything to us,” Chris Ann Lewis said of her son as some of her daughters wept quietly beside her at a news conference in Atlanta Friday. “DeKalb County — the system — failed my son. All officers — because they have in their hands the power to take a life — must have critical intervention training. That is a must.”

A DeKalb spokesman said the county would not comment on pending litigation.

To bring attention to Williams’ case, his family has organized rallies and repeatedly called on DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston to bring charges against the officers involved.

Last year, Boston met with the family members, informing them she had decided against doing that. She said she had determined no crime was committed and that the officers’ use of force was justified under the law.

The encounter between Williams and police happened after a woman called 911 to report a man had pulled a knife on her off Terrace Trail, southeast of Decatur. After the officers arrived, Williams appeared to chase after one of them with a knife before fleeing into his home, video footage of the incident showed. The officers repeatedly asked him to open the door, put the knife down and come outside before one of them fired into his home, killing him.

Williams’ sister, Zeporah, remembered him as her best friend and a foodie who liked eating pizza, swimming and racing up the trails at Arabia Mountain. He suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness, according to an attorney for his family.

“There isn’t a street I can go down in DeKalb where I am not flooded with beautiful memories of my brother,” Zeporah Williams said as a large group of supporters stood behind her, including some wearing sweatshirts declaring “Justice for Zadok.”

“Mental illness has become a national epidemic in our country. If only DeKalb County had taken heed of this,” she continued, “they would have had the proper process in place and my brother would still be alive today, creating more memories with us.”

Another sister, Dr. Buelah Williams, told reporters she named her first son Zadok because of her love for her brother.

“He was like the light of our life,” she said. “And now he is gone.”


This story was reported in partnership with Fresh Take Georgia, a nonprofit digital news service at the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Visit them at If you have any feedback or questions about our partnerships, you can contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams via email at