2 dead among 14 shootings despite increased police presence

Barricades greeted NBA fans at Marietta Street and Centennial Olympic Park Drive on Sunday. (Photo: Ben Gray / For the AJC)

Barricades greeted NBA fans at Marietta Street and Centennial Olympic Park Drive on Sunday. (Photo: Ben Gray / For the AJC)

On Thursday, city leaders pleaded with residents to avoid violence and disorder as Atlanta prepared to take the national stage and host the NBA All-Star Game at State Farm Arena. Then on Friday, Atlanta police beseeched visitors to keep mayhem at a minimum and commotion under control.

“If you come here and choose to get involved in gun violence or other criminal activity, please plan to stay, as you will be residing at the Fulton County Jail,” Atlanta police Deputy Chief Michael O’Connor said at the time.

But by Sunday evening, it was evident that the pleas were for naught.

Police were called to investigate more than a dozen shootings during the weekend, including two that resulted in deaths. Many of those incidents, police said, are related to a “lack of conflict management skills.”

The violence on Sunday began with simultaneous shootings about 3 a.m. and ended with the discovery of a man’s body about 8:30 p.m. That brought the total number of weekend shootings to 14, intensifying public pressure on city leaders over a surge in violent crime.

The Atlanta Police Department investigated 157 homicides in 2020, up from 99 in 2019 and the most in more than two decades. Among last year’s homicide victims: a 7-year-old girl shot while riding in a car with her mother and aunt after an evening of holiday shopping in Buckhead and an 8-year-old shot while riding in a car with her mother on the Fourth of July in south Atlanta.

The increase in deadly shootings last year led to an outcry from rattled residents and business owners. What followed were promises from city leaders to make dealing with violent crime part of their efforts in the new year.

So far, that effort has been fraught.

Just last weekend, 11 people were shot over the course of 12 hours in Atlanta. One of those victims, a man discovered at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Moreland Avenue, was killed.

With the NBA’s stars in town this past weekend, police responded to five separate shootings Saturday that left six people injured within the span of about six hours. No fatalities were reported during those incidents, which happened between 11 p.m. Friday and 5 a.m. Saturday.

In addition, a triple shooting occurred overnight in neighboring Brookhaven, and two more in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon.

Police increased patrols in anticipation of Sunday’s game, which drew visitors to the city despite the fact that the NBA did not sanction any fan activities, ticketed events or hospitality functions. Atlanta police, who implemented 12-hour shifts and canceled days off for certain officers during All-Star weekend, worked with the fire department, public health officials and building inspectors to ensure that restaurants and clubs operated “according to their business licenses classification” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ahead of the festivities, various officials issued stern warnings to people visiting Atlanta for the game.

“You decide to come here and commit crimes, we will give you a free ride and assist with accommodations at the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office Jail at 901 Rice Street,” the South Fulton Police Department posted on social media. “Don’t come here to fight, take other people’s things, or drive under the influence.”

However, Atlanta police contend that in many of the incidents, visitors were not the problem. A spokesman for the police department told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that all of the victims and suspects in the shootings that occurred over the weekend are believed to be metro Atlanta residents.

Sunday’s violence kicked off about 3:10 a.m., when Atlanta police received two different calls reporting simultaneous shootings at locations nearly two miles apart, according to department spokeswoman Officer TaSheena Brown.

Public access was limited around State Farm Arena on Sunday. (Photo: Jeremy Redmon / AJC)

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Officers went to a Shell gas station in the 400 block of Whitehall Street after hearing gunshots, officials said.

“The officers hurried to that location, where they found two adult males that had been engaged in a physical altercation,” police spokesman Officer Steve Avery said. The officers pulled the feuding men apart, and one of them realized that he had been shot.

An investigation revealed the two men both owned businesses in the same plaza. One of them had become upset due to the other’s business practices, “which he believed would divert traffic away from his business,” Avery said.

“This led to the two men having a verbal dispute which became physical and eventually escalated to gunfire,” he said.

The suspect, 51-year-old Sham Diggs, was arrested on a count of aggravated assault.

Atlanta police said it’s a “prime example of the lack of conflict resolution skills” it has noticed recently.

“Fortunately, this shooting did not result in a death, but one party found himself in the hospital, while the other is facing a felony charge of aggravated assault,” Avery said.

It wouldn’t be the last such incident. Around the same time, police were called to the 200 block of Courtland Street after someone heard gunshots in the area. Officers found a man who had been shot in the arm, Brown said.

Investigators believe the gunfire came from the area of 60 Andrew Young International Drive. A motive was unclear, but authorities said the gunman left the scene in a maroon sedan. The injured man was taken to a hospital. His condition was not released.

Three more shootings took place over a three-hour period in the afternoon.

An apparently discarded mask is a reminder of the pandemic precautions that were taken during the NBA All-Star Game. (Photo: Jeremy Redmon / AJC)

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At 2 p.m., officers were sent to the 1800 block of Campbellton Road and found a man who had been shot at nearby Oakland City Park. Another victim was taken to a hospital about 3:35 p.m. following a shooting in the 1500 block of Hardee Street. And about 5 p.m., police responded to a RaceTrac gas station at Piedmont and John Wesley Dobbs avenues and found a man conscious and alert after a shooting, police said.

Then, about 8:30 p.m., police were sent to the 1100 block of Oak Street to investigate another shooting. While that victim was expected to survive, police found the body of another gunshot victim two blocks down the street. Brown said investigators are still working to determine if the shootings were related.

All of the Sunday incidents are under investigation, she said.

“We continue to urge our citizens and visitors alike to consider the consequences of their actions before reacting in a way that is likely to cause jail time, great bodily harm, or in some cases, death,” Avery said.

MORE DETAILS

⋅ Atlanta police confirmed 14 shooting investigations during the weekend, including two that were fatal.

⋅ Investigators said all of the victims and suspects are believed to be metro Atlanta residents.

⋅ One arrest was made following a shooting that involved two business owners.

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