Video shows DeKalb officers pleading with man to drop knife before shooting

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Body camera video released shows DeKalb officers pleading with a man to drop a knife before fatally shooting him. Video edited by Ryon Horne

His family had questioned police’s account; lawyer now says this ‘changes the narrative’

Newly released body camera video shows officers pleading with a man to drop a knife before fatally shooting him at his DeKalb County condominium.

Matthew Williams, 35, was killed by police Monday after bodycam footage appeared to show him chasing after an officer outside his home with the knife in his hand.

In an interview with Channel 2 Action News, DeKalb police Chief Mirtha Ramos said the officers tried repeatedly to get the man to surrender. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution requested an interview with the chief Friday to discuss the shooting. Instead, DeKalb police provided a statement in response to emailed questions.

“There are many unanswered questions about the death of Mr. Williams that cannot be thoroughly answered until the conclusion of our administrative review and the GBI’s investigation,” a department spokeswoman said. “The decision to release the body worn camera footage in this case was made because it allowed us to maintain the public trust by being transparent and accountable and it did not jeopardize our ongoing investigation.”

The AJC received the footage Friday in response to an open records request. The harrowing video appears to show one officer stumble outside the home as Williams chases after him with the knife. A second officer fired a single shot and Williams is seen falling to the ground before getting back up and running away.

Body camera footage appears to show Matthew Williams run toward police with a knife before he was killed.
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Body camera footage appears to show Matthew Williams run toward police with a knife before he was killed.

Credit: DeKalb County Police Department

Credit: DeKalb County Police Department

“I don’t want you to die today,” one officer can be heard telling Williams during the subsequent standoff. “Put the knife down.”

Williams’ mother and sisters questioned the police department’s account of events following the fatal shooting and asked investigators to release the bodycam footage so they could see for themselves what happened.

ExploreFamily demands answers after DeKalb man shot, killed by police

After viewing the video, family attorney Mawuli Davis said it was clear Williams was experiencing a “mental health crisis” during the deadly encounter with police.

DeKalb police responded to the complex off Snapfinger Woods Drive about 4 p.m. after a woman called 911 twice to report a suspicious man outside her home, according to recordings released Friday.

“There’s a very suspicious man who’s been lurking around the woods around my house,” the woman told dispatchers in the first call. “We can’t see what he’s doing and I don’t want to go outside ... I don’t know if he’s armed or not ... I think he’s homeless. But he’s kind of just lurking in the woods and going in and out of his pockets around our house.”

She called back later saying the man approached her with a knife as she walked to her car, and asked the police to send someone quickly.

Police had received a call about a "suspicious man" with a knife.
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Police had received a call about a "suspicious man" with a knife.

Credit: DeKalb County Police Department

Credit: DeKalb County Police Department

The GBI said Williams still had the knife when officers encountered him outside the home and lunged at them, prompting the initial shooting. Video from the encounter shows an officer identifying himself and asking Williams several times if he lived at the home, which officers believed was vacant. The knife wasn’t visible when police first arrived.

“If you don’t live here, man, I’m kindly asking you to leave the property, all right? And be on your way, OK? Can you do that for me?” the officer asks him. That’s when Williams appears to pull out the knife and chase after him, causing the officer to trip over some steps and fall.

A second officer fired a single shot, but it’s unclear if she hit Williams, who stood back up and ran away. After being told several times to drop the weapon, Williams managed to scurry onto his roof, kick out a glass window and dive into his bedroom as police surrounded the home.

ExploreGBI: Man fatally shot by DeKalb police after lunging at officers with knife

After Williams went back inside, officers kicked open his door with their guns drawn. Bodycam video appears to show the man crouching behind an ottoman as officers tell him repeatedly to drop the weapon.

The video appears to show Williams crouched behind an ottoman as officers plead with him to drop his knife.
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The video appears to show Williams crouched behind an ottoman as officers plead with him to drop his knife.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

“He’s behind the ottoman, and in his hand, you see the sliver of the blue knife,” Ramos told Channel 2 as she reviewed the footage.

The video appears to show officers kick the door open a second time and fire a single shot into the home. They also apparently tried to use a Taser to subdue Williams, but investigators said it was ineffective.

After repeated attempts to get Williams to come out peacefully, one officer can be heard begging him to drop the knife and bring the standoff to an end.

“Let me see you throw (the knife) down. You throw it down, we’ll put our stuff down,” the officer tells him. “Can you do that for us, please? Please, sir. I’m begging you. You’re a Black man. I’m a Black man. You don’t have to die today.”

Williams can be heard telling police it’s his property and that he lives there.

Police eventually fired what sounded like three shots into the home, according to bodycam video and a witness at the scene. After the shooting, the officers appeared to holster their guns and walk away from the door.

Davis, the attorney for Williams’ family, said they are grateful police released the footage, which he said “changes the narrative” and paints a clear picture of what happened.

“It answered a lot of questions and it even contradicted some of what the witnesses that we interviewed told us,” Davis said. “This is very helpful for the family and they acknowledge that what they saw was their brother, their loved one, having a mental health crisis that they had never seen before.”

He also admitted that the officers who first encountered Williams should have feared for their lives.

While there’s no question that Williams attacked police with the knife outside the home, Davis questioned the officers’ decision to shoot at him while he was barricaded inside.

“Once Mr. Williams entered his home, why did the officers decide they had to kick the door in and shoot him?” Davis asked. “They could have waited and got a negotiator and mental health expert, or even the family, to come talk to him — to help address these issues that he was clearly having.”

In a statement released Friday morning, Williams’ family expressed sympathy for the officer he lunged at with the knife. But they argued the 35-year-old was no longer a threat when he went back inside his home and said the situation should have been handled differently, calling his killing “senseless.”

“My brother continuously told the officers that he was in his own home,” Hahnah Williams said. “He was not a threat to anyone when he was killed!!!”

Williams’ family also wonders if he would still be alive had he received medical attention sooner. The man’s body was found inside when the SWAT team arrived and entered the home, according to the GBI.

Ramos said the video makes it clear Williams had a knife and that the officers “did the best they could in communicating with him.”

“It’s a sad day when we have to end our day this way,” Ramos told Channel 2. “But we also know that it’s a sad day for Mr. Williams’ family and we will do all we can to make sure that we do a thorough, clear and fair investigation.”