Georgia Bureau of Investigation reopens investigation of 2011 Union City police shooting



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ATLANTA — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has reopened its probe into the shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old killed by a police officer south of Atlanta, an agency spokeswoman said Monday.

An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (http://on-ajc.com/1Eevhja) and WSB-TV (http://bit.ly/1GhJUrU) raised questions about how Union City police Officer Luther Lewis shot Ariston Waiters the night of Dec. 14, 2011.

A grand jury in 2012 declined to indict Lewis, but Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said he's re-examining the case in light of new details in reports by the newspaper and TV station.

"The case has been reopened at the request of the DA, and we've conducted additional interviews with the officers who claim to have additional information about the incident," GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang told The Associated Press on Monday. "And we are doing that in conjunction with the district attorney's office."

No one witnessed Lewis shooting Waiters twice in the back at close range while handcuffing him as he lay face down on the ground, authorities said.

"I think Mr. Waiters died senselessly and his family deserves some closure," Union City police Officer Chris McElroy told the Atlanta newspaper and TV station. McElroy was the supervising lieutenant when he arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting.

Lewis was represented by lawyer Al Dixon when the grand jury heard the case.

"I'm kind of surprised all of this has come up now because it was thoroughly investigated at the time," Dixon told The Associated Press on Monday. "It was a 10-hour grand jury hearing. They put up a lot of testimony, a lot of evidence, all their experts."

He said federal investigators looked at this case too, and declined to prosecute.

Lewis and his partner, Thomas Ledford, had responded to reports of teenagers fighting and gunshots. Lewis told authorities he saw Waiters flee the area, so the officer followed him into the woods, drew his gun and ordered the teenager to get on the ground.

Lewis was standing next to Waiters, who was face-down with his hands cuffed behind his back when McElroy arrived, McElroy later told investigators. Waiters was gasping for breath every 15 to 30 seconds "like a goldfish out of water," McElroy recalled.

McElroy said Lewis told him he shot Waiters because he couldn't get the teen's hands out from under him and he thought he might have a gun, McElroy later told Fulton County investigators. Lewis said nothing about a struggle for his gun at the time, McElroy told the investigators.

McElroy said after he returned to the Union City police headquarters, he learned from Union City police Chief Chuck Odom that Lewis said the teen struggled for his gun. Odom declined to answer questions for the Journal-Constitution and WSB stories.

McElroy also says the Georgia Bureau of Investigation never interviewed him.

McElroy wasn't interviewed because he wasn't at the scene when the shooting occurred, Lang said. He was interviewed by investigators with the district attorney's office about two months later, she said.

Union City conducted no internal investigation of its own, the Atlanta newspaper reported. The Union City police didn't immediately respond to messages from AP on Monday.

Two GBI officers interviewed Lewis about what happened and asked Lewis to re-enact the scene.

In a videotape of the re-enactment, Lewis described how he put a knee between Waiters' shoulders, grabbed his hands and radioed that he had a suspect in custody.

Then he handcuffed Waiters' left hand, he said. But when Lewis tried to cuff his right hand, Waiters was able to break free and slide his right hand underneath him, Lewis said. When Lewis couldn't pull the hand out, he thought Waiters was going for a gun.

His left hand still cuffed behind his back and still on his stomach, Waiters grabbed Lewis' gun with his right hand and started to twist the gun back toward Lewis, Lewis said.

"That's when my soul went white," Lewis said. "That's when I knew I was losing my gun and that's when I knew I was fixing to die by my gun tonight. And I knew I wasn't going to let that happen, anything I could do to not have that happen."

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