Atlanta police chief fires officer after traffic stop led to Black deacon’s death

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ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta’s police chief on Tuesday fired an officer who shocked a 62-year-old Black church deacon with a stun gun during a dispute over a traffic ticket, leading to the man’s death.

Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said Officer Kiran Kimbrough didn’t follow department procedures Aug. 10 when he didn’t wait until a supervisor arrived to arrest Johnny Hollman Sr. The chief said he decided to fire Kimbrough after an internal investigation concluded Monday.

“Part of my job is to assess, evaluate, and adjust how this police department is carrying out its sworn mission to serve and protect the citizens of this city,” Schierbaum said in a statement. “I understand the difficult and dangerous job that our officers do each and every day throughout the city. I do not arrive at these decisions lightly.”

Schierbaum’s decision comes days before video that Kimbrough’s body camera recorded of his interactions with Hollman could be released. Mawuli Davis, a lawyer for the Hollman family, said Monday that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told him and relatives during a meeting that the video would be publicly released as soon as Willis concludes that all witnesses have been interviewed. That could be as soon as Thursday.

Kimbrough had been on administrative leave. His attorney, Lance LoRusso, said in a statement Tuesday that Kimbrough “vehemently denies any wrongdoing or policy violations” and plans to appeal his firing.

“Our client is a decorated law enforcement officer and looks forward to the release of the entire investigation,” LoRusso said. “The loss of any life is tragic. However, Officer Kimbrough’s actions in detaining Mr. Hollman and making a lawful arrest did not cause Mr. Hollman’s death.”

Kimbrough, who is Black, was hired as an Atlanta police cadet in March 2021 and became a police officer that October, according to Georgia Peace Officer Standards & Training Council records. Those records show he had no disciplinary history.

Relatives of Hollman have seen the video and contend Kimbrough should be charged with murder. Davis said he expects any decision on criminal charges by Willis to take months.

Hollman became unresponsive while being arrested after a minor car crash. Relatives say Hollman, a church deacon, was driving home from Bible study at his daughter’s house and bringing dinner to his wife when he collided with another vehicle while turning across a busy street just west of downtown Atlanta.

Police didn’t arrive until Hollman and the second driver had waited more than an hour.

The police department has said Kimbrough shocked Hollman with a stun gun and handcuffed him after Hollman “became agitated and uncooperative” when Kimbrough issued a ticket finding him at fault for the wreck. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Kimbrough and Hollman struggled physically before Kimbrough shocked Hollman.

Schierbaum said Tuesday that Hollman “failed to sign” the citation, but Davis has said the video will show Hollman repeatedly agreed to sign at some point, calling that a “false narrative.” Atlanta police officials have since ruled that officers should write “refusal to sign” on a traffic ticket instead of arresting someone who won’t sign.

Hollman’s death has contributed to discontent with police among some Atlantans that centers on a proposal to build a large public safety training facility.

“Every single person and life in the City of Atlanta matters to me,” Schierbaum said.

An autopsy determined that Hollman’s death was a homicide, although the medical examiner found that heart disease also contributed to it.

Medical examiner Dr. Melissa Sims-Stanley said that based on a review of the video and a conversation with a GBI investigator, she concluded that Hollman was unresponsive after he was stunned, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Davis said Hollman tried to tell the officer that he had asthma and couldn’t breathe.

Hollman’s daughter, Arnitra Hollman, has said her father called her on the phone and she listened for more than 17 minutes, eventually going to the location of the wreck.

The Atlanta City Council last week called on the city to release the video from the incident. Nelly Miles, a GBI spokesperson, described that agency’s inquiry as “active and ongoing” on Tuesday. She said the GBI and prosecutors work together to determine if video can be released before a case goes to court.

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