An investigation launched by the Atlanta Journal Constitution has revealed that roughly half of the 184 individuals killed by Georgia police since 2010 were either unarmed or shot in the back.
Along with Channel 2 News, the paper conducted more than 100 interviews, and reviewed thousands of pages of incident reports, investigative files, court records, and other public documents.
The undertaking has been heralded as the most comprehensive review of police shootings in the history of state – which have never been properly tracked or recorded by state or federal agencies.
According to the AJC, the findings of the study show:
- About one in six people fatally shot were unarmed. Of those 31 cases, 17 people were black and 14 were white. That represented 19 percent of all black shootings and 16 percent of all white shootings.
- In 18 cases, the person killed was shot solely in the back of their torso, neck, head or buttocks. In 52 other cases, they were shot in the backside, but also suffered wounds in other parts of the body.
- In at least 11 fatal police shooting cases since 2010, the person shot by police was both unarmed and shot in the back. Seven people killed in this manner were black, four were white.
- At least one in four of those killed by police had shown some signs of mental illness before the fatal encounter. About one in three whites fell into that category, compared to about one in five blacks. About 16 percent killed were veterans, but that figure could be higher because service records could not be determined for every death.
- Black citizens killed tended to be younger, with a median age of 29, while white citizens tended to be older, with a median age of 41. Only 9 of the 184 killed were women.
- At least 20 officers involved in fatal shootings had serious prior issues documented in their records. Four had previously been fired or resigned in lieu of termination from a previous police job in Georgia. Officers in two other shootings had been disciplined for lying. And two officers had failed to complete state-mandated annual use-of-force training to maintain their powers of arrest at the time they fatally shot someone.
In addition, it was reported in July that one-third of the fatal Georgia police shootings up until that point, involved people shot at their own home, often after cops responded to a call for help or a domestic dispute.
“So many of these cases involve somebody being shot in the back. It’s very, very troubling,” police shooting expert Philip Stinson said. “I can think of some very, very limited circumstances where it would be legally appropriate, but it’s rare circumstances… You can’t just shoot somebody that’s running away from you.”
The results of the investigation fly in the face of the fact that every fatal Georgia police shooting that has occurred since 2010 has been deemed lawful in the states criminal justice system without a single officer being successfully prosecuted.
The majority of the 184 killings did involve individuals who were threatening officers or others with guns and other weapons, but even when shootings appeared questionable, the officers got off scot-free.
Many blame the special privileges cops receive in the state, as Georgia officers are the only ones in the country that are allowed to be in the grand jury room throughout the entire proceedings against them.
As such, this allows them to hear all of the evidence presented in the case and to close out their proceedings with a statement that can not be questioned by prosecutors or grand jurors – which some prosecutors say hinders the justice process. Private citizens do not enjoy such privileges.
A proposal expected to head before the state General Assembly next year will seek to hamper some of these special privileges by allowing officers to be questioned and cross-examined after testifying.
“This has to do with the integrity of the grand jury process,” said State Rep. Rich Golick, who chairs a judiciary committee in the General Assembly, in reference to the proposal. “Right now, we have a framework that allows for the possibility, the potential, for that process to be compromised or unduly influenced in one direction. That’s something we can’t live with.”