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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Council calls for release of body camera footage in Atlanta deacon’s death

By Riley Bunch - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,


Atlanta City Council members are joining calls for the release of body camera footage of Johnny Hollman’s death after the 62-year-old became unresponsive while being taken into police custody and later died at the hospital.

The incident took place in August when Hollman, an Atlanta deacon, was involved in a car wreck in southwest Atlanta. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Hollman and an officer got into a physical struggle when he refused to comply with the officer’s commands, at which point an officer used a Taser on him.

The GBI is investigating the officer’s use of force and has asked the Atlanta Police Department not to release the body camera footage until the state agency’s investigation is complete. But calls have mounted from Hollman’s family, Atlanta residents and, now, the City Council for the full video to be released.

“Please release the video so that the world can see how my father was killed in these Atlanta streets that he helped build,” Myteka Burdett, one of Hollman’s five children, said to the council Monday.

City Council members passed a resolution Monday unanimously urging the mayor’s office and the Atlanta Police Department to release footage of the police response to the Aug. 10 car crash which ultimately resulted in Hollman’s death.

“The Hollman family’s resolve and commitment to justice for Deacon Johnny Hollman Sr. is unwavering,” Mawuli Davis, the family’s attorney, said in a statement. “While they are grateful that their cries for justice have been heard today by the Atlanta City Council, they will not relent until the false narrative about their father is countered with the truth.”

Despite mounting pressure, city officials maintain that they cannot release the footage until the GBI has finished its homicide investigation.

“Under the open records act, there is an exception which means that the tape cannot be released and they have asked that it not be released until such time as that investigation has concluded,” said Atlanta City Attorney Nina Hickson.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said he’s been in contact with the Hollman family and supports the video being released once the investigation is complete.

“Make no mistake, I want this footage out in the public sphere quickly and have asked for options to expedite that process without compromising any investigation that will ensure justice is served,” he said in a statement.

Family members said the city allowed them to watch five minutes of the unreleased footage — less than a third of the time one of his daughters said she spent on the phone with her father while he was being restrained.

Arnitra Fallins said Hollman had just left her house after Bible study. But a family rule to always call for help when during police encounters meant she’d spend more than 17 minutes listening to the incident between Hollman and officers as she frantically drove to the scene.

Fallins said she couldn’t bring herself to watch even the five minutes of video that police provided.

“17 minutes and 46 seconds I could hear my daddy, begging, telling them he couldn’t breathe,” she said. “...We can’t move, until that video is released, we can’t move.”

Credit: Michael Blackshire

Critics of the police department’s decision to withhold the footage have drawn comparisons between Hollman’s death and that of environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, who was fatally shot by a state trooper earlier this year on the site of the planned public safety training center in unincorporated DeKalb County.

Authorities have said Teran shot at police first, wounding a state trooper during a “clearing operation” to remove protesters camped out in the woods surrounding the site.

The Atlanta Police Department released its own body camera footage from the Jan. 18 incident, though it doesn’t show the actual shooting. Members of the Georgia State Patrol are not equipped with body cameras.

But a letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from the GBI instructed Atlanta police Chief Darin Scheirbaum not to release any additional audio or video, pending the investigation into the activist’s death.

Another letter sent a day later from the Office of the Attorney General to city lawyers confirms that even if the Atlanta Police Department does not have its own open investigation, it can still deny open records requests pending investigations and even criminal prosecutions by outside agencies.

Atlanta police said Hollman’s refusal to sign a traffic citation led to his physical arrest. But the incident sparked a change in policy and now, officers are able to write “refused to sign” on the citation instead of taking an individual into custody.

The department also confirmed the officer involved has a disciplinary hearing this week.

“We all want justice,” a spokesperson for the department said. “There are policies and procedures in place to ensure a proper and thorough investigation as well as due process in the upcoming administrative hearing.

Staff writers Shaddi Abusaid and Jozsef Papp contributed to this article.

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