Atlanta police chief fires officer after man dies during arrest
The chief said the officer broke policy by not waiting for a supervisor to arrive after the man refused to sign a traffic citation
By Alexis Stevens
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — An Atlanta police officer should have obliged when a church deacon asked to talk with a supervisor instead of signing a ticket after a minor crash. Instead, the officer attempted to arrest the 62-year-old and eventually deployed his Taser, leading to the man’s death, according to investigators.
Two months later, that decision cost the officer his job.
Chief Darin Schierbaum announced Tuesday that Officer Kiran Kimbrough had been fired for violating the department’s policy when he attempted to arrest Johnny Hollman in August. Investigators have said Hollman was determined to be the at-fault driver in the crash and became agitated when the officer tried to cite him.
“Every single person and life in the City of Atlanta matters to me,” Schierbaum said in a news release. “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. 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. Only after a diligent review of all of the facts, while ensuring the due process of our officers, do I arrive at my decision.”
But Hollman’s family said it is just a first step. During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, the family’s attorney, Mawuli Davis, called for Kimbrough to be booked into the Fulton County Jail.
“If that’s where criminals go, that’s where he’s gotta go,” Davis said.
Hollman was driving his Chevrolet pickup truck north on Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard and attempted to make a left turn onto Cunningham Place as another driver was turning right onto Joseph E. Lowery, according to the police report. Hollman is accused of making the turn too sharply and striking the front of the other vehicle, the report states.
Kimbrough responded to the scene after Hollman and the other driver called 911. The officer determined that Hollman was at fault, and officials said he became agitated when Kimbrough tried to issue him a citation.
Hollman asked to speak with a supervisor, but Kimbrough continued to try to arrest him, the deacon’s family has said. Kimbrough then used a Taser on him, and Hollman was handcuffed with the help of a witness. At that point, Kimbrough noticed Hollman was unresponsive, the GBI said. He was pronounced dead at Grady Memorial Hospital.
The announcement of the officer’s firing came one day after Hollman’s family met with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to discuss the case. The family has requested that body camera footage of the incident be released, but Atlanta police said that cannot happen until the GBI investigation is completed. The state agency was requested to assist with the investigation because it involved the use of force.
Hollman’s death has already sparked a change within the department. After Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens ordered a review of the arrest, APD altered its policy on signatures.
“As a result of that review, there have been updates to the standard operating procedures of APD regarding traffic citations, to allow officers to write ‘refusal to sign’ in the signature line, rather than make an arrest,” police spokesman Sgt. John Chafee said. Chafee said signing a citation is not an admission of guilt.
At a news conference on the courthouse steps Monday afternoon, Hollman’s family said the purpose of their meeting with Willis was two-fold: to give her a chance to meet Hollman’s children, and to ask how long it might take her to reach a charging decision.
“He was a father, a grandfather, a deacon, and he did not deserve to die the way that he did,” Davis said.
The family was able to view body camera footage about a month after Hollman’s death.
“The only thing that we think the public should conclude is that the reason it hasn’t been released is because it’s damaging to the narrative,” Davis said. “The only person on that video who was out of control — that we saw — was Officer Kimbrough.”
For the family, the officer’s termination isn’t enough.
”When we read the police chief’s statement telling us what the basis of that termination was, quite frankly, we were a little deflated,” attorney Harold Spence said Tuesday.
Spence called the statement “technical gamesmanship” and said it felt dishonest to link Kimbrough’s firing to a breach of protocol rather than the loss of Hollman’s life.
The officer, who had no law enforcement experience prior to joining Atlanta police, was hired by the department in March 2021. According to an APD report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kimbrough has a prior disciplinary record that includes being suspended one day for a vehicle crash and being reprimanded following three separate complaints from citizens.
Kimbrough’s firing comes after the Atlanta Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards investigated the incident. In a statement sent to Channel 2 Action News, an attorney for Kimbrough said he denies he did anything wrong.
“Officer K. Kimbrough vehemently denies any wrongdoing or policy violations in connection with the investigation, detention and arrest of Mr. Johnny Hollman,” Lance LoRusso said. “He will appeal his termination reportedly predicated upon his failure to call for a supervisor when Mr. Hollman refused to sign a lawfully issued citation as he was legally obligated to do.”
Hollman’s death was ruled a homicide, caused by a combination of the officer’s Taser and heart disease, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office. According to the autopsy report, Hollman was “unresponsive from the time that the energy device was deployed.”
Hollman also had underlying conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and obesity, which the medical examiner determined contributed to his death.
After the incident, Hollman’s truck was impounded and found to contain nine bags of marijuana, about 28 grams of an unknown substance, 20 clear bags, a scale, a gun and other personal items, according to the police report. The document does not state if a DUI test was performed at the scene or if Hollman appeared to be under the influence.
Davis said the gun found in the vehicle did not belong to Hollman, but instead to one of his grandsons. The attorney added that Hollman shared the vehicle with multiple people in his family, and the drugs seized were not his and had “nothing to do with the officer tasing him, ultimately leading to his death.”
According to toxicology findings included in Hollman’s autopsy report, his blood tested positive for THC, the main component of marijuana. THC can appear on a drug test several days or even months after it is ingested, according to WebMD. The average detection time for the drug to show up in blood tests is three hours to two days, the medical website states.
Rev. Shannon Jones, president of the Concerned Black Clergy, said additional events were planned for supporters in the coming weeks. Those include a justice revival at the First Iconium Baptist Church in East Atlanta Village on Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Activists are also planning a march from the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park to City Hall on Oct. 21 at 11 a.m., Jones said.
“Me and my family, we’re suffering. We’re hurting,” said Arnitra Hollman, Johnny Hollman’s daughter. “We’re crying, and we’re crying out. We want the community to continue to rally around us and we want justice for our father.”
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writers Shaddi Abusaid and Henri Hollis contributed to this article.)
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