2 Investigates: Georgians killed at home by police

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined nearly 170 cases of Georgians shot and killed by police in the past five years. Roughly 40 percent were shot at their own home or a relative's home.

"If you can't feel safe in your own home, when can you be safe?" said attorney James Dearing, who has represented officers and families of those who've been shot. "It is troubling. You should be able to call the police to your home and not feel that death is going to result."

Records show nearly half of the cases in which someone was shot at home actually started with a call for help.

"Please don't hurt her."

There's no question Lori Renee Knowles called 911 for help.

"I took too many pills, and I need help right now," she's heard screaming into the phone during her 911 call in July 2014.

Her husband Ken was rushing to their Henry County home to help her, and also called 911.

"She is bipolar and she takes medication. She told me she took too much of her medication," Ken pleaded. "Please don't hurt her."

But his pleas were too late. Police had already shot his wife, just seconds before his call. They had forced their way into the home when Lori didn't answer the door. She had a gun at her side.

"The officers tried to get her to comply with orders to show her hands, but she made an offensive movement towards the weapon," said Henry County police Capt. Joey Smith.

The next day, Lori's uncle, James Bell, told Channel 2 Action News, "We love her very much. We want to know what happened to her and why she's dead today."

"He called to be protected and served. Instead they came in and they killed him."

Kevin Davis called 911 last December after a roommate attacked his girlfriend. He asked for an ambulance and police.

"He called to get help. He called to be protected and served. Instead, they came in and they killed him," said DeLisa Davis, Kevin's sister.

The DeKalb County police officer says no one answered when he knocked, so he opened the apartment door and that's when Kevin's three-legged pit bull, Tooter, ran out.

The officer shot the dog, and then moments later shot Kevin, who had grabbed his own gun thinking the attacker had returned.

Kevin was still on the phone with 911 when he was shot. He died days later in the hospital.

"We were devastated, said DeLisa, "Why didn't you give him an opportunity to drop the gun? He's in his own home."

Several of those killed had committed no crime, and had no weapon.

Dwight Person was visiting his nephew in 2011 when East Point police raided the residence looking for drugs. They say Person made a threatening gesture. The 54-year-old veteran was unarmed.

Christopher Roupe's only crime was answering the door with a video game controller in his hand. Euharlee police were looking for his dad.

Roughly half of those shot at home were experiencing some sort of mental break or were suicidal.

"Our whole world died."

Tenisha Felio called 911 in December 2010 and asked for police to come to her Lawrenceville home. Earlier that week, her husband James had suddenly turned violent after six years of marriage.

"It scared me because I'd never seen him that way, ever," Felio recounted, "I called for them to help him. I'm OK, I'm fine."

He had been abusing her on and off for hours earlier that night. She wanted him to have a mental evaluation and waited for him to fall asleep to ease the police encounter.

Two Lawrenceville police officers arrived and spoke with her. But within 10 minutes of waking James, police shot him, saying he tried to grab an officer's gun.

"They killed a man in front of his wife, in his home," said Tenisha. "It's like life is not valued. Life can change in a second. You lose your whole world."

"Is that how they deal with things here?"

"Who killed him? Who shot him?" James Clark's father shouted at Gwinnett police in pure anguish.

Earlier that day, James had tried to kill himself after a romantic breakup. A friend called 911 for help.

"He told me to leave right now, it's not safe for me to be there, and I'm worried about him," Andy Demuth said in his call.

When police arrived, James sat in his driveway with a gun at his side.Police repeatedly ordered him to drop the weapon. He stood and walked toward police, and they shot him.

"Something occurred where the officers felt threatened," said Cpl. Jake Smith.

Police released a photo of a rifle found at the scene. Another of James' friends who was present for the encounter told the family James was actually holding a BB gun.

"Let's shoot a suicidal person, is that how they deal with things here?" James' brother, Robert Clark, told Channel 2 Action News at the scene.

Police arrested James' brother and father for disorderly conduct that night, prosecutors eventually dismissed the charges.

James' mother Jeanne Clark says his family will never understand, "He was my baby, he was my youngest son."

In all of the cases Channel 2 and the AJC examined, none have led to criminal charges against an officer. A few of the more recent cases are still under review.

In many of the cases, the officers clearly had no choice but to shoot. In several, the suspect fired at officers first. In some cases, officers were injured or even killed.

In about two dozen cases, the suspects were in the middle of committing crimes; some violent crimes. Another dozen of those killed were wanted on warrants.

Experts say entering an unfamiliar home is one of the most dangerous things an officer can do.

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