• APD officer's body camera not turned on when community activist killed

    By: Raisa Habersham, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Updated:

    ATLANTA - The bare bones of an Atlanta Police Department incident report reveal next to nothing about an officer-involved shooting that killed community activist Oscar Cain.

    “I, Officer (Marquee) Kelley, discharged my city issued 9-mm Glock ... at a suspect at 501 Connelle (sic) Avenue,” reads part of the three sentence report. More information about the shooting should have come from Kelley’s body camera -- but he never turned it on.

    After the March 31 shooting, Atlanta police took Kelley’s city-issued Glock and placed him on a three-day leave, which is standard after an officer fires a weapon.

    Kelley was then placed on administrative duty -- before any investigation into the shooting was complete, and before Cain’s family had buried him.

    Atlanta police Chief Erika Shields initially intended to return Kelley to full duty but decided against it. It is not clear when she reversed her decision. 

    “After careful consideration, she felt that was in the best interest of the investigation and of all parties involved,” Atlanta police spokesman Carlos Campos said in a statement late Monday.

    Jacqueline Sanders buried her 32-year-old son, Oscar, after Kelley’s return to work.

    “I have my breakdowns, I do a lot of crying, praying,” she said. “My family has been calling me checking up on me. They’ve been with me.”

    QUESTIONS UNANSWERED

    Cain was shot and killed after he showed a gun during a chase with Kelley, who was patrolling the area outside Goldrush Showbar on Metropolitan Parkway, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

    According to the GBI, a citizen flagged down Kelley about an armed person, later identified as Cain, near the northbound I-85 ramp.

    When Kelley attempted to arrest him, Cain ran into a wooded area on Connell Avenue, a residential area behind the Southwest Atlanta strip club.

    “Cain did not comply with verbal commands and during the incident, Cain reportedly brandished a firearm,” GBI spokeswoman Natalie Ammons said in a statement at the time of the shooting. “The officer discharged his weapon, fatally wounding Cain. A firearm was found at the scene.” The GBI did not provide further details about the case.

    As is routine in officer-involved shootings, the GBI was asked to investigate the circumstances. It could be months before the GBI completes its inquiry, according to GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles. The Atlanta police also are conducting an internal investigation of the shooting.

    Without any body-camera footage, questions on the circumstances of the shooting linger: Did Cain aim his gun at Officer Kelley? The GBI said he “brandished” a gun. Did he fire any shots? The Atlanta police report does not indicate how many shell casings were found at the scene. Those key questions could reveal if Kelley was justified in firing at Cain.

    The lack of body camera footage revives earlier issues Atlanta police have had with body cameras. A 2018 audit found the Atlanta Police Department’s officers routinely failed to turn them on. The audit looked at a random sample of 150 videos from Atlanta police officers’ body cameras and found in more than half the cases, officers failed to activate and deactivate their cameras at the required time.

    The department has since changed its policies to require that body-worn cameras be on from the start to the end of a call. This shooting, however, prompted Shields to ask for a body-worn camera system that automatically activates the camera when an officer unholsters their firearm.

    “It’s imperative that use-of-force incidents be captured for trust and transparency purposes,” Campos said. “In a stressful or volatile situation, it may be difficult or impossible for an officer to activate the camera on their own. We are working with our current vendor, Axon, to add an automatic capability to the current body-worn cameras.”

    FATHER AND ACTIVIST

    Before the shooting, attorney for the family Mawuli Davis said Cain was working to get his life on the right track. Cain was a father of two -- Sky, 9, and Malicha, 13.

    According to the Atlanta Police Department, Cain had 19 interactions with police dating back to November 2006. He was convicted in four of those cases, including violations of aggravated assault, burglary, false imprisonment, cocaine possession, and obstruction charges, according to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.

    Sanders said she doesn’t know too much about Cain’s run-ins with police but said her son made efforts to improve himself.

    “Whatever he did or didn’t do, he didn’t share with (the family) because he didn’t want us to worry,” Sanders said.

    “Oscar, like many people, had his share of challenges,” Davis told the AJC, “but at his core, he was a good person concerned about his community and interested in improving it and not harming.”

    Cain was unemployed but found work as a community activist. One of the organizations he was involved in was The Legal Young Voters Education Fund, where he met organizer Carey Jenkins.

    “He said that he wanted to be someone that people admired and respect,” Jenkins said of the 2010 meeting. “He wanted to be an amazing father, so his (children) didn’t have to struggle.”

    From there, Jenkins gave him his first job as a co-field director, where Cain traveled the United States advocating for voting rights. The last time Jenkins saw Cain was in January 2015, when he learned Cain became an advocate for police body-worn cameras.

    “It’s really sad that someone who organized and fought for police accountability and body cameras ends up dead at the hands of law enforcement and there are no body cameras,” Davis said. “It’s tragically ironic.”

    OFFICER SAFETY

    Officer Marquee Kelley joined the Atlanta Police Department as a sworn cadet in June 2016 and became a sworn officer in January 2017. He is a mobile patrol officer in Zone 3, which sits in southeast Atlanta and covers the Grant Park, Lakewood, and Peoplestown neighborhoods.

    Before the shooting, Kelley was already the subject of an internal APD investigation into whether he violated the Atlanta police department’s vehicle pursuit policy. Details of the investigation, which is still open, have not been released but they are tied to two car crashes in which Kelley was found at fault.
    On, Sept. 17, 2017, Kelley crashed his patrol car into that of a suspect during a pursuit.

    He was suspended for a day. A month later, Kelley ran a red light while making a left turn and hit a car in the intersection of Metropolitan Parkway and Fair Drive. Kelley was canvassing the area for a stolen vehicle at the time of the Oct. 16, 2017 crash. He was given a written reprimand.

    Kelley’s latest incident points to difficulties officers can have when activating their body-worn camera. President of the Cobb Fraternal Order of Police Sgt. Steve Gaynor said many departments use body-worn cameras that automatically turn on but others must make the decision on when to turn them on.

    “If it’s a situation where you’re dispatched to a call, most (officers) would turn them on,” he said. “If you’re working a Braves game and someone’s walking up to you and asking a question you likely won’t turn the camera on.”

    Gaynor said an officer’s safety should still be the main concern.

    “Certainly a body camera serves a purpose, but it can’t save your life,” Gaynor said.

    The fact Kelley remains on the force is still troubling to those close to Cain: “We need to know why his camera wasn’t on,” Jenkins said. “That’s my concern.”

    Davis said he and his firm are investigating Cain’s shooting and asking for anyone to come forward with tips.

    “He had children who he wanted to see a different kind of world for -- a world different for what he had growing up and different from what he experienced growing up,” Davis said.

    This article was written by Raisa Habersham, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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