ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has learned that around 170 officers called out sick in the hours and days following the Fulton County district attorney’s decision to charge the officers involved in the deadly shooting of Rayshard Brooks.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr obtained the records for what has been dubbed the “Blue Flu.” The bulk of them arrived Thursday.
What’s clear from the documents is that most of the officers called in sick last Friday and that most of them worked downtown, where the center of protests have been.
“The city’s response, I recall early on, seems like they downplayed those numbers. The public should know that’s a significant amount of police officers who did not come to work during that time period,” retired Atlanta police Detective Vince Velasquez said.
Carr received the 52 pages of attendance sheets for the Atlanta Police Department, which show 171 officers called out sick between Wednesday and Saturday.
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It’s the best look to date of the so-called Blue Flu protest — a moniker for police protests following the charges filed against two Atlanta police officers in the Brooks deadly shooting.
One of the officers is facing felony murder. For the other at the center of controversy, his legal team denied he’s serving as a state’s witness.
“That’s something I’ve never seen in my career,” Velasquez said.
On Friday, Atlanta was missing 90 police officers on the streets due to a sickout status. About half of them came from Zone 5, which covers most of downtown and the center of city protests against police brutality.
“Some officers have flatly told me that they’re afraid to go to work and to answer a call and commit to a process and feel like they’re doing the right thing, feel like they’re doing their jobs, and then face not just disciplinary action, but prosecution,” Velasquez said. “This is a unique case because some of the charges that were brought up with these officers were policy violations that were turned into oath-of-office crimes that were alleged by the DA, and some of these things are completely foreign to all of us.”
As the fallout continued during the week, we could hear silent scanners.
Both Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and interim police Chief Rodney Bryant assured the public that serious 911 calls would not go unanswered.
“We have not given up on this city,” Bryant said Saturday, following what we now know to be the highest volume of officer sickout calls.
“It definitely seems like a lot. Out of the norm. Unusual. Obviously, with the circumstances currently going on, it’s definitely understandable what’s going on. I’m not completely surprised,” said Ava Arjmand, who lives in the police department’s Zone 5.
Arjmand told Carr that she understands last week’s sickouts, but hopes this doesn’t become a pattern that would drive her to lawmakers.
“I can’t go out and force people to go to work every day. It’s just an oath they take and, hopefully, they stick by that oath and protect the residents and do their jobs, just like everybody else in any other industry goes to work every day and puts a smile on their face and continues to get their jobs done,” Arjmand said. “It’s dangerous right now. And as we all work through this as a country, as a state or as a city on how to reform, it’s hard to remain positive. It’s hard to remain safe, and I mean for both sides. Not just police officers, but people who are affected by police brutality. But people have to understand that police officers are concerned with that and calling in sick is not … it’s foreign. It’s something that police departments are not accustomed to police officers doing.”
Carr has put in requests to city leaders and APD for a response to the numbers. So far, she has not heard back from any of them, but she still has records pending to give us a sense of what happened since the end of last weekend.
As of Thursday evening, APD said it has had five officers dismissed, five officers retire, and 10 officers resign so far in the month of June. The May records show eight officers have resigned. We know that the shift with the protests didn’t start until May 29.
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