ATLANTA — We’re getting a new look at the incident that led to a Georgia State Patrol trooper shooting and killing a man in a stolen car.
Records indicate the trooper fired because he feared for his life, suggesting he was scared he might not get out of the way of a stolen vehicle in time.
Meanwhile, the family of AJ Smyrna, the man who was killed, had been waiting months over whether a video that authorities have not released might provide them with some answers.
“It’s haunting me because I don’t know how his life was taken,” Smyrna’s mother, Ingrid Smyrna, said. “I don’t know what happened. I want to see it, so I can see how my son’s life was taken.”
“In the times that we are in, if a video could justify someone’s actions, why won’t you?” Smyrna’s brother, Orwin Massiah, said.
“I have a lot of questions. I want to know why my son was shot,” Smyrna’s father, Andrew Smyrna Sr., said.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne filed an open records request early on after Smyrna was shot and killed by Georgia State Patrol Trooper first class Brandon Byrd.
Smyrna was shot while driving an alleged stolen car on Jan. 23. Records show that Smyrna was driving the car toward Byrd when the trooper opened fire on Smyrna.
Through the open records request, Winne has obtained the Department of Public Safety’s internal investigation records, which included videos.
However, while those videos appear to capture the moments leading up to the shooting and the minutes after it, they do not appear to capture the shooting itself, with the possible exception of what may be one of the final shots as the car carrying Smyrna drives off.
“My mindset was to block him in,” Byrd said.
An email said the moment Byrd “began using deadly force is not captured by the watch guard digital video recorder because he is located outside the view of the watch guard DVR.”
“We’ve been trying to get this video for months from the GBI, from the APD, from the DeKalb County prosecutors’ office,” family attorney Thomas Reynolds said.
The attorney told Winne that the most important video is one we don’t have, from a bodycam worn by an Atlanta police officer that Byrd was assisting on a stolen car call.
“Mr. Smyrna’s now dead. He can’t defend himself to that allegation,” Reynolds said. “We need evidence in the form of videos. That’s the only way to know the truth.”
An Atlanta police incident report confirms bodycam footage.
Records indicate Byrd reported stopping his vehicle to prevent Smyrna from fleeing.
The driver then rammed Byrd’s patrol car. With his weapon drawn, the report said Byrd got out and started screaming for Smyrna to stop and exit the vehicle.
“I hear the gears literally changing to drive, and he’s coming my direction, and I fired my weapon,” Byrd said on the video.
As he fired, the trooper “managed to somehow get out of the path of the vehicle” and Smyrna rammed his patrol car and fled.
Investigator: “You saw him driving at you?
Investigator: Or driving in your direction?
Investigator: And you fired your weapon?
Byrd: I thought he was going to kill me.
In an APD report, an officer seems to back a crucial part of Byrd’s account, saying the trooper was “in immediate danger of being struck by the Camaro.”
Reynolds said where the Camaro struck the trooper car in the dashcam video raises questions about where the trooper was standing before firing multiple times, which he said is critical to whether the shooting was justified.
“The state trooper continued to shoot at the vehicle as it was driving away,” Reynolds said.
Records indicate Byrd caught up to the Camaro where it had crashed, and Byrd and an APD officer rendered aid.
“Stay with us! Stay with us! Stay with us. Stay with us. Got one shot in the gut. One in the arm,” you can hear the men say on GSP dashcam video.
Records show a finding of “exonerated” and that Byrd was returned to duty effective Jan. 29, about six days later.
The family attorney says the DeKalb County district attorney’s investigation is still open.
“He came right at me with that damn car. Man. I almost—thank God man,” Byrd can be heard saying on dashcam video.
“I don’t have closure. I cry every day,” Ingrid Smyra said.
“I immediately thought about his daughter, Brooklyn, who happens to be my daughter’s best friend,” Reco Fenn, a friend of Smyrna’s, said.
“She talks to her friends and says, ‘Did you know my dad’s an angel?’ Why should a 5-year-old have to say that? And her friends don’t understand because they haven’t experienced it and they say, ‘Oh, can you get a new dad?’ And she’s like, ’No. You can’t buy them at the store,” said Ashley Weems, the mother of Smyrna’s daughter.
“I depend on my wife. I depend on my son, and I depend on God to pull me through,” Andrew Smyrna said.
As for why the video in question hasn’t been released, the GBI cited an open investigation. Atlanta police cited a pending criminal case. It remains unclear if that case involved a passenger apparently in the car with Smyrna the night he was shot.
DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston sent Winne a statement Monday, saying:
“We certainly empathize with the sentiments of Mr. Smyrna’s loved ones and appreciate their desire for more information. That is, in fact, what we have promised to provide. We have met with the Smyrna family and their civil attorney on several occasions and assured them that at the conclusion of our investigation, which is imminent, we will meet with them face-to-face and share all of the facts and evidence, including all video footage, associated with this matter. Those materials will be provided in conjunction with a comprehensive explanation of our charging decision, which is currently pending. In the interim, our primary focus remains on conducting an honest, impartial, and fair investigation without compromising the integrity of this case.”
Under Georgia law, law enforcement can withhold certain records in a pending case but does not necessarily require it.
It remains unclear what the APD video shows or if it would clear the trooper in this case.
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