DeKalb DA says newly aired video shows cause for trooper to open fire on man speeding away in car

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News obtained a never-before-aired body camera video of a controversial police shooting last year.

A local prosecutor’s office told Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne that the video was key in a decision not to charge the state trooper who fired the shots.

Attorneys said A.J. Smyrna used a stolen car as a potentially deadly weapon, so Trooper Brandon Byrd was within his rights to use deadly force.

A lawyer for Smyrna’s family maintains he was just trying to drive away and wasn’t a threat. The DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office stated the case is about 17 seconds and a split-second decision.

“After reviewing all of the evidence and also engaging some use-of-force experts, I made the decision there would be no criminal charges brought against Trooper Byrd in the shooting death of Andrew Smyrna,” DeKalb County DA Shirley Boston said.

“Was it a close call?” Winne asked Boston.

“It was a very difficult decision,” Boston said. “The key factor, in this case, was whether the vehicle driven by Mr. Smyrna could be used as an offensive weapon against the police officer. Absolutely, that car was in a position to hit, hurt and possibly kill Trooper Byrd.”

Boston said nearly a year after Byrd fired into a stolen car in the city of Atlanta on Jan. 23, 2020, and Smyrna was pronounced dead, she pronounced Byrd, who was assisting Atlanta police on the case, clear of criminal charges for the shooting.

Boston said she determined Byrd was in reasonable fear for his life when he fired.

“This was a split-second decision that Trooper Byrd had to make,” Boston said.

“He was going to do anything he had to, to get me out of his way,” Byrd told Winne.

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While the Georgia State Patrol dashcam video from August did not show the most critical aspects of the shooting, video from a body camera worn by an Atlanta police officer does. That video played a critical role in Boston’s decision.

“I met with this family several times. I shed tears with this family,” Boston said.

“I was appalled,” said father Andrew Smyrna Sr.

“I’d like to see justice for my son’s life. When my family comes, he’s always missing, and it tears me up,” said mother Ingrid Smyrna. “I guess I burst into tears when I saw it, but it was surprising in a way because of what the officer said that he feared for his life. He was standing on the side of the vehicle.”

“You saw him driving at you?” Winne asked Byrd.

“Yes, sir,” Byrd answered.

“Or driving in your direction?” Winne asked Byrd.

“Yes, sir,” Byrd answered.

“And you fired your weapon?” Winne asked.

“Yes, sir,” Byrd answered.

“Why?” Winne asked.

“I thought he was going to kill me,” Bryd said.

Attorney Thomas Reynolds said he represents A.J. Smyrna’s family, including his two young children.

“It’s sickening to watch the video,” Reynolds said. “After seeing the video, there is no justifiable way that he could’ve been in fear for his life when he is standing and shooting from the passenger side of the vehicle and the vehicle is traveling the other way.”

The DA’s office stated the video shows the wheels of the Camaro that Smyrna was driving appeared to turn toward Byrd and that it was physically possible for the car to hit him.

“Do I think some things need to change? Absolutely,” Boston told Winne.

A memo from Boston to the Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner stated:

“While I have determined, based upon the facts, circumstances, and the law that this case does not warrant any further criminal action, I believe that the death of Andrew Smyrna could have been prevented. Further, I believe the circumstances surrounding this incident warrant further discussion between my Office and the Georgia State Patrol and the Atlanta Police Department. I am interested in working collaboratively to prevent future incidents of this nature. There are several troublesome matters regarding this case that warrant further discussion regarding potential changes to policies and protocols that will enable our agencies to better protect and serve our citizens.

“Here are some, but not all, of the matters I want to discuss in greater detail. First, the Georgia State Patrol does not issue Body Worn Cameras (BWC) to its patrol officers. In this day and age, it seems unreasonable that all troopers are not issued BWC as a mandatory and standard practice. Second, the Atlanta Police Department has a “no chase policy.” I would like to discuss this policy further with Interim Chief Bryant and his staff. If it is a policy that is based upon sound and logical reasoning for the safety and well being of APD Officers and the public with whom they engage, it seems disingenuous to use other law enforcement agencies to circumvent the policy, placing themselves and the public at-large in harms’ way. Last, I want to discuss training opportunities and changes that can be implemented to equip officers and troopers with additional skills and competencies to better handle situations such as this and avoid unfortunate loss of life.

“I am confident that if we work together to address these issues and make substantive changes, we can reduce the number of officer involved shootings and save countless citizen and law enforcement lives, in the process.

“In the year 2021, I can’t imagine any circumstance where body camera video evidence would not be helpful and useful to law enforcement, to the public and to maintaining a level of community trust,” Boston said.

Reynolds told Winne he’ll file a wrongful death suit if the state doesn’t settle first.

“It’s a tragedy, a travesty, and we will get our day in court,” Reynolds said.

“I’m seeking justice for my son. The money isn’t no big part of me,” Andrews Smyrna Sr. said.

Byrd’s attorney, Don English, from the Southern States Police Benevolent Association said there is no legal basis for a wrongful death action and that the trooper sends his deepest condolences to the Smyrna family.

He also noted that Smyrna and others tried to give first aid.

“What has continued to sustain you through all this?” Winne asked Ingrid Smyrna.

“My faith and my prayers, each and every day. And when I go to visit my son, very often and speak with him, I feel like he wants me to continue this fight,” she said.

On the issue of the body cameras, the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office stated the Georgia Department of Public Safety, which includes GSP, has agreed to a meeting.

The parties are trying to work out a time, and Boston told Winne that she wants to work collaboratively with law enforcement to make things safer for the public and officers.