by Robin Kemp
Attorneys for Roderick Walker, the man arrested and punched repeatedly during a traffic stop by a now-fired Clayton County Sheriff’s deputy, said that deputy had at least five use of force reports since February.
Former Clayton County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brandon Myers, who was fired Sept. 13 by Sheriff Victor Hill, had at least five documented use of force incidents since Feb. 1.
The attorneys also alleged Walker was wearing his seat belt–unlike what one of the reports documented about his arrest–questioned why they could not get their client’s police reports for nearly a week while the media got them four working days after the incident, and expressed anger that a television crew had “ambushed” Walker in his cell at the Fulton County Jail Thursday.
Walker himself only spoke briefly to reporters during the press conference at The Cochran Firm on Friday. His civil attorney, Shean Williams, distributed copies of five use of force reports and their related CCSO documentation. Also present were Walker’s criminal defense attorney, Torris Butterfield, and Cochran Firm partner attorney Jane Lamberti. She said Walker had sustained numerous injuries, including minor traumatic brain injury, that CCSO allegedly denied Walker’s request to be taken to a hospital, and that he did not see a private doctor until after his release on bond Thursday.
A Clayton County Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs investigation found that Myers used excessive force and violated his oath in the Sept. 11 arrest of Roderick Walker. A COBRA unit pulled over the car Walker and his family were riding in for an alleged taillight violation. When the deputy asked Walker for his ID, Walker asked why he had to show it if he wasn’t the one driving. Myers told Walker to step out of the car, soon after which Walker, Myers, and other CCSO deputies struggled on the ground as Walker tried to escape and Myers repeatedly punched him in the face.
“It’s no surprise what happened,” Williams said. “It’s the same tactics that they’ve been using in Clayton County. He [Myers] should have been fired before last Friday is my point. We will provide you guys with the use of force reports we know about from Mr. Myers. To have five use of force reports in less than a year, guys? I do these cases. That’s a lot. It just shows that the reason that Mr. Walker was assaulted and beaten, and his Constitutional rights were violated, is because they have a systemic pattern and practice, that is encouraged by the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department, to violate people’s civil rights.”
“As recently as yesterday morning, I personally went to the Sheriff’s Department to again request the police report that we had been requesting and put in Open Records Requests since Monday,” Butterfield said. “I was given a face sheet, no information. But somehow now, late last night, I received an incident report.”
Butterfield also said Walker had been wearing a seat belt, despite an incident report that alleged Walker had not been. Butterfield said he also has three fact witnesses and one character witness willing to testify that Walker “was indeed wearing his seat belt at all relevant times” and that Walker habitually does so “some very specific and good reasons” he could not go into before trial.
Not all law enforcement agencies require use of force documentation. The Use of Force Project shows that police forces in many major U.S. cities, including Atlanta, have implemented stricter rules on use of force since June 2020.
Walker, along with his girlfriend and mother, stood teary-eyed before a room packed with television cameras and reporters. Williams noted he would not allow Walker to answer any questions but that his client would make a brief statement.
“I just want to let you all know that I was scared,” Walker said, his left eye still visibly swollen and red. “I feared for my life and I just pray, just hope that it don’t happen to nobody else.”
Williams praised District Attorney Tasha Mosley for her work in the case, saying the first priority had been to get Walker out of the Clayton County Jail.
“We were able to do that because District Attorney Tasha Mosley worked with Mr Butterfield and our client to make sure we could get a consent bond before the judge, and we commend District Attorney Mosley for that,” Walker told reporters. “We hope to continue to work with her office and we hope and pray that these charges against Mr. Walker eventually are dismissed.”
He also thanked Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. “As you know, Mr. Walker had an outstanding probation violation. As a result of that, Mr. Howard’s office worked with Mr. Butterfield, as well, to resolve those issues and get him a bond on that. We want to thank Judge Barwick, who allowed Mr. Walker to have a bond, and so we want to acknowledge that, as well.
“We want to thank the NAACP. They’ve been a very good support to Mr. Walker and his family. We want to thank the In Defense of Black Lives Coalition and other activist groups who have been out here protesting peacefully, marching, bringing attention to this, we believe, injustice. And we want to thank just the whole community. We have gotten a big outpouring from the community for Mr. Walker, for his family, and we want to thank everybody out there that’s shown support.”
Williams expressed frustration that the press had gotten initial incident reports and supplemental reports before his client had, accusing CCSO of leaking the documents selectively to make his client look bad.
“On yesterday morning, it had come to my attention that the incident report of the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department set forth a narrative regarding the incident with Mr. Walker and his subsequent arrest, was leaked to the media, given to the media,” Williams said. “That was disturbing to us because we, as his counsel, myself as a civil lawyer Mr. Butterfield as a criminal attorney, have been requesting and have been specifically asking for that information from Sheriff Hill and the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department. But yet, the media got it before our client got that information. That is disturbing on so many levels. Everything, we got it late, late last night? From my opinion, everything in that report I will tell you to take with a grain of salt.
“The video speaks for itself. The report lacks credibility because the individuals who generated the report, Deputy Reddick, was involved in the assault, unconstitutional and illegal arrest, and assault of my client,” Williams continued. “The report, in my view, shows somebody trying to cover their ass.”
Pointing out that the report was dated Friday Sept. 11, 2020, the same day as the arrest, Williams said, “That incident report, myself, Mr. Butterfield, went every day down to the Sheriff’s Office and contacted him to get that report. I was specifically told it was not ready and being modified, on this past Monday or Tuesday. But the report that you got released says September 11. What needs to be modified? And why is the date on that report says last Friday when nobody got this report six days later? You need to ask yourself, ‘What’s going on here?’ We believe this is another example of an attempt to deflect and cover up what we saw in that video and there using an incident report now to do it.”
Williams said it was “interesting” that the report stated “that they’re trying to arrest, to handcuff Mr. Walker, without anything regarding, because of a traffic citation. That’s not proper, in my view.”
Williams also said he wanted to address CCSO’s “narrative” that Walker was the aggressor in the incident.
“The video, I believe, disputes that. He was being beaten in his head, he was Tased, continuously beaten over and over again, they used an illegal–in my view–choke hold on him that almost killed him, similar to what we saw in the George Floyd situation. He was literally fighting for his life. When you don’t have an opportunity to breathe, similar to waterboarding, you are fighting for your life, like you’re drowning. That’s what you saw in that video. He wasn’t attacking them or beating them, he was just trying to survive.
“And I’ve heard this thing that ‘He’s biting me’ [Ed. note: Reddick wrote in his report that Myers said Walker allegedly had bitten Myers in the groin and genitals during the struggle]. What you will know as the medical evidence will be that Mr. Walker was bitten on his right middle finger.”
As for reports about Walker’s prior convictions, which Hill had included in his Nixle post and which are also public record but generally not admissible in court in a new case except under extremely narrow circumstances, Williams said, “It’s not relevant in this case at all. It was an attempt to deflect on what happened that day. I said before, nothing he did that day or prior was the reason he was arrested. He was arrested because there’s a tactic going on out in Clayton County where they’re setting up traffic stops and road blocks, using the old concept of traffic stops to ultimately violate people’s Constitutional rights.
“What’s more disturbing is how, after Mr. Walker was assaulted, beaten, taken to the Sheriff’s Office in Clayton County, he was then forced to talk to Sheriff Hill’s Internal Affairs investigators,” Williams said. “How does that sound? He’s incarcerated, being charged by the people, they come to investigate and talk to him without his lawyers. He is scared to death and intimidated. That is not the way this Constitution is supposed to work. This is not the way anything about fairness–the people who are supposed to protect him, at every turn, is doing the opposite. How are you talking to our client about what you did to him, and you criminally charging him?”
“The this concept of just not looking out continues at Fulton County Sheriff’s Department. As you guys saw, my client is in his jail cell, and he’s ambushed by a reporter [ed.: WSB’s Mark Winne also interviewed Williams as part of that story] with cameras. Mr. Walker did not consent or allow for anything to happen regarding an interview. How does he get a reporter in the jail, in his jail cell? I can’t even go to his jail cell! That sounds crazy, guys! The sheriff (Theodore Jackson) has his incarcerated, he has a duty to protect him, Mr. Walker doesn’t know anything going on and all of a sudden, a reporter with a camera’s in his face. What kind of country are we living in that the sheriffs are allowing this to happen? Then, had the audacity to go on camera and talk about his criminal history.”
According to Winne’s report, which aired the evening of Wednesday, Sept 16, Walker only said that he was scared, that he didn’t know what was going to happen, and that he did not want to talk about the case.
According to the Fulton County Sheriff’s website, all visitation has been suspended due to COVID-19 “until further notice at the Fulton County Jail, Alpharetta Annex, Marietta [Street] Annex, and South Fulton Annex (in Union City). The only exception to this directive will be for attorney visits, judges, clergy, medical/mental health providers and other law enforcement agencies. Online video visitation is still available at www.fultonsheriff.net via communications vendor Securus.”
“You talk about ‘making America great.’ America ain’t great for everybody. And we have a responsibility and duty to be a great nation, to take care of the least of these. Mr. Walker has been through a lot in his life. A lot. But we want to focus on, and pass on to media, his criminal history, but you don’t know what this man has been through, what he’s trying to do to be a better father, man, son.”
Butterfield called on Chairman Jeffrey Turner and the Board of Commissioners “to demand transparency occurs in this particular case. Ladies and gentlemen, again, we have not been given a police report. I was told just yesterday it was going to be ten days. So I still have not received any information from the Clayton County Police Department [sic], and I’m trying to provide a full, fair, and vigorous defense for my client if he is indeed charged.
“But why is it, a week into this incident, we have not heard from Sheriff Victor Hill?” Butterfield asked. “We need to demand, in Clayton County, which is a majority African-American county, the same that we would do if the sheriff was of a different persuasion, that he should be able to come out and talk to the media about, for example, we still don’t know why the deputy was fired. I have not received any information. Why, if he was fired, what did he do wrong? What did the officer do wrong? We have no information and we should demand better of Clayton County, that they come forth and give a statement on why the officer was fired.
“In addition, in these kind of cases, the immediate demands are made for body cameras to be released, dashboard cameras to be released,” Butterfield continued. ” If those things are out there, why have they not been released yet? If they don’t have body cameras and dash cameras, then it’s a call right now for the Clayton County Commission to immediately install body cameras on every officer in Clayton County. This was a COBRA unit, a special unit that stopped Mr. Walker. We want not only the special task force units to have cameras but every officer, because it protects the officers as well as the defendants. So ultimately, what we may have here if there’s no body camera, it’s gonna be a swearing contest. But I’m confident that the district attorney is going to make the proper decision, and it is my hope and expectation and opinion that she declines to prosecute the criminal case.”
In the past, Turner has expressed reluctance to pursue complaints against Hill’s office because the sheriff, like the chairman and the other BOC members, is an elected official, not a department head like Police Chief Kevin Roberts. Both the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office and the Clayton County Police Department must submit departmental budget requests to the BOC for approval.
Under Georgia’s Open Records Act, an agency must provide any member of the public who asks–not just reporters or lawyers–with copies of public records within three business days or else cite the section of the Act on which the denial or redaction is based. When part of the document or documents are exempt from disclosure, such as during an open investigation or when a juvenile is named in a police report, the law provides for the agency to redact the exempt part(s) and release the rest of the document(s) requested.
On Sunday, Sept, 13 at 5:08 a.m., The Clayton Crescent filed an Open Records Request for the initial incident report and supplementals, as well as other documents related to the arrest. Under Georgia’s Open Records Act, such requests must be filled within three business days, which would have meant by the end of business Wednesday. We asked to see:
- Results of internal investigation of the arrest of Roderick Walker
- Initial incident report and supplementals for Roderick Walker’s arrest
- Personnel files of Deputy Valentine and the other two deputies video recorded making the arrest, including but not limited to any disciplinary action(s)
- Inmate records for Roderick Walker, including any notations regarding his injuries
- Initial incident report and supplementals for traffic stop of the driver in the incident, including the driver’s name, address, and other identifying information
- Any charges made against the driver in connection with this incident
At 12:27 p.m. the same day, as a large group of demonstrators began massing outside the Clayton County Jail to protest Walker’s arrest and beating and to call for the deputies involved to be fired and for Hill to resign, Hill released a second Nixle post announcing, “The Deputy who repeatedly struck Roderick Walker is being terminated from the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office by order of Sheriff Victor Hill for excessive use of force. This is the administrative action. The criminal investigation of this matter will be turned over to the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office.”
At that time, Hill also said that he had “ordered a signature bond courtesy for Mr. Walker 48 hours ago,” but that Magistrate Court had denied the signature bond because of Walker’s open warrants out of Fulton County and Hapeville. Hill added that Walker “has received medical treatment to include x-rays (no fractures detected) of his head and is being monitored at the jail hospital by a doctor.” In his supplemental report, Deputy D. Riddick, who resigned, said that EMS had treated Walker for scrapes at the scene and that CCSO transported him to the jail where an intake nurse examined him and reportedly found no serious injuries.
At 6:07 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 16, Hill Tweeted photos of himself hanging out with an old friend at a beach:
At 6:18 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 16, The Clayton Crescent pointed out to CCSO that it had been three business days since the request was filed (not counting Sunday).
Early Thursday afternoon on Sept. 17, various media organizations reported that CCSO had released the incident report.
Walker’s legal team said Friday, Sept. 18 that he had asked to be taken to the hospital but that CCSO refused his request. They allege Walker sustained minor traumatic brain injury and memory loss, as well as other injuries, during the incident.
At 2:04 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17, CCSO released some of the requested records to The Clayton Crescent and cited statutory reasons for denying others:
1) Pertaining to the Internal Affairs investigation, the investigation is still active and thus exempt pursuant to OCGA 50-18-72(a)(8).
2) Pertaining to the initial incident report and supplements, please see the Dropbox link below for the initial incident report. Pursuant to OCGA 50-18-72(a)(4) only the initial incident is responsive in cases where there is any pending investigation or prosecution of criminal or unlawful activity.
3) Pertaining to personnel files, please see the Dropbox link below for responsive documents.
4) Pertaining to Mr. Walkers inmate file, please see the Dropbox link below for responsive documents.
5) Pertaining to the initial incident report for the traffic stop, please see the previously listed incident report above.
6) Pertaining to any charges made against the driver, please see the previously listed incident report above.
Butterfield said, “It was my job immediately to try to lead him out of the jail so that he could immediately receive medical treatment for the injuries that he had had sustained as a result of the beating on September 11, 2020. Over the past seven days, as you heard, we’ve worked with prosecutors in Clayton County–we thank them–as well as Fulton County, to be able to finally, on last night, get Mr. Walker out of jail, and immediately to doctor’s appointments….That was our main goal, to focus what injuries he had, mild traumatic brain injury from being knocked unconscious.
“As far as the case itself goes,” Butterfield continued, “it is my hope, opinion, and expectation that once District Attorney Tasha Mosley conducts an investigation, that she will decline to prosecute this case and that charges will be dismissed.”
“So there’s going to be an immediate conflict as to why he was even stopped.” And there’s some very specific and good reasons why he always wore a seat belt. And we can’t get into those reasons now, but you’ve got one of the officers who says he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Well, we’re going to have three fact witnesses who were there to say he was, and an additional character witness who says he always did, so we want to invite the prosecutors to be able to speak with these witnesses as they go forward in their investigation.”
Lamberti, a partner in The Cochran Firm, said she joined the case “to help get the proper medical attention that Mr. Walker so needed and was denied, right at the scene of the crime. Mr. Williams talked about what kind of country we’ve turned into. This man was thrown to the ground, Tased, beaten, on his face. He had somebody’s knee on his neck so much that he lost consciousness twice, and once in the car. And he asked to go to the hospital, and he was told ‘You don’t need a hospital. You’re going straight to jail.’ He asked for medical care after being beaten and suffocated and was told ‘no.’ I will tell you, as a result of being thrown to the ground and beaten in the the head, he suffered a mild traumatic brain injury. Also, as a result of the knee being put on his neck, it’s likely that hypoxia also contributed to his problems now. He’s having cognitive problems, he’s having headaches, he’s dizzy, he has suffered likely occipital fractures around both eyes. His left eye is blurry and has double vision. He has neurological injury in his arm. He has injuries on his back. He has a TMJ injury because, as his face was on the pavement, the police continued to hit him. He also is suffering from knee injuries that need full physical therapy. He is going to be under the care of both a neurologist, an orthopedic surgeon, and ophthalmologist. All over a traffic stop.”
Williams said his team “will pursue all legal avenues to hold them (CCSO) accountable for their actions.”
Shortly after the press conference, Hill retweeted a story from Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Kevin C. Pride, “GA NAACP Got It Wrong, Sheriff Victor Hill Got It Right.” The article restated Hill’s Nixle post about the internal investigation, adding, “Even though the investigation was conducted in record time and Hill rendered a decision to fire the deputy immediately for excessive force, it still did not stop the organization from demanding the top law enforcement official to relinquish his authority.” According to Pride “(m)any NAACP members and leaders have quietly expressed their disagreement with the GA chapter’s decision” and “(r)esidents of Clayton County are equally surprised.” He quoted one source, Nicole Dashiell, “a longtime Clayton County resident and activist.” Clayton County NAACP President Cheryl Synamon Baldwin said she had never heard of this person.
Pride is CEO of Atlanta Business Journal Digital and Influencer 365, a digital marketing agency that also does reputation management and brand consulting. On Aug. 11, ABJ’s Digital Staff wrote another article, “Sheriff Victor Hill Attracts Businesses to Clayton County By Decreasing Crime,” which quoted business owner Nicole English of Remembering You Flowers and Gifts as crediting Hill “with the increase in business and decrease in crime. ‘I’ve done business [in] Clayton County for years and have seen how people respond to Sheriff Hill. It’s clear criminals want no parts of Clayton County because of Hill’s no nonsense approach [to] crime. He truly protects us here.'”
A map on a Facebook page for a business by the same name pins the business in Fulton County in Southwest Atlanta. The Georgia Secretary of State’s online business license lookup did not return a company by that name.
(We’ll update with audio and more photos shortly.)