Incident sparks calls for action against domestic violence
by Robin Kemp
Clayton County Police have identified the women shot dead by Arthur Allen Gilliam, 35, during “the horrific incident that transpired” in Rex Monday night.
CCPD spokesman Ofc. Jordan Parrish identified the women as Mary Gilliam, 70, and Dominique Bibbins, 32. Police say Gilliam also shot a 12-year-old boy he shot in the face. The boy remains in critical condition.
The investigation “is ongoing,” Parrish said, adding that funeral arrangements for Field Training Officer Henry Laxson were pending and that they will “disseminate the information appropriately” once the details are finalized. CCPD has set up a GoFundMe for Laxson’s family with their permission.
In 2008, Bibbins was an intern at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she studied foodborne diseases on leafy greens and did data entry. In 2009, as a Spelman student, she took part in a research study on getting students interested in health sciences by studying PCB contamination of Black communities in Anniston, AL. She also had a company, Dom Innovations LLC, based in Stockbridge. She was building a lifestyle brand on social media as “The Domestic Artist,” blogging about recipes, travel, and fashion.
Bibbins’ “About Me” page on her website introduces readers to a bubbly writer with “Louisiana roots” and “a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Public Health,” who hated cilantro and loved olives–especially black olives–and who was “totally obsessed with my poodle-children Missy and Romeo.”
On November 30, several calls came into Clayton County 911–maybe a drive-by shooting, maybe a domestic incident in progress–but whatever it was, officers knew it was a dangerous situation.
When patrol officers arrived, they found a 12-year-old boy shot in the face who led them back to the house. A woman lay unresponsive in the front yard. As officers tried to save the woman, the suspect allegedly shot at them. SWAT teams arrived and Gilliam ran to the rear of the house. There, he came face to face with Laxson, a tactical SWAT officer, and Ofc. Alex Chandler. Gilliam fired at them, mortally wounding Laxson and striking Chandler in the hand. Ring doorbell video captured audio of a barrage of gunfire that killed Gilliam at the scene and riddled the house. Laxson was transported to a hospital, but it was too late.
The Clayton Crescent has asked CCPD what Gilliam’s relationship was to the victims. CCPD has referred to the shooting as a “domestic” incident. As of press time Friday, CCPD had not released further details about the investigation, which is ongoing.
“A big happy Labrador”
Laxson, a graduate of Jonesboro High School who had played football and sported long hair, went on to attend Armstrong State University and join the police force. Laxson had set the goal of joining the TIGER Unit, and he did it. A popular and friendly guy, Laxson was both loved for his personality and respected for his police work.
11Alive quoted Jim Lee as saying Laxson had just proposed to his girlfriend and was known as “a big happy Labrador” who loved his job. Laxsomn had been named Officer of the Month in October.
Outside CCPD headquarters Thursday, fellow officers and school friends gathered in small, silent groups around Laxson’s TIGER patrol car. Bouquets of flowers covered most of the hood and wreaths stood alongside. A row of candles sat evenly spaced in front of his car.
Three of his Jonesboro High School friends stood gazing at the display, tears in their eyes. One, who had gone through school with him from sixth through twelfth grade and whose mother had taught him, clutched a bouquet. Struggling to find the words to say what Henry had meant, she said, “It’s everyone’s loss.”
Other Clayton County residents, many who who never knew Laxson, have expressed shock at the news, with domestic abuse survivors and law enforcement officers particularly disturbed by the incident.
Veda Brown of Sisters Empowerment Network wrote, “SILENCE HIDES VIOLENCE. VERY SAD AND UNFORTUNATE INCIDENT DUE TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. THIS ISSUE MUST BE ADDRESSED BY THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY.”
District 1 Commissioner Dr. Alieka Anderson wrote, “Clayton County we have got to stop the violence. We cannot afford to lose another officer or any life. All lives are precious and valuable and we have to, ‘Stop The Violence!'”
Morrow Councilman Khoa Vuong said he didn’t understand why Gilliam didn’t get help before things got out of hand.
Who was Arthur Gilliam?
Many people are asking how such violent encounters begin. While there are no simple answers, public records point to a series of stressful events in his life in recent years.
Clayton County court records show Gilliam had successfully completed probation a decade ago and been exonerated of one count of possessing more than one ounce of marijuana. Gilliam and his then-roommate were both charged after police found marijuana plants–“a little over six ounces,” according to the November 23, 2009 plea and sentencing transcript–in their apartment. At the time, his attorney said Gilliam was working as a barber on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in downtown Atlanta. His roommate, a civil engineering student working his way through Georgia Tech, had been a student at Clayton State when they were busted. Since then, the roommate testified, he had had twins: “I was young and stupid and sorry for my mistake and I realize what I have done.”
Gilliam’s father, who was not named in the sentencing transcript, told the judge, “I’ve talked to him on numerous occasions. He was raised in a military family. I spent 22 years of which, Arthur, he traveled everywhere with us. And I just think this is a blip in his maturity or his maturation.”
Superior Court Judge Albert Collier asked, “In other words, he knows better?”
“He knows better,” his father replied. “He knows a whole lot better.”
Collier sentenced Gilliam and his roommate to three years’ probation under the First Offender Act, meaning they would be exonerated if they completed probation. Because Gilliam was making very little money cutting hair and Bennett was working to pay for school, Collier waived the fine, but added, “you are going to have to pay a monthly probation fee to offset the cost of your probation.” He also said they’d have to get tested for drugs an alcohol and get treatment if there were a problem, do 40 hours’ community service, and keep working. Otherwise, Collier said, they could get 10 years in the state pen.
“Now, gentlemen, both of you, that is very important,” Collier emphasized. “Okay? That is very important to you that you successfully complete this and not have a criminal record….Because right now, Mr. Gilliam, you’re required to be licensed by the state. If you get a conviction on your record your license goes away. You lose your livelihood….That’s why it’s so important that I never see you again. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, sir,” Gilliam said.
On December 8, 2010, Gilliam’s probation officer filed a warrant, alleging, “On or about 11/13/10, the defendant committed the offense of Identity Fraud When using/possessing Identifying Info Concerning a Person (f) in Henry County, Ga.”
On December 13, 2011, Gilliam pleaded not guilty in Henry County Superior Court. On October 9, 2012, Gilliam entered nolle prosequi pleas on financial transaction card fraud and criminal attempt to commit a felony, and pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of theft by taking.
Since 2017, civil court records in Clayton County indicate Gilliam had a series of bill collectors file against him. In May of this year, an Arthur Gilliam was evicted from a Jonesboro apartment complex.
In March, Gilliam got a $20,833 PPP loan from the Small Business Administration as a sole proprietor barber. A check of the Georgia State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers online licenses did not return a license in Gilliam’s name.
What is domestic violence?
The International Association of Chiefs of Police defines domestic violence as “abusive behavior in any relationship, as defined by law, which is used to gain or maintain power and control over a current or former intimate partner or family or household member.”
The U.S. Justice Department notes domestic violence may include:
- physical, sexual, emotional, economic, and psychological actions or threats of actions
- verbal threats
- acts of intimidation
- property damage
- animal cruelty
- elder and child abuse
The victim may be:
- a current or former intimate partner
- a family or household member
- a person who has or had a child in common with the abuser
Domestic violence experts say perpetrators like to exert power and control over the victim. When things escalate and the abuser is faced with the possibility of losing control, they lash out.
That’s what makes responding to domestic calls so dangerous for law enforcement officers. They are bringing the authority of the state, arrest powers, and often overwhelming numbers and firepower. Faced with losing power and control, an abuser may decide to take out as many people as possible.
The dangers of domestic calls
Police officers say the most dangerous calls they respond to are domestic incidents. In Clayton County, officers are more likely to die in traffic incidents than from any other cause. But that doesn’t make domestic calls any less deadly. Ofc. Sean Patrick Callahan was killed in 2012 while responding to a domestic call at the Motel 6 in Stockbridge. In that case, the suspect also ran behind the building, then opened fire on Callahan and another officer.
Some officers (not with CCPD) told The Clayton Crescent last year that they had expected to answer more domestic calls due to the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine. They were right.
Researchers found domestic violence calls rose 8.1% nationwide in 2020 as a direct result of the quarantine. But they also found police officers are actually less likely to be injured during domestic calls: “For example, police often hold mistaken beliefs about domestic violence. Studies show many officers believe that responding to domestic violence calls is unusually dangerous when in fact, our research shows that officers are significantly more likely to be assaulted or injured when responding to nondomestic incidents.“
Here is a domestic violence training video for police officers from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. It offers insight into what police have to deal with on these kinds of calls. WARNING: The video does contain images of domestic abuse victims and graphic scenes and sounds that could be upsetting or triggering for domestic violence survivors, including bodycam video of a suspect shooting an officer. Victims gave permission for their images to be used.[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5dVPVqOTDI[/embedyt]
Armed and dangerous
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which tracks domestic violence statistics nationwide, notes that judges in Georgia can “order whatever relief they deem necessary when issuing ex parte protective orders, excluding dating partners.” A judge can ban the person under a domestic violence order from possessing firearms and can require that the person surrender any firearms in their possession.
According to NCADV, Georgia does not ban people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, stalking, or dating violence, nor “abusers subject to ex parte and final protective orders, including for dating violence,” from possessing firearms. The groups says it wants to see Georgia laws change to cover those situations, as well. It is pushing for laws that would mandate people under ex parte and final protective orders to turn in their firearms, require background checks for all gun sales and transfers, and, at the request of a domestic violence survivor, require police to take possession of all firearms on a domestic violence call.
Federal law already bans “prohibited persons” from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing firearms or ammunition. Under the Gun Control Act, this includes anyone who is:
- convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year
- a fugitive from justice
- “an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance”
- “a mental defective” according to a court, or someone who “has been committed to any mental institution”
- an illegal alien or someone who has renounced U.S. citizenship
- discharged dishonorably from the Armed Forces
- under a court order not to harass, stalk, or threaten an intimate partner or the partner’s child
- convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence
It’s also against federal law to sell “or otherwise dispose” firearms or ammunition to a prohibited person.
In practice, prohibited people can and do get firearms, and people who have never had a reported domestic incident can snap.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from November 1998 to November 2021, NICS has rejected 175,805 people who had a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction–the fourth most common reason why a firearm permit is turned down. Another 71,274 people have been turned down because they had a restraining or protective order against them for domestic violence.
An article in the Annals of Surgery, a medical journal cited by the National Institutes of Health, found that intimate partner violence (IPV) has grown worse during COVID-19, with an average of 50 women shot and killed by their partners each month. According to the report, “Abused women are 5 times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm….With presence of unsecured weapons in homes resulting from increased stress, economic instability, and restrictions resulting from stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, numbers of intimate partner homicides are very likely to rise without attempts at prevention.” In particular, “pediatric pregnant females” 18 or younger were more likely to be killed–and women and Black men “are disproportionately at risk of intimate partner homicide and completion suicide, involving firearms and alcohol, but not mental illness.”
The American College of Surgeons recommends that all firearms in the home be kept locked up: “To practice appropriate firearm safety, gun owners (particularly first-time owners) should obtain firearm safety instruction about firearm use and safe storage. Access to shooting ranges for firearm safety training is complex, because the stay-at-home ruling in many states does not recognize shooting ranges as essential businesses. Without lessons in firearm safety or safe storage, it is likely that the availability of more unsecured weapons in households will likely make DV episodes more deadly. If firearms are not stored properly, they may be easily accessible to bored and curious children that are currently stuck at home, which increases opportunities for tragic, unintentional shootings. The Firearm Strategy Team of the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma (ACS-COT) endorses formal gun safety training for all new gun owners, and hunter safety and safe gun handling education. They also recommend direct adult supervision in the use of firearms for children younger than 12 years, and indirect supervision for children between the age of 12 and 18 years. As such, the Firearm Strategy Team recognizes and endorses the critical importance of safe and controlled firearm storage.”
A simple lockbox or small safe can offer a few seconds to reconsider an impulse in the heat of the moment. Whether people who carry guns as a way to reinforce dominance and control over family members would lock up their firearms in this way, or whether doing so would give them pause, is not clear.
What is clear is that domestic violence gun homicides have reached a 26-year high–up 58% in the past decade and 25% in 2020 alone.
Georgia does not have any laws requiring domestic violence perpetrators to surrender their firearms.
Listen to this story by Reveal: https://revealnews.org/podcast/when-abusers-keep-their-guns/
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call 800-799-SAFE (7233), text the word “START” to 88788, or visit https://www.thehotline.org/. In case of emergency, call 911.
You also can call Securus House at (770) 961-7233 or (800) 33-HAVEN .
If you are a man who needs help dealing with control issues, contact Men Stopping Violence at (404) 270-9894. MSV is on the bus line at 2785 Lawrenceville Highway, Suite 112, Decatur.