Roberts released the audio and video recordings after NAACP Clayton County Branch President C. Synamon Baldwin sent Roberts a letter asking that they be made public:

The Clayton County Police Department has issued 911 audio and censored bodycam footage of the fatal officer-involved shooting March 23 on Jenni Circle in Jonesboro.

Charles Calhoun, 68, was shot dead after several neighbors called to report a man with a rifle on the street. The month before, according to Calhoun’s wife, burglars had thrown a brick through their window. A CCPD spokesperson said no burglaries had been reported at that address on March 23, but that “an act of vandalism was reported on February 7…. The report showed that a rear kitchen window was damaged. The complainant called in to a Clayton 2 County Precinct advising they believed a juvenile threw a brick through the window. E-911 did not receive any phone calls from the [Calhoun] or anyone residing at [his] address” during the March 23 incident.

Calhoun’s family told reporters he thought someone had been trying to break into the house.

Who’s in the edit bay?

YouTube video
” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener”>The department produced a 31 minute and 24 second video containing excerpts of several 911 calls and what appeared to be a single bodycam view of the incident, although several officers can be seen in the footage. CCPD censored much of the video, blurring what appeared to be Calhoun lying on the ground after he had been shot. The video appeared to show police and Fire and Emergency Services rendering first aid to Calhoun. An officer states on the video that Calhoun had been shot in the stomach.

The video also contained annotations indicating a shotgun on the ground next to Calhoun and shotgun shells elsewhere on the ground.

Officers can be heard saying “He’s fading” while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. At one point, another officer can be heard talking on the phone, apparently to a reporter.

Another officer can be heard saying, “Nobody talk about this.” It’s standard operating procedure for CCPD and other law enforcement agencies to designate an official spokesperson when there’s an active scene. Generally, when reporters arrive at an active scene, they will wait in a group until a spokesperson or high-ranking official like the chief comes over to make an official statement about what transpired.

In a press release, Sgt. Julia Isaac wrote that several residents of Jenni Circle called Clayton County E-911 to report “a suspicious man with a gun in the neighborhood” and that, “[d]uring the course of the incident, numerous calls were received by E-911 concerning the unknown man on Jenni Circle displaying a rifle or shotgun.”

What happened when?

Here’s CCPD’s timeline of events:

  • 5:22 a.m.: First 911 call.
  • 5:32 a.m.: Second 911 call.
  • 5:32 a.m.: A caller tells 911 they heard a shot fired.
  • 5:32 a.m.: CCPD Uniform Patrol Division officers arrive.
  • 5:33 a.m.: More officers arrive and “deployed department issued long-guns….[which] is in accordance with department policy and procedure. Officers began searching for and attempting to locate the subject, gathering information from E-911 callers and speaking directly with residents sheltered in place in their homes.”
  • 5:33 a.m.: Officers spot Calhoun “moving around in the area ‘yards & street.'”
  • 5:38 a.m.: “Officers observed the male subject lying in the grass with a rifle….then reported the subject was lying down behind a white truck.”
  • 5:50 a.m.: “Officers reported the subject was still ducking behind the truck and was pointing the rifle towards occupied houses on the street…[and] confirmed the subject’s location which was now in the roadway, sitting and lying down.”
  • Sometime between 5:50 a.m. and 5:52 a.m.: “Uniformed Police Officers had two points of observation, when the subject pointed the long-gun at Officers. In response to this threat, an Officer discharged his issued rifle one-time striking the male subject who was lying prone in the street.”
  • 5:52 a.m.: “Officers immediately closed in on the man’s position, issued verbal commands, and ensured the man was separated from the shotgun. Officers began rendering emergency aid to him.”
  • 5:55 a.m.: “An ambulance was immediately requested.”
  • Between 5:55 a.m. and 6:01 a.m.: “A.M. A shotgun and two (2) spent shotgun shell casings were in the immediate area of the subject, Officers preserved the crime scene. Police Officers treated the man, with direct pressure on the wound to slow the bleeding and urging him to breath as they worked to save his life.”
  • 6:01 a.m.: Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services ambulance arrives. “Once in the ambulance, [Calhoun] was pronounced deceased.”

Darkness and bad weather didn’t make the response any easier, according to Isaac: “It is always tragic when an Officer has to use force. This incident occurred rapidly, with limited information, in poor lighting conditions, and in heavy rain. Clayton County Police S.W.A.T. was not utilized in this incident as it unfolded so quickly.”

CCPD called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is standard policy for the department, and CCPD’s Office of Professional Standards opened an administrative investigation.

“In keeping with Chief of Police Kevin Roberts policy of transparency, body worn (B.W.D.) video and E-911 calls are being released to the public before the completion of G.B.I.’s investigation,” Isaac wrote.

NAACP asked to see video

Roberts released the audio and video recordings after NAACP Clayton County Branch President C. Synamon Baldwin sent Roberts a letter asking that they be made public:

A March 23, 2022 letter from NAACP Clayton County Branch to Clayton County Police Chief Kevin Roberts about Charles Calhoun’s fatal officer-involved shooting early that morning. Officers shot Calhoun after several neighbors called 911 to report a man with a long gun walking around Jenni Circle in Jonesboro. Calhoun’s wife said someone had thrown a brick through their window a week earlier.

Chief Kevin Roberts forwarded the March 23 letter from NAACP Clayton Branch President C. Synamon Baldwin, who wrote, “Our community is stunned to see the recent police involved shooting that ended in loss of life for a Clayton County resident. Even more stunning was the different accounts coming from CCPD and the family. The NAACP Clayton is requesting that the body cam recording be released immediately. 

“Please know that the NAACP Clayton is open to having a conversation with you regarding this travesty. Whenever there is loss of life, whether it is a police officer or citizen, our community suffers. Thank you in advance to your response to this request.”

A March 25, 2022 letter from Clayton County Police Department Chief Kevin Roberts to NAACP Clayton County Branch President C. Synamon Baldwin. Roberts told Baldwin he had directed the Community Affairs Unit “to take steps to post the video to our social media site,” and that he estimated it would take a week to do so.

What constitutes transparency?

According to the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Blue Book, which is a guide to how Georgia’s Open Records Act applies to law enforcement, “Police in-car camera or body camera recordings in ‘closed cases’ are subject to the Act’s disclosure requirements. Georgia appellate courts have not determined whether such recordings are open records prior to a case being closed.”

However, Roberts said he was releasing the video anyway, due to intense public interest in the case.

Roberts has previously released 911 and bodycam footage in controversial cases like the Jonesboro teenagers a CCPD officer held at gunpoint in June 2020. A store owner had reported they had been waving a gun, which looked real but turned out to be a BB gun. This was during the height of the George Floyd protests. Passersby who saw the officer began pulling over and shooting cellphone video of the incident, begging the officer not to shoot the teens.

On March 14, National Freedom of Information Center Director Todd Fettig wrote, “The public too often is being denied access to police body- and dash-cam footage. This ranks as the most critical issue related to freedom of information and technology…Other critical FOI-technology issues include public access to government emails and access to metadata embedded in electronic records.”

NFOIC did a survey in February of state and local open-government groups like GFAF. The groups were asked “to evaluate critical freedom of information issues in technology.” On a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 meaning “no problem” and 4 meaning “an extreme problem,” this is what they found:

  • 3.08: Access to police body-cam and dash-cam video
  • 2.79: Access to government emails
  • 2.77: Access to metadata embedded in electronic records
  • 2.73: Access to relational databases for citizens to analyze
  • 2.71: Affordable fees for accessing government data
  • 2.69: Proactive posting of government records online by agencies
  • 2.63: Destruction by agencies of electronic records/data, even though storage is not an issue
  • 2.56: Efficient online platforms for requesters to submit/track requests

“Advances in technology have the potential to enhance government transparency and allow greater access to the records that we, the public, own,” Fettig said, “but governments need to catch up. Outdated technology and practices, in addition to sometimes outright secrecy, make public records harder to obtain, which erodes the public trust, leaves people in the dark, and undermines our democracy. The intersection of FOI and technology gives us an opportunity to turn a corner, from a culture of secrecy to a culture of transparency.” 

While screening uncensored video is an unpleasant task, it is one that many journalists do. When a police agency or other government official decides what the public can see and hear, that is censorship.

Isaac said, “The Clayton County Police Department is responsive to community concerns and will review the entire incident and report their findings as they become available. No additional statements will be made concerning this incident as it is an on-going investigation.” The Clayton Crescent has asked Roberts how many officers and vehicles were on scene, how many had cameras, and whether he would release all the camera footage without CCPD editing it first.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case.

Charles, whom the AJC reports was a COVID-19 survivor who had trouble walking, was buried at South-View Cemetery on April 9.