Clayton County activists say Atlanta group is being used for political reasons.

9:14 a.m.: CORRECTS Martin to Barrington-Ward

A rally and press conference by Clayton County residents in support of Police Chief Kevin Roberts was interrupted by several people, mostly from Atlanta, who had attended a press conference Tuesday to call on Roberts to fire Sgt. Kristopher Hutchens over the shooting death of Jamarion Robinson.

For about half an hour, the two groups held a heated discussion, at one point yelling slogans at each other.

What prompted the two groups to demonstrate?

Hutchens, a longtime CCPD officer, is on administrative duty while awaiting trial on murder and other charges stemming from his participation in a 2016 U.S. Marshals raid in East Point. Robinson, 26, was a student at Tuskeegee who had recently been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The Marshals were serving warrants on Robinson for attempted arson and two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer. A motion to move the trial from Fulton County to the U.S. Northern District Court of Georgia is pending a judge’s ruling. The U.S. Marshals, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation cleared Hutchens and two other officers of any wrongdoing. Robinson’s family filed suit against the officers and lost. In August 2021, the U.S. Marshals Service had asked the Clayton County Board of Commissioners to allow Hutchens to serve as a part-time trainer. The BOC approved the deal. Hutchens was indicted, along with U.S. Marshal Eric Heinze, in October 2021 but not served until December.

Roberts suspended Hutchens’ police powers pending the outcome of the trial. Because Hutchens’ expertise was in training, Roberts assigned him to a training unit, not as a trainer, but as a safety officer. This week, Commissioner Felicia Franklin forwarded an e-mail from a Michell or Michelle Williams (who previously had sent another e-mail falsely stating that Brandon Turner was a “convicted felon”) that alleged Hutchens was training U.S. Marshals on CCPD’s range Monday. That led to a segment on Rashad Richey’s show, which prompted Robinson’s mother, family, and supporters from Atlanta to hold a press conference on the steps of CCPD headquarters, calling for Hutchens’ firing and threatening to “bring down the wrath” of Clayton County voters on elected officials. This upset Clayton County activists, who say politicians allied with suspended Sheriff Victor Hill are using the Robinson case for their own purposes. Roberts reassigned Hutchens to administrative duty off the range.

The Atlanta group, led by Eric Bell, Devin Barrington-Ward, and leaders from Georgia NAACP, had been under the impression that the rally was somehow against Robinson. The Clayton County group, which included Drew Andrews, Carol Yancey, Orlando Gooden, and others, assured them that was not the case and told the Atlanta contingent that they were being used as pawns in Clayton County politics.

Eventually, leaders from both groups conferred and decided to set up a joint meeting with Roberts to discuss the various issues.

“There’s lots of passion on both sides,” Barrington-Ward said.

Barrington-Ward said of Hutchens, whose police duties were suspended in December 2021 but who was assigned to administrative duty as a range safety officer, “We don’t feel like [Hutchens] should be anywhere involved in police activities to any degree. He should be on administrative leave, right, until this is all sorted out….In Atlanta, when cops are on administrative duty, they are riding a desk….the idea that you are on administrative leave and you are still on a range, it’s not appropriate.”

Earlier this week, Roberts reassigned Hutchens to administrative duties off the range.

Audio of a press conference held Saturday, August 6, 2022 at Clayton County Police Headquarters by supporters of Chief Kevin Roberts. Drew Andrews read a statement on behalf of the group. Another group from Atlanta, some of whose members had attended a separate press conference earlier this week about the 2016 Jamarion Robinson shooting, showed up and confronted the Clayton County group. After some heated discussion, both groups agreed to seek a meeting with Roberts to air their grievances.

For Andrews, it wasn’t a matter of two sides of an issue, but of two completely separate issues.

“Because they [the Atlanta contingent] were unaware of the politics in Clayton County, that’s what you heard was the back and forth,” Andrews explained. “They were under the impression that we were against their family, their stance with things. But what we were sharing with them was that we appreciate all the work that our chief of the Clayton County Police has done in the community. He’s community-focused, so that’s what we were sharing with them, and that there’s a more complex issue that’s going on, you know? The politics. There’s three commissioners who we believe want to see the outing of our police chief. And so, once we conveyed that to the Robinson family, they understood that we are not against them. And in fact, what we agreed to do was reach out to Chief Roberts, have a meeting, and then air our grievances that way, and come up with a resolution.”

Gooden told Barrington-Ward, “The chief of police that we have now? He’s one of the better ones. If you don’t know the history of Clayton County, he’s one of the better ones that you can sit down and talk to, explain, There is politicking going on. Nobody’s saying that we don’t sympathize with your situation. But when you want to turn around and talk about getting rid of the chief of police, you have no idea what the hell’s going on in Clayton County…..You don’t know who this man is. You don’t know what he’s trying to do for the county.”

Yancey added, “And it’s up to the residents to do that. Just like the mother [Monteria Robinson] said, ‘vote them out.’ Are they Clayton County residents?”

Activists from Atlanta showed up with signs showing photos of Jamarion Robinson’s bullet-riddled body at Clayton County Police Headquarters Saturday. Robinson was killed by U.S. Marshals, one of whom was a CCPD officer assigned to their task force. Clayton County activists had called a press conference in support of Chief Kevin Roberts and accused Clayton County politicians of manipulating the Robinson case for their own purposes. The Atlanta group said they were not after Roberts’ job and the Clayton County group said they sympathized with the Robinson family. Both groups agreed to ask Roberts for a joint meeting. (Photo Credit: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

“So, a couple of things,” Barrington-Ward replied. “One, I was invited out here by Eric [Bell]. So anytime Eric Bell tells me to come to Clayton County, there’s two people that get me to come to Clayton County. Eric Bell and Shegale Thurmond. Those are the two folks. That’s why I know Clayton County well, even though I’ve never lived in Clayton County. I’m aware of Clayton County, I’ve worked on elections here, all of that. With that being said, right, I didn’t come down here to demand the chief’s job. I came down here about two officers and I wanted some explanations. ‘Cause that doesn’t make sense.”

“I hear you,” Gooden said. “All this animosity, hostility…”

Barrington-Ward told The Clayton Crescent, “There is politics that we recognize is happening in Clayton County that is beyond this issue, right? And so what we don’t want residents to feel like is we’re trying to do a pile-on. However, we can’t ignore the fact that police officers that were involved in a very heinous act against a 26-year-old who was living with a mental health challenge, right, that they are under indictment.”

He continued, “Using Victor Hill as an example, Victor Hill is under indictment. He hasn’t been convicted but he has been suspended. He is not able to do his daily duties as sheriff.”

When The Clayton County pointed out that the BOC had voted to approve Hutchens’ duties with the U.S. Marshals Service five years after the incident and, at the time, had said nothing about the Robinson shooting, Barrington-Ward said, “Well, a lot of times it’s important that we raise the alarm….We know that elected officials do not oftentimes read everything that they’re voting for.” Asked what the Atlanta group wanted from the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, he replied, “I think right now we need to start with the chief….We don’t want anything from the commissioners. We are aware that some folks are trying to push for the chief to be fired via the county commission. That’s not our fight.”

Yancey told The Clayton Crescent the Atlanta group claimed the U.S. Marshals did not have a warrant for Robinson’s arrest: ”They said they didn’t have a warrant, and he didn’t have a gun, and he didn’t try to burn down his mama’s house.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued a 184-page report about the incident. It details the GBI’s investigation of the incident, which includes detailed information about the events leading up to, during, and after the raid. This is the GBI’s summary:

REGION 10 INVESTIGATIVE SUMMARY GEORGIA BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION 10-0034-34-17 On Friday, August 5, 2016, the East Point Police Department requested assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Atlanta Regional Office in reference to an officer involved shooting that resulted in the death of JAMARION RASHAD ROBINSON. Special Agent CLINT THOMAS was assigned as the case agent. At approximately 1:25 p.m., the United States Marshals Service (USMS) Task Force was serving felony arrest warrants for ROBINSON at an apartment complex in East Point, Georgia. The arrest warrants were for Criminal Attempt to Commit Arson in Gwinnett County and two (2) counts of Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer in Atlanta, Fulton County. The USMS Task Force positively identified ROBINSON through a maintenance worker that was allowed to enter Apartment D at the Parkside at Camp Creek apartments, by one of the renters of the apartment. ROBINSON refused to exit the apartment, so the USMS Task Force breached the door to the apartment. Once inside the apartment, Task Force Officers observed ROBINSON with a handgun and gave numerous verbal commands for ROBINSON to drop the weapon. ROBINSON attempted to fire the handgun, but the weapon jammed and Task Force Officers fired at ROBINSON. The Task Force Officers gave verbal commands again for ROBINSON to drop the weapon. ROBINSON fired approximately two (2) to three (3) rounds at the Officers, who returned fire and fatally wounded ROBINSON. ROBINSON died at the scene, and no Officers were injured during the exchange of gunfire.

The issues surrounding Robinson’s mental health needs and appropriate policing are familiar ones in Clayton County. Mental health calls, including domestic violence cases, can be deadly for police officers.

Roberts, a proponent of community-oriented policing, has instituted social worker positions for mental health calls in the field, an approach the Georgia Assembly later passed into law.

Just before the Robinson case drew renewed attention, Clayton County Police Officer Demika Lloyd was shot and critically injured while attempting to talk down a woman who was having a mental health crisis. Since then, she has been in Grady Hospital. Atlanta Police officers later shot the woman, who also was hospitalized.

In December 2021, a member of Clayton County’s SWAT team, Field Training Officer Henry Laxson, was shot and killed while responding to a man who was having a mental health crisis. The man and two others also were shot dead during the incident. Ofc. Alex Chandler was shot in the hand. A 12-year-old boy was critically wounded.

In October 2020, a Clayton County Police officer was shot in the arm while investigating a disturbance at an apartment complex.

Another Clayton County Police officer was shot in March 2020 but saved by her bulletproof vest.

Asked Friday if he had heard about the rally, Roberts told The Clayton Crescent, “It’s good to know our citizens support us. I am beyond words as it relates to their support. We appreciate the support so much.”

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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