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Athens-Clarke Officers found justified in shooting six people in 2019

An officer's body camera recorded him fatally shooting Aaron Hong, who charged at another officer with a knife and tried removing a gun from the other officer.

By Joe Johnson

After reviews by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney, six officer-involved shootings last year were determined to have been justified, according to a Wednesday morning police media release.

Prior to resigning from his office, former DA Ken Mauldin on March 2, forwarded separate letters to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation regarding each of the officer-involved shootings.

“In the letters, Mauldin indicated that after his review of the cases, he determined that the shots fired by the officers were justified and that there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of any of the officers,” the police release stated. “Based on the DA’s findings, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation subsequently closed each of its cases involving our officers’ uses of deadly force.”

The news release further stated, “Administrative reviews of each of the six shooting incidents that were conducted by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards have also been concluded, and in each instance, the officer’s use of deadly force was found to be within policy limits. Final determinations from the Police Department, the GBI, and the DA signal an end to the investigations of these incidents, confirming that, while tragic and truly unfortunate, the taking of lives by officers in these circumstances was justified.

Police Chief Cleveland Spruill commented, “I am pleased to learn that the District Attorney and GBI have finally rendered decisions in each of these cases and that my officers have been vindicated once and for all.”

He added, “This has been an emotional time for each of the involved officers and a very trying time for the Athens- Clarke County Police Department as a whole. Hopefully, these decisions will bring some sense of closure for each of the involved officers and will allow the department to move on past these tragic and unfortunate events.”

The first police shooting in 2019 happened on March 3 when Thomas Swinford, 34, was shot and killed by officers as he approached them while pointing a gun in a parking lot on West Lake Drive.

On April 21, 63-year-old Carlton Steven Brooks was shot and killed at his home on Hull Road when he pointed a shotgun at the officers, who were investigating a peeping Tom complaint.

On July 1, officers fatally shot 23-year-old Aaron Hong at the entrance of River Club Apartments as they were investigating reports of a man with a knife who was behaving irrationally. Hong was shot after he charged at an officer with a knife then tried removing a gun from the officer’s holster.

On Oct. 6, a police officer shot and wounded 28-year-old Salvador Salazar, who attacked the officer with a machete when he was investigating a report of domestic violence at University Garden Apartments on Baxter Drive.

When indicted last month for aggravated assault on a police officer, Salazar remained hospitalized with serious injuries.

On Oct. 14, 54-year-old Bonny Thomas was fatally shot on Sartain Drive as she approached an officer while saying she had a gun and a knife, and then charged at the officer with a knife raised over her head.

On Oct. 26, 45-year-old Nan Zhao was fatally shot at The Oaks Apartments by officers who were investigating a complaint that Zhao had threatened a neighbor with a gun.

Zhao shot first and was killed when officers returned fire.

All of the police shootings were recorded by officer body cameras, and footage of each incident was publicly released.

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