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Athens police identify officers involved in deadly shootout

Sgt. Matthew Smith

By Joe Johnson

A veteran supervisor and a rookie were identified Monday by Athens-Clarke County police as the officers who were involved in a deadly weekend shootout with a suspect at an eastside apartment complex.

Officer Paul Harris

Sgt. Matthew Smith and Officer Paul Harris were among those who responded Saturday night to The Oaks Apartments to investigate a resident’s complaint that a neighbor, 45-year-old Nan Zhao, threatened him with a gun during a dispute.

While officers searched for Zhao in the complex located off Gaines School Road, Smith and Harris encountered the man and tried to speak to him, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the incident.

Zhao ignored the officers and took cover behind a dumpster from where he opened fire on them, the GBI said.

Both officers returned fire, striking Zhao at least once, according to the GBI.

He received treatment at the scene and died after being transported to a local hospital, according to the GBI.

Neither officer was injured.

Smith is a 14-year ACCPD veteran, and Harris has been on the force for only seven months, police said.

In accordance with department policy, the officers were placed on paid administrative leave while the shooting is investigated.

The incident at The Oaks Apartments was the sixth officer-involved shooting in Athens this year and the third in less than three weeks.

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

The following month, another man was shot and killed while brandishing a gun on Hull Road. Police wanted to speak to the man as part of a peeping Tom complaint when the man pointed a shotgun at the officers.

On July 1, officers fatally shot a man who was behaving irrationally prior to charging at an officer with a knife at the entrance of River Club apartments off Macon Highway.

On Oct. 6, a police officer shot and seriously wounded a man who police said attacked him with a machete when the officer responded to a report of domestic violence at University Garden Apartments on Baxter Drive.

On Oct. 14, a 54-year-old woman 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.

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