How did a petite 26-year-old woman, handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser, manage to produce a gun and allegedly fire three bullets at two Atlanta officers, who responded with lethal force?
For more than 14 months, the family of Alexia Christian, fatally shot 10 times on April 30, 2015, waited for answers. Friday, they learned those answers may never be forthcoming following a meeting with Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who told them there would be no charges brought against officers Jeffrey Cook, 54, and Omar Thyme, 34.
Howard’s conclusion was based on “what was left of the evidence,” said the Christian family’s attorney, Mawuli Davis. Specifically, he noted the lack of any video, even though the shooting took place outside Underground Atlanta’s parking deck, an area blanketed by security cameras.
Though he won’t be bringing a criminal case, Howard was sharply critical of how the arrest was handled.
Christian, he said, slipped her left wrist from the cuffs and fired three shots toward the officers from the back seat. The officers, unscathed, exited the vehicle and ordered her to drop the gun. She responded by aiming the weapon at Thyme, according to Howard. The officers fired five shots each. Christian was mortally wounded.
None of that was captured on video because the back seat camera was turned off. Howard’s investigation “revealed loopholes in the (standard operating procedures), which did not require Atlanta police officers to video back-seat incidents like the Christian shooting,” says a statement from the district attorney’s office.
Howard said he has discussed his findings with Atlanta Police Chief George Turner, who assured him he has “taken steps to correct these problems.”
According to Davis, the biggest issue in the Christian case was the Atlanta Police Department’s belief that it could investigate itself.
“There’s a level of distrust with how law enforcement handles these investigations,” he said.
In a statement, the APD said it has not concluded its internal investigation into this incident, “and thus cannot discuss the specific evidence related to the case.”
Cook is on full-duty status, the statement said. Thyme no longer works for Atlanta police.
Christian — who had served more than three years in prison after trying to steal a patrol car, dragging an officer who had been thrown from the vehicle — was arrested on April 30, 2015, after police spotted her in a pickup truck that had been reported stolen earlier that afternoon.
The issue, said Davis, is not the official account but the lack of accountability and transparency. Turner had promised to release the videos but only one was shown to the family, and it was pointing outside, not inside, the cruiser.
While her family didn’t see Christian’s final moments, they heard them. According to Davis, the officers can be heard telling her to drop the gun. Christian can be heard saying she doesn’t have one.
“I just witnessed my daughter’s last breath,” said her mother, Felecia Christian. “It’s not acceptable. APD has done a great disservice to my family.”
Outside of civil litigation, it is unclear what remedy, if any, the Christians have. Requesting a new investigation would likely be futile since, according to Davis, there is little evidence left to probe. He said the cruiser where the shots were fired was placed back into service the following day. The reason: “A shortage of cars,” Davis said.