The mother of a black teenager shot by a white Union City Police Officer in 2011 called on city leaders Tuesday night to take action against police officials and bring in the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a full investigation into what she called the murder of her son.
Backed by her attorney, and State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, and a group of civic leaders concerned with police misconduct, Freda Waiters called for the mayor and city council to fire Police Chief Chuck Odom and seek the immediate arrest of Luther Lewis, the officer who shot her unarmed son twice in the back at close range while attempting to handcuff the teen.
“This was a death that never should have happened,” Waiters said. “My son should be here walking around, talking and laughing like all of us. My child was a human person like all of us.”
Her comments follow an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation that highlighted problems with the original investigation and found contradictions in the official story that has persisted since her son, Ariston, was shot and killed Dec. 14, 2011. The officer claimed he shot Waiters because the teen went for his gun and he feared for his life.
But a key witness in the investigation said Lewis told a different story immediately after the shooting. Union City Police Officer Chris McElroy said Lewis told him he could not see the teen’s hands and he worried he might be concealing a gun.
The newspaper’s investigation also raised questions about the DNA evidence used to link Waiters to the officer’s gun, and found previous instances when Lewis’ judgment was questioned by fellow officers.
The story prompted immediate action from state and local investigators who reopened the case last week. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, has already contacted at least a half dozen officers related to the case and interviewed several of them.
Union City Mayor Vince R. Williams said he had received a subpoena from Howard’s office on Tuesday and he has assured the district attorney the city will fully cooperate. He said the City Council was in the process of taking “measures right now,” but he would not elaborate.
“This entire body grieves with Ms. Waiters,” Williams said. “We have grieved with her. We will continue to grieve with her. None of us can move forward without closure. She deserves closure. The city deserves closure.”
Councilwoman Angelette Mealing said “my heart is still heavy” concerning the death of Ariston Waiters, 19, and the grief it had brought to his mother.
“I strongly urge the Fulton County DA’s office and the federal authorities to review all the evidence again and to pursue justice,” Mealing said. “Tonight, I’m going to be asking my colleagues, the mayor and council, to stand with me as we send a letter to the Department of Justice.”
No formal action has been taken on the letter yet, Mealing said after the meeting.
Freda Waiters has plodded along for more than three years in a lonely struggle to have her son’s case reopened, ever since a Fulton County grand jury chose not to indict Lewis in May 2012 for murder and seven other felonies. She hired a private investigator and had asked both Howard’s office and federal authorities to reopen the case.
The family settled a wrongful death suit against the city for $750,000 and used the money to set up a fund for Waiters’ young daughter. The girl, now a preschooler, was in the audience Tuesday night.