An Atlanta-area police department on Friday released bodycam videos from an April 12 officer-involved shooting during which a Black man was killed.
The footage, obtained by Atlanta Black Star, showed 35-year-old Matthew Zadok Williams holding a knife as he rushed a DeKalb County police officer during an encounter outside his Decatur home. He was still wielding the knife and told police he was “defending his property” when officers pleaded for him to drop the weapon minutes later.
The videos indicate police opened fire on Williams on three separate occasions after he lunged at officers during the fatal incident, which lasted about 20 minutes. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is now investigating the shooting.
Williams’ family members spent much of the week calling for the release of the footage and reviewed it Thursday, according to CBS 2. They said it showed that the man was in the midst of a mental health crisis and believe police should have backed off and called a crisis negotiator, who could’ve possibly averted tragedy.
“He retreated in his own home. He was in his sanctuary. He was behind closed doors. He was no longer a threat,” Williams’ sister Hannah Williams told the Atlanta news station.
DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond agreed that officers should have called in negotiators, as did the family’s Atlanta-based civil rights attorney Mawuli Davis.
“What we saw was a young man who was having a mental health crisis. And we believe that when he was having that crisis outside of his home, that the officers acted in self-preservation mode,” Davis told CBS. “But once he entered his home, and his home was his sanctuary, we believe that at that point, knowing that he was having a mental health crisis, that they should have brought out negotiators and mental health experts, and even contacted his loving family in order to get him to come out.”
The bodycam footage showed officers make desperate attempts to convince Williams to drop his knife after he barricaded himself behind an ottoman chair near the front entrance of his house.
“I don’t want to hurt you, sir. Please don’t give us a reason to,” said one officer who identified himself as Sgt. Perry. Perry spent about six minutes trying to coax Williams out of the house as he and three other Black officers demanded him to drop the knife.
Williams seemed willing to negotiate a surrender, at on point telling Perry, “I’ll put it down if y’all talk cordially.” But he said he’d only talk from behind his closed front door, a concession the officers were unwilling to make as they struggled with Williams at the entrance.
“Let me see you throw it down. You throw it down, and we’ll put our stuff down,” Perry told the man. “Can you do that for us, please. Please sir, I’m begging you. You’re a Black man, I’m a Black man. You don’t have to die today. I don’t want you to die today. Put the knife down.”
But Williams refused.
“Your officer bombarded my property,” he said. “He didn’t show any identification, he had a mask on. He just now put his police jacket on. So I’m defending my property. I want you guys to back up first, and we can talk then.
“Put your weapon down and back up and we can talk through the door,” Williams added.
Police say he then lunged at officers moments later. The footage didn’t capture his alleged attack, but bodycam video showed the officers at his doorstep retreat from the door just before three gunshots rang out.
Police stopped trying to enter the home at that point. Williams remained inside the home for 84 minutes before SWAT team officers arrived to force their way in. They found the man dead at the front door where he stood his ground with police. The alleged blue knife was near his body, according to authorities.
The tense encounter began just before 4 p.m. April 12. Police were called to the 2500 block of Terrace Trail in a wooded Decatur, Georgia, subdivision. Two women said they saw a suspicious man outside their homes lurking with a knife. One of the women said they spotted the man doing drugs and lying in the woods beside her home, 911 calls indicate. She called 911 again about 30 minutes later and said she startled the man when she stepped outside near her driveway and he stepped toward her with the knife.
After two officers arrived to investigate the matter, another neighbor told them the home was vacant and no one lived there. She claimed the home was undergoing renovations but no one was supposed to be there, telling police she had never seen the suspicious man before.
DeKalb County Property Appraiser records, however, show that Williams has owned the condo since October 2016. The reports from neighbors gave the two officers the impression they were dealing with a trespasser, the bodycam video showed.
They approached the home and found Williams standing on the front porch. The male officer asked if he resided there, but Williams didn’t respond.
“Well, look, if you don’t live here, man, I’m just kindly asking you to leave the property, all right, and be on your way. OK, can you do that for me?” the officer asked.
Williams agreed and both of them walked down the porch steps. When he got to the bottom of the stairs, he swiped at the male officer, although the video was unclear at that point if he was wielding a knife.
The officer stumbled over a brick paver as he ran away. Video showed Williams charge at the cop after he fell to the ground. That’s when the female officer, who was standing in the front yard, drew her gun and fired a single shot at Williams. It wasn’t clear if that bullet struck him.
The male officer got up and ran back onto the porch. Williams gave chase, then ran under the porch to the side of the house. The video showed Williams holding a blue object as he fled.
The male officer then called for backup saying he was just attacked by a suspect with a blue knife. The two cops then demanded Williams drop his weapon.
“Aye, we not gon’ come to you with a knife in your hand, man. And we will shoot,” one of the officers said. “We gave you ample warnings, all right.”
At one point, Williams scaled the roof and told officers he’d locked himself out. The male officer was skeptical, saying “Man you don’t live there, man. You live there?”
Moments later the sounds of glass shattering was heard on the video from Williams kicking in a bedroom window. One neighbor reportedly saw Williams dive head-first through the window.
At least two more officers arrived a few minutes later and helped search the property. Unsure if Williams was wounded from the gunshot, the sergeant decided they should force entry and take Williams into custody. But when an officer kicked the door open, they found Williams hiding behind a leather ottoman at the front door. He had the knife in his hand. He slammed the door shut several times after officers kicked it open. Through the closed door, he said they needed a search warrant.
A short ruckus erupted after the fifth kick and a shot rang out as the officers recoiled away from the door.
“My property, sir. I’m defending my property,” Williams said. “I won’t come out, I’m defending my property.”
At one point, one of the officers fired a round from a Taser gun, but the probe lodged in the wooden doorframe. The officer complained that he couldn’t get a clear shot.
“We don’t want to hurt you, brother,” the police sergeant said. “We don’t want to hurt you. I promise you. I promise I don’t want to hurt you. I promise you. Put your knife down.”