It’s been a year since 35-year-old Matthew Zadok Williams was killed by DeKalb County Police after a woman wrongly claimed she saw a homeless man in the woods lurking near her home in Decatur, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.
“The fact that it’s been a year, and nothing has been done,” Zadok Williams’ frustrated mother, Chris Ann Lewis said.
The family of Zadok Williams says they’ve mulled over countless hours of bodycam footage to wrap their minds around how and why police killed their brother and son. “We can talk about this in such detail because we watched eight hours of the footage, eight hours or more,” Zadok Williams’ sister Zeporah Williams said.
Zadok’s sisters, Hannah and Zeporah and his mother, Chris Ann Lewis, have spent countless hours mulling over their loved one’s final moments on April 12 of last year. They say their brother and son was known for his big heart, thirst for learning and dry sense of humor, but all of those endearing qualities have been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding his death.
“He was trying to get back in, he had locked himself out, he had been doing some work around his home and he was trying to reenter his home when police saw him, and it had been reported that he was a trespasser,” said Mawuli Davis, the Williams’ family attorney.
DeKalb County Police said in a news release on its Facebook page a day after the shooting, “[Zadok Williams] lunged at officers with the knife causing one of them to discharge their firearm.”
The family says Zadok Williams had a knife and bucket in hand for some plumbing-related work around his home. Released bodycam video picks up moments after officers are heard concluding a conversation with the woman who has been described as the housemate of the woman who called 911. Officers can be seen approaching Zadok at his home.
“Hey what’s up man, what you are doing around here, you live here?” one of the responding officers is heard asking Zadok Williams. “Do you know why we’re here?” the officer asked, and at this moment in their interaction, Zadok Williams can be seen walking down the steps on the frontside of his townhouse-style home. As he reaches the ground he runs.
One of the officers seen in the bodycam video fires one shot, but Zadok Williams was able to run back toward his home.
Moments later, Zadok Williams climbs atop his roof to break into his home from an upstairs window. Bodycam video does not fully capture this visual but debris on top of the roof can be seen falling to the ground near Zadok Williams’ front door.
As Williams was on the roof, he kicked in an upstairs window to enter his home — he apparently had locked himself out. By this time, three officers huddle around Zadok Williams’ front door on the porch.
“Put the knife down, put the knife down,” officers can be heard screaming at Williams, who’s just on the other side of his front door inside the home before the officers kick open the door.
The bodycam video shows the front door closing moments after police kicked it open. At this moment one of the officers fired a shot at the door. Audio from the bodycam picks up Zadok Williams telling officers, he’s defending his property.
“I’m defending my property” Williams says repeatedly. “Come out and talk to us,” one of the officers on the porch said to Williams while standing in an aggressive posture and gun drawn. Again, Williams says, “I’m defending my property,” as one of the officers responds with, “If you put the knife down you don’t have to defend nothing.”
“Their initial rationalization or that is, we’re going to kick the door in because he might be injured, but they kick the door in, and they shoot him,” Williams family attorney Mawuli Davis said of the tense situation on Zadok Williams’ porch.
“He wasn’t cursing at them, he wasn’t calling them out of their names, he wasn’t doing any of that,” said Zeporah Williams, describing her brother’s calm and respectful demeanor towards the officers.
The altercation between Zadok Williams and DeKalb County police reached a crescendo as DeKalb County Police Sgt. Devon Perry is heard identifying officers just before more gunshots were fired.
“You’re a Black man, I’m a Black man, you don’t have to die today,” Sergeant Perry is heard telling Zadok Williams on the bodycam video.
“Sgt. Devon Perry fired four shots into my brother’s home at close range for no reason at all. If you view the bodycam footage, you’ll see my brother did nothing to deserve shots fired at him,” Hannah Williams said of the officer that killed her brother.
Zadok Williams was shot at three times at close range by the officer’s bullets as he was hiding behind an ottoman on the other side of the front door. After the shooting, the officers on scene didn’t provide immediate aid to Zadok Williams who was inside the home after suffering a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
“Nearly an hour and a half, where they left him and we have the audio recordings where there is communication and the question was asked by a supervisor, hey, is he in there bleeding out, he could be in there bleeding out, you know that’s on you, and they decide not to enter and to leave him to die,” Mawuli Davis said of the officer’s reaction after Zadok Williams was shot.
“My son died an agonizing painful death while all of his organs are shutting down while he’s struggling to breathe and bleeding all over his floors no more than ten feet in his foyer away from where officers are lollygagging and shooting the breeze,” an angry Chris Ann Lewis said of the police behavior after shooting her son.
For Zadok Williams’ family, there are many parts to what happened that day that leave them saddened, angry and frustrated.
“It’s almost like it’s a game of cops and robbers,” said Zeporah Williams said of the shooting.
Atlanta Black Star reported at the time, “EMTs were on the scene and inquired about going in to render aid, but per policy, could not render aid until the scene was deemed safe by police” according to the fire department. Nearly an hour and a half after Zadok Williams was shot, bodycam video shows EMS approaching the home.
“It hits even more so at home with me because I’m a retired trauma nurse, so I know this wound, this nonfatal gunshot wound to the shoulder that my son died from because of a cold heart was turned to him by every officer who had boots on that ground,” said Chris Ann Lewis.
Ever since the deadly shooting, Zadok Williams’ family has fought to keep his case on the minds of the community with rallies and petitions all aimed at local officials charged with investigating the case.
“Accountability starts with CEO Thurman, Chief Ramos and now DA Sherry Boston,” Chris Ann Lewis said.
Attorney Mawuli Davis says, DeKalb County Police used excessive force against Zadok Williams and violated their own use of deadly force policies because he posed no threat to anyone while barricaded in his own home.
“The only way that any officer is authorized to use deadly force is if they believe there is an imminent threat of danger and that didn’t exist why, because he was behind a locked door and once they kick the door in, once the door opened, he continues to try to close the door and talk to them through the door,” Davis said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed it finished its investigation last July and handed its findings over to DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, whose office confirmed to Atlanta Black Star she is still investigating to determine if charges will be brought against the officers involved in Zadok Williams’ shooting last year.
The family has been waiting since January to hear a decision from Boston, and because it is taking so long they are beginning to suspect a cover-up could be at play.
“Chief Ramos put that narrative out there of who my son was and how he died, smells like a cover-up to me,” an upset Chris Ann Lewis said of the officials leading the investigation into her son’s death.
Other concerns include the police failure to follow its policies when dealing with people having a mental health crisis.
“They used words like he’s out of his mind, he must be gone, he’s on something, he’s mentally ill, they all knew it,” said Hannah Williams.
As we cross the one-year mark since Zadok Williams’ death, perhaps the most frustrating part of this year-long nightmare for this family is the virtual silence they have heard from the very people who took their loved one’s life, and not knowing when any accountability will come.
“I’m just waiting and waiting for them to make a decision while these officers are still gainfully employed, wearing the badge and walking the streets,” said Chris Ann Lewis.
“It was a cold-blooded murder, not an accidental murder, it felt very intentional while watching that bodycam footage,” Zeporah Williams said about how she views the slaying.
“His murder happened on that porch, and that’s what the public needs to focus on, and that’s what I hope District Attorney Sherry Boston is focusing on,” said Hannah Williams said of her brother’s death and hopeful focus of investigators.
Attorney Davis says a civil lawsuit is on the horizon, but the immediate focus for the family is justice and accountability. “Obviously, there will be some civil litigation here, but the first thing and it’s always has been to have this officer terminated because he’s on the street and he’s a danger,” Davis said.
The Williams family has spent every week, rain or shine, protesting the case of their son and brother’s loss, including demonstrating at DeKalb County government office building. They credit Zadok Williams’ loving spirit for continuing to motivate them to keep fighting for justice. “His love is what’s giving us strength,” Zeporah Williams said.
Atlanta Black Star sent several requests to DeKalb County for more information on its handling of the investigation, including learning what the department’s policies are for mentally ill people and if one of the officers involved in the shooting had run-ins with Zadok Williams just weeks earlier, which could dispel the claim officers didn’t know Williams lived at the home.
Our requests have not been fulfilled by the time of this report; we’ll continue to follow this story as it develops.