The family of a Georgia woman fatally shot as sheriff’s deputies entered her relative’s home under a search warrant is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the case, likening the killing to that of Breonna Taylor.
Latoya James, 37, was killed when authorities entered her cousin Varshawn Brown’s home near Savannah, looking for drugs. James’ attorneys and family argue the occupants of the house did not have enough time to respond when a search team broke down the door, gaining entry into the dark house in the early morning of May 2021.
Authorities said they were firing back at Brown, who is now facing felony murder charges in relation to his cousin’s death. Harry Daniels, an attorney for James’ estate, said prosecutors told them the shots that killed James came from deputies. Local prosecutors declined to pursue charges against the deputies involved in April.
Daniels said James was not suspected of any crime when she got caught in the crossfire.
“Latoya was innocent in all aspects of this case. There was no subject search warrant related to her,” Daniels said.
Daniels and James’ family say the incident is similar to the 2020 Kentucky raid that killed Taylor. The DOJ filed civil rights charges against four officers involved in Taylor’s case earlier this month.
Body-worn camera footage of the incident shows deputies announced themselves before they entered Brown’s house in Woodbine, Georgia. Shots ring out shortly afterward, but a deputy’s shield blocks the view of what happened. Brown was also hit with gunfire in the shooting.
“You have a video showing these officers reaching this door, not even giving these people time to even open their mouth and answer, ‘Hold on. One second. We coming.’ They didn’t give them a chance to make verbal responses before they kicked down the door,” Daniels said.
Camden County deputies entered Brown’s home at 5 a.m. on May 4, 2021. James was unarmed, but Brown was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and aggravated assault on a public safety officer, among his other charges. His cousin died at the scene. Brown was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent multiple surgeries, according to reports.
James’ familiy’s attorneys said the murder charge against the slain woman’s cousin adds “insult to injury.”
“Her death came about as a result of them, you know, forcing their way into the home in the wee hours of the morning and opening fire up before understanding what the scene was. And his bullets never touched her. The officers’ bullets are the ones that, you know, penetrated her body and took her life,” said Reginald Greene, one of James’ family attorneys.
Under Georgia law, a person commits felony murder if they cause the death of someone “in the commission of a felony.” Brown was also charged with the commission of a crime by a convicted felon and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
Federal prosecutors said the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Place-Based Investigations Unit falsified the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant of Taylor’s home in March 2020, which violated federal civil rights laws and resulted in her death. The Louisville Metro police officers were also charged with conspiracy for agreeing to cover up the falsified document. In addition, detective Brett Hankison, who fired the fatal shot, was charged for unconstitutionally excessive force. Federal prosecutors said he shot into Taylor’s apartment through a covered window and glass door.