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‘You Didn’t Have to Kill Him’: Family of Black Atlanta Man Question Why He Was Shot In the Back By Police While Driving Away

Three generations of women are calling for transparency and justice surrounding the death of Eric Holmes, a young man fatally shot by a Clayton County Police officer last November.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has agreed to secure body-camera video of the incident, offering to sit with the family as a probe seeks to discover what happened to their son.

At the core of the story is a stolen car the officer was investigating.

“You didn’t have to kill him,” the man’s mother, Vakelvion Holmes, said. “I just want to know why he killed my baby.”

Eric Holmes
Eric Holmes was shot and killed by Clayton County Police on Nov. 21, 2022. (Photo: YouTube screenshot/11 Alive)

According to a statement released by the GBI, the officer, identified in local reports as Justin Stephens, arrived at IGM Surfaces, LLC in the Atlanta suburb of Morrow, Georgia, to investigate a stolen vehicle parked outside the company. The young man approached the officer and engaged him in a nonconfrontational conversation “but gave no indication of his connection to the stolen vehicle.”

An initial report stated Holmes “abruptly walked away” from the officer and got into the car.

After he started the engine, Stephens called for Holmes to stop, but he continued to drive away.

“The officer fired several shots, and the man left the scene in the stolen vehicle. The officer called for assistance and pursued Holmes in his marked patrol car,” the GBI said.

An injured Holmes drove the car for approximately a quarter mile on Commerce Drive before veering off into a ditch.

Stephens detained Holmes, pulling him from the vehicle and placing him under arrest at the location of the crash. He also called for emergency medical care technicians to treat Holmes but aided his injuries until they arrived.

The young man succumbed to his injuries after arriving at the Southern Regional Hospital later in the day.

Investigators surveyed the scene of the accident and recovered two handguns from the stolen vehicle but did not note if either was registered to the deceased.

On Monday, Dec. 19, weeks after Holmes was buried, police records show the CCP officer who shot the young man resigned “in lieu of termination,” Georgia’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) site stated, leaving his position three years after joining the department.

No charges have been filed against the officer.

On Thursday, Jan. 5, Eric’s mother, his grandmother and great-grandmother went to the GBI headquarters to talk to Director Michael Register and ask for meaningful updates. In an interview with 11Alive, they said they wanted to “apply pressure” on the agency regarding the almost three-month investigation launched after his death.

The mom said, “We went to the GBI to just try and get some answers. Apply a little pressure to them so they can release the body camera video.”

Register received the mother and told her he would schedule a meeting next week with the Clayton County District Attorney and the Clayton County Police Chief so that she could watch the body-camera video, hear the dialogue between her son and the officer, who has been identified in local reports as Justin Stephens, and hopefully by reviewing the details of the video assess why the officer shot her son.

Valkelvion Holmes said she still wants the now-ex-officer charged for her son’s death.

Experts anticipate one of three decisions would have to be made once the investigation is concluded and the GBI’s findings are sent over to Tasha M. Mosely, the Clayton County District Attorney.

After reviewing the evidence, Mosely could decide to send the case to a grand jury, affording them the power to indict or not indict Stephens. She could also choose to file charges against him on her own. Her last option is not to prosecute him at all.

While the details are being flushed out and plans of screening the video are allegedly being made, the matriarchs of Eric’s family are mourning.

His great-grandmother Leary, 85, said, “That was the love of my life. And I won’t forget him,” adding, “He took care of granny.”

Through her tears, Vakelvion said she just wants authorities to tell her what her son, the father of a 3-year-old, did “wrong.”

“That’s something they’ve not been able to show,” she explained. “To what I understand, he’s not wrong. So, if he’s not wrong, why is the officer still out here walking around, why was he shot in the back?”

The family is now turning to litigation in an effort to get answers and some form of justice.

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