Atlanta officer used Taser on church deacon after he said he could not breathe, police video shows

Nov 22, 2023, 12:24 PM | Updated: 12:56 pm

ATLANTA (AP) — An Atlanta police officer responding to a minor car crash deployed a Taser on a church deacon who disregarded multiple commands to sign a traffic ticket, shocking the man after he repeatedly said he could not breathe, police body camera video released Wednesday shows.

Johnny Hollman Sr. became unresponsive during his arrest late on the night of Aug. 10 and later died. An autopsy determined the 62-year-old’s death was a homicide, with heart disease also a contributing factor, and his family has called on prosecutors to charge Officer Kiran Kimbrough with murder. An attorney for Kimbrough, who was fired, says the officer acted lawfully.

The roughly hour-long video shows Kimbrough arriving at the scene of the crash and gathering information from Hollman, the other driver and a passenger before the confrontation.

Relatives have said Hollman was driving home from Bible study at his daughter’s house and bringing dinner to his wife when he collided with another vehicle while turning across a busy street just west of downtown Atlanta.

In the video, Hollman repeatedly insists the other driver hit him, but otherwise follows Kimbrough’s orders to move his car and stay by it. The encounter escalates after Kimbrough tells Hollman he failed to turn his white Chevrolet Silverado pickup correctly and was at fault for the crash.

Hollman immediately begins protesting, saying repeatedly, “I didn’t do nothing.” Kimbrough tells Hollman he can contest the finding in court, but he needs to sign the citation. He also accuses Hollman of screaming and repeatedly warns him that he will be jailed if he doesn’t sign.

Kimbrough’s attorney Lance LoRusso said in an emailed statement Wednesday that before the officer arrived, the other parties in the collision called 911 to report Hollman was disorderly and they were concerned for their safety.

“Mr. Hollman violently and unlawfully resisted Officer Kimbrough’s lawful efforts to arrest him,” LoRusso said. “The Atlanta Police investigation confirmed Officer Kimbrough deployed his city-issued TASER and used force in a manner consistent with his training and Georgia law.”

In the video, Hollman says he will sign the ticket after Kimbrough steps closer to him. Kimbrough’s body camera gets blocked, obscuring exactly what happens next, but the two men begin to struggle.

Kimbrough demands Hollman’s arm, but Hollman says his right arm hurts. Within seconds, Hollman is on the ground, saying he didn’t do anything and asking the officer why he’s doing this.

“I’m an old man. I’m an old man,” Hollman says.

Kimbrough yells at him to sign the ticket and says he is going to use his Taser on him.

“Put your hands behind your back now. Put your arms behind your back,” Kimbrough shouts before engaging his Taser in what police have said was a “warning arc.”

The tussling continues, with Kimbrough continuing to tell Hollman to put his hands behind his back and Hollman repeating over and over, “I can’t breathe.”

The officer then uses his Taser to shock Hollman — a maneuver police have called a “drive stun.”

The video also shows the aftermath of the struggle. Another first responder arrives and helps Kimbrough get handcuffs on Hollman, who is lying face down and is no longer fighting. Kimbrough rolls Hollman over, checks his pulse and tells him to sit up. But Hollman is unresponsive, lying on the ground with a bloody face.

When other officers arrive a couple of minutes later, Kimbrough explains Hollman protested when instructed to sign a ticket, resisted when told to put his hands behind his back and looked like he was going to hit the officer. Kimbrough said he punched Hollman a couple of times, stunned him and put him in handcuffs.

“I don’t know what’s going on with him now,” Kimbrough says. “He’s still breathing, though.”

The video’s release came after Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum fired Kimbrough on Oct. 10. Schierbaum said Kimbrough, who like Hollman is Black, violated department policy when he didn’t wait until a supervisor arrived to arrest Hollman.

LoRusso said Georgia law doesn’t require an officer to seek approval from a supervisor before making an arrest and said Kimbrough has appealed his firing.

Mawuli Davis, a lawyer for the family, said at a news conference Wednesday that Hollman was doing nothing wrong.

“What he was doing was he was making his case, like so many of us do when someone is going to issue us a ticket,” Davis said. He later added, “Instead of listening and being patient and using his training of de-escalation, instead this officer treated him as if he were not an elder.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has completed its inquiry into Hollman’s death and handed over its investigative file to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who will decide whether to seek charges. The district attorney’s office investigation is ongoing, and it’s not clear when that decision will be made, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Hollman’s daughter, Arnitra Hollman, said she’s grateful to Willis for releasing the video, but that’s only the first step.

“Now moving forward, we need him jailed,” she said of Kimbrough. “We need him prosecuted to the fullest extent because our father’s life means so much, not just to us but to people in the community.”

Hollman’s death has contributed to discontent with police among some Atlantans that centers on a proposal to build a large police and firefighter training facility that opponents call “Cop City.”

It also prompted Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens to instruct the police department to do a “top-to-bottom review” of its standard operating procedures and training curriculum. That review led to some changes, notably a rule change that says officers should write “refusal to sign” on a traffic ticket instead of arresting someone who won’t sign.

In a statement Wednesday, Dickens said many people, especially Hollman’s family, will find the video difficult to watch.

“I continue to extend my deepest sympathy to them and hold them close in my thoughts and prayers,” he said.

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Atlanta officer used Taser on church deacon after he said he could not breathe, police video shows