By Joshua Sharpe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga
The encounter left him bruised and swollen; the deputy involved has been fired.
When he stepped to the lectern Friday, Roderick Walker didn’t look at the assembled media.
If he’d turned his gaze up, he might’ve had trouble seeing from his left eye, which his attorneys say has blurred and doubled vision since a Clayton County deputy punched him repeatedly during an arrest last week. If Walker had looked out, the media would seen that left eye, still bloodshot horribly.
Walker looked straight down.
“I was scared,” the 26-year-old, who wore a sliver cross around his neck, said softly. “I feared for my life, and I just pray, just hope that it doesn’t happen to nobody else. I lost consciousness, I couldn’t breathe. I just pray it don’t happen to nobody else.”
Walker was speaking publicly for the first time since cell phone videos of his arrest went viral, leading many to cast the event as yet another case of a white cop brutalizing a Black resident. The deputies accused Walker of being the aggressor, but his attorneys denied that Friday.
All this started with a faulty taillight.
Last Friday, a Clayton County deputy noticed one missing on the Jeep Cherokee and pulled it over. Walker and his girlfriend were inside because they’d paid the driver for a ride after dropping off a rental car.
Deputy D. Riddick, who initiated the stop, wrote in a report that he asked Walker for his license, though he was a passenger, because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Walker, required by law to wear a seatbelt because he was in the front, refused to identify himself because he wasn’t driving.
But Torris Butterfield, one of Walker’s attorneys, said witnesses have said Walker was wearing a seatbelt. “On that day, Mr. Walker was indeed at all relevant times wearing a seatbelt,” Butterfield said. “He always wore a seat belt.”
Georgia law says a person can be compelled to give identification to law enforcement officers if they suspect the person of a crime or a violation that could merit a ticket. The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office says no bodycam footage from the case exists.
Deputy Riddick asked Walker to get out of the Jeep after Walker declined to identify himself. Walker stepped out, and Riddick decided to cuff him “until I identified him,” he wrote in a report. Walker ran, then resisted violently, elbowing Riddick in the face and biting Deputy Brandon Myers, according to Riddick’s report.
Walker’s attorney Shean Williams disputed that account and said the report “shows somebody trying to cover their ass.”
Walker’s attorneys say he was bitten, Tased and had a knee in his neck so long that he lost consciousness twice. He suffered a concussion and knee injuries that will require physical therapy and has been having headaches, cognitive problems and the loss of some memories of the incident.
Riddick still works for the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office. Myers was fired two days after the incident.
Williams said that should have happened long ago. He said Myers had racked up five previous use of force incidents that were related to traffic stops in the 10 months he’s been on the force. He distributed copies of the reports during the news conference. The reports weren’t in personnel records supplied to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously by the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office after an open records request. Agencies traditionally keep such complaints in personnel files.
“I would say that in 30 plus years of practice I have not seen a personnel file that failed to include complaints of use of force,” said civil rights attorney Gerry Weber. “I’m not aware of any law that requires them to be in the personnel file, but it is extremely concerning. It suggests a department is not monitoring the use of force.”
Three reports distributed by Walker’s attorneys related to Myers using a PIT maneuver, which is when an officer forces a fleeing car to wreck. One report was about him tackling a fleeing suspect. The fifth doesn’t even say what happened. Myers was cleared of any wrongdoing in every case.
The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t responded to interview requests. Efforts to reach Myers have been unsuccessful.
Walker’s attorneys thanked Clayton County District Attorney Tasha Mosley for working to get Walker release quickly from the county jail. The attorneys said they were confident she’ll review the evidence and drop the charges of obstruction and battery he faces from the incident.
Instead of prosecuting Walker, the attorneys said, Mosley should prosecute Myers.
“We know what happened to Roderick has happened to others,” said attorney Williams. “As Mr. Walker just said, (we want to) make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone again.”