By BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — A white Georgia sheriff’s deputy seen in a viral video repeatedly punching a Black man who was pinned to the ground has been fired after the man’s family demanded he be released from jail immediately.
Roderick Walker, 26, remained locked up at the Clayton County Jail on Sunday, two days after video surfaced showing him being held on the ground by two Clayton County sheriff’s deputies and being pummeled by one as he cried out “I can’t breathe” and as his 5-year-old son sat in a car screaming, “Daddy.”
The incident occurred Friday evening in front of a Georgia Department of Public Health building near the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. An attorney for Walker said the incident quickly escalated after a ride-share vehicle Walker was a passenger in was pulled over for a routine traffic violation.
On Sunday afternoon, officials announced in a statement that “the Deputy who repeatedly struck Roderick Walker is being terminated from the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office by order of Sheriff Victor Hill for excessive use of force.” The deputy’s name was not immediately released.
A criminal investigation of the incident will be turned over to the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office, the statement reads.
An earlier statement said sheriff’s officials became aware of the incident when a video was posted on social media and that Hill “ordered his entire Internal Affairs Unit to come in and begin an investigation” around 8 p.m. on Friday. Prior to Sunday’s announcement of his termination, the deputy was immediately placed on administrative leave without pay pending the outcome of the investigation.
“I just want my son home because he was beaten real bad. He did nothing wrong,” Walker’s mother, Tywauna Walker, said during a news conference Saturday night in front of the Clayton County Jail.
She said that when she watched the video she felt “sad, emotional, hysterical.”
“I was just hurt because I wasn’t there to protect him,” Tywauna Walker said.
Sheriff Hill also ordered a signature bond courtesy for Walker, but added that Walker remains in jail because there was a felony probation warrant for him out of Fulton County, Georgia, for cruelty to children and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. There was also warrant on Walker from Hapeville, Georgia, for failing to appear at a court hearing on an undisclosed charge, officials said.
“Mr. Walker’s legal counsel will have to resolve these issues to secure his release,” the statement from the sheriff’s office reads.
Walker received medical treatment, including X-rays that detected no fractures to his head, according to the sheriff’s office. He is being monitored at the jail hospital by a doctor.
ABC affiliate station WSB-TV in Atlanta obtained a photo of Walker in jail with a badly bruised and swollen left eye.
— Audrey Washington (@AudreyWSBTV) September 13, 2020
Walker was booked at the jail Friday night on two counts of battery and two counts of obstructing officers.
Shean Williams, a lawyer representing Walker’s family, called the charges against Walker “frivolous” and demanded that Hill and the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office drop the charges immediately and release him.
“Roderick Walker is in jail solely because he was illegally arrested after being assaulted by Clayton County Sheriff deputies, not because of anything he did during that incident or in the past,” Williams said in a statement following the announcement of the deputy’s termination. “Mr. Walker would not be in jail if it were not for this unlawful arrest that violated his legal and constitutional rights.”
Williams bristled at Hill’s statement that Walker was being held on outstanding warrants.
“Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill’s statement is just a weak attempt to deflect from his lack of leadership and continuous encouragement that his deputies violate peoples’ civil rights,” Williams said. “The only individuals who perpetrated criminal behavior were the deputies who unlawfully assaulted and arrested him.”
Williams said he is requesting that the Clayton County District Attorney’s officer pursue criminal charges against the two sheriff’s deputies and that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation launch an independent probe of the episode.
Williams said the incident unfolded after Walker, his girlfriend, Janita Davis, and their 5-year-old son dropped off a rental car and were getting a ride home from a ride-share service.
The driver was pulled over by Clayton County Sheriff’s deputies in an unmarked car for having a busted tail light, Williams said. During the stop, a sheriff’s deputy asked Walker, who was a passenger in the vehicle, for his identification, according to Williams.
“He informed them that he did not have any ID and that he didn’t need any since he was not driving a vehicle,” Williams said. “When they didn’t like his question, they then demanded that he get out of a vehicle that he wasn’t driving. It escalates to him being beaten on the ground, being tased, and almost dying. And they take him to jail.”
Cellphone video of the incident taken by a witness and by Davis show two Clayton County Sheriff’s deputies on top of Walker trying to handcuff him. One of the officers is seen punching Walker in the face and body and yelling, “He bit me.”
Walker can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe” and Davis is heard screaming at the officers, “Don’t kill him.”
The couple’s young son, who Davis ordered to get back in the car, is seen in the video watching the incident unfold from the back seat of the vehicle, yelling, “Daddy.”
Walker’s face appeared to be bloody and his body seemed to go listless as the deputies, with the help of a third colleague, handcuffed him. Walker was conscious as the deputies stood him up and placed him in a patrol car.
Williams, of the Cochran Law Firm in Atlanta, said the ride-share driver was not charged in the incident.
“He (Walker) has at least two episodes where he goes unconscious,” Williams said. “When you became unconscious that is a medical term for a brain injury. On this video, you do not see any ambulance or anybody giving medical treatment to Mr. Walker. What you do see is they continue to beat the man … in his face instead of protecting and serving, which they’re required to do.”
The local NAACP and community activist from the Black Lives Matter movement were scheduled to hold a rally in front of the Clayton County Jail on Sunday to demand Walker’s release, Williams said.
“We are here demanding that he get out of jail, but we could, unfortunately, be talking and mourning his life,” Williams said, invoking the name of George Floyd, the Black man whose May 25 death sparked protest nationwide after cellphone showed Minneapolis police trying to take him into custody and one digging his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck.
“We’ve seen this happen on too many occasions and we’re just tired of it,” Williams said.
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