The family of Matthew Zadok Williams (Zadok) gathered outside of the Office of Dekalb County CEO, Michael Thurmond on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. They were joined by activists, organizers, and community members demanding that Sgt. Devon Perry be fired for the murder of Zadok, which occurred April 12, 2021. That sentiment was echoed by the public-at-large, in the form of a Color of Change petition (bearing 38,000 signatures), which the family had arranged to deliver to Mr. Thurmond. Instead of being met by the CEO, the Williams Family was turned away at the door, as Dekalb County Sherriff's Deputies informed them that the CEO was not in the building. Neither was there any representative from his office who could receive the petition, they further iterated.
While the family and community activists were disappointed that the CEO was not available, they mustered their hope and continued to rally outside. Activist and Organizer, Devin Barrington Ward led chants and encouraged the crowd that justice, while seemingly elusive, was not out-of-reach. They also heard from State Representative Renitta Shannon (HD84); Attorney Mawuli Davis; Nathan Knight of the Dekalb SCLC and Gerald Griggs of the NAACP.
So, what happened to Zadok? On April 12, 2021, Zadok was approached by Dekalb County Police outside of his home, on the suspicion of trespassing. Officers claim that Zadok lunged at them with a knife, which caused them to shoot him. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported: “Once contact was made, he lunged at officers with the knife causing one of them to discharge their firearm,” DeKalb police spokeswoman Michaela Vincent said. “It was unknown if the male was struck at this time as he fled into a vacant residence.” They tried to make contact with him and he lunged again, “causing an officer to discharge his firearm,” she said. Williams went back inside the vacant house, where he was discovered dead later. (https://www.ajc.com/news/breaking-1-dead-in-overnight-police-shooting-in-dekalb-county/75VYARPGTFB3JEMTNSA4HMZTZI/)
Despite the statement from the Dekalb County Police Department, the body cam footage below (courtesy of the New Yorker Magazine) shows that Zadok was actually shot after barricading himself inside of his home. Officer Perry shot through the door as Zadok crouched behind an ottoman. Upon learning of his death, Zadok's family immediately began working to get to the bottom of what really happened to him. They hired Civil Rights Attorney, Mawuli Davis to represent them, as well as medical and investigative professionals to dig into the facts surrounding Zadok's death. They doggedly pressed Dekalb County Police Chief Mirtha Ramos and District Attorney Sherry Boston for the release of the complete body cam footage to be released to them. Warning: THE VIDEO BELOW CONTAINS GRAPHIC FOOTAGE, WHICH MIGHT BE DISTURBING.
Since then, the family has held a series of actions, including weekly rallies and email campaigns, all aimed at raising awareness and engaging the community to stand up for justice. Their ultimate goal: ACCOUNTABILITY. They want Sgt. Devon Perry held accountable for Zadok’s murder. Although Dekalb County District Attorney, Sherry Boston, has the completed report of the GBI Investigation, she has yet to send the case before a Grand Jury, for Perry’s indictment. They believe that there were clear cut violations that warrant Perry's indictment. According to Mawuli Davis, the family's attorney, the officers who arrived, specifically Sgt. Devon Perry, violated at least four policies of the Dekalb County Police Department. They are:
1. Failure to activate S.W.A.T – Sgt. Perry kicked in Zadok’s door when he retreated into his home. According to Dekalb County Police Department Policy, S.W.A.T. is to be activated when subjects are barricaded
2. Failure to follow Dekalb County Police Department Mental Health policy – although the officer acknowledged that Zadok was “definitely mentally ill,” he failed to follow the mental health policy of his own agency
3. Excessive Force – firing four shots into Zadok’s home at close range, when there was no threat of injury or death to the officers
4. Failure to render medical aid – officers turned EMS away when they arrived to treat Zadok
DeKalb County CEO's office has provided the following statement:
DeKalb County’s administrative personnel internal affairs investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Matthew Zadok Williams is ongoing and not yet concluded. Once concluded, the results of the investigation will be thoroughly reviewed and handled in a manner that complies with DeKalb County police departmental procedures and applicable law. The criminal investigation is being handled by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the office of the DeKalb County District Attorney. (https://www.audacy.com/waok/news/local/matthew-zadok-williams-was-shot-and-killed-april-12-2021)
To sign the Color of Change petition, visit https://campaigns.organizefor.org/petitions/demand-justiceforzadok. For regular updates regarding the case and calls to action, text "Zadok" to 555888; and follow the hashtag #JusticeForZadok across all social media platforms.
Reported by Keyanna Jones