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Family of Alexia Christian, activists want videotapes released in police shooting

Felecia Christian's demand of Atlanta Police Chief George Turner last week was simple: transparency.

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Four months since her 26-year-old daughter Alexia was shot and killed in the back of an Atlanta Police squad car after being arrested, the case remains under internal investigation and tapes of the incident, along with other information, have not been made public.

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Now demands for more details about what happened on the day Alexia was killed are growing louder amidst activists' allegation that APD is covering up wrongdoing. But officer-involved shooting probes, including this case, which is now being reviewed by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, can drag on.

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Police officials say Alexia initiated the shooting from the backseat, shooting two or three times through the vehicle's plexiglass and missing the officers sitting in the front. Officers fired a total of 10 rounds in return. Alexia died at Grady Memorial Hospital later that day.

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On Sept. 1, Felecia and supporters read a list of demands to Turner outside an unrelated community event where the chief was meeting with Greenbriar neighborhood residents.

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"I write to you on behalf of my daughter, who cannot speak for herself," Felecia read when confronting Turner. "As a mother, I deserve to know what happened to Alexia."

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Surrounded by supporting protesters, Felecia requested that Turner release all footage from the dash cameras and nearby street surveillance cameras within one week's time. Turner agreed to meet briefly in private with the family. But he refused to agree to release the tapes, background on the two officers involved, and all versions of the police reports contained in the APD's investigation file.

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According to APD, the internal investigation that follows a police-involved shooting includes a criminal investigation, conducted by APD's homicide unit and then by Howard, and an internal investigation into rule violations.

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On the same day Felecia confronted Turner, APD sent the file to Howard for the investigation's next phase. Capt. Michael O'Connor, commander of the APD homicide unit, says, "If and when the findings become public, it will be because DA Howard chooses to do so."

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But Felecia and supporting activists view APD's unwillingness to answer questions now as more than simply following protocol.

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"We've seen around the nation with the many police murders that have occurred that cops lie to cover up their murders," says Dean Steed of Women on the Rise, pointing to the 2006 killing of a 92-year-old woman by APD officers during a botched drug raid. "We know that APD has a history of lying. We know this because of the case of Kathryn Johnston."

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Activists have questioned officers' actions and raised questions about APD's actions and inconsistencies in various reports of the incident. Those include early reports, apparently based on a "police source" who told WSB-TV after Alexia's death that police found marijuana. APD confirmed this week that no drugs were involved. Activists also question why officers did not bring Alexia to a precinct across the street to be searched.

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APD Spokesperson Elizabeth Espy said the investigation has been "handled in an appropriate manner by the Atlanta Police Department from the beginning. We held a press conference within hours of the incident and have been as forthcoming as we possibly can. The case is now at the Fulton District Attorney's office and we will not be commenting any further on this open investigation until they conclude their findings."

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Whether or not Alexia was properly searched is part of the ongoing investigation, though Turner stated in a press conference the day after her death that "it was clear to us the officer did not search her before putting her in the back of the car."

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Activists describe Alexia as a thin woman of 110 pounds, "wearing tight leggings and a mesh top" at the time of her arrest. Police claim she used a weapon from the stolen vehicle when she fired at the officers, which would mean the gun was overlooked in the search, if one was conducted.

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It's unclear whether Officers Jeffrey Cook, with 18 years experience at the time of the shooting, and Omar Thyme, with 10 months, are back on duty after being placed on routine administrative leave following Alexia's death. O'Connor says he has "no indication that they are not back on duty — we the homicide unit certainly aren't keeping them from being back."

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Steed asked Turner to stop "hiding evidence that would allow us to know the truth about what happened to Alexia Christian" at the Sept. 1press conference. "We want Atlanta police and Chief Turner to be held accountable for what happened."

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It appears that APD will leave these questions unanswered for the time being, saying the ball is now in Howard's court.

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"The thing to remember is, there is no statute of limitations on these types of issues, so the file could really be held open for whatever reason as long as Paul Howard wants to look at it," O'Connor says.

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When asked about this possibility, Turner replied: "That's the process."



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