The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission unanimously approved in a special called session Tuesday an allocation of Community Development Block Grant funding to four local organizations, and a $250,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit against the county by a man who was shot by an Athens-County Clarke Police Department officer in 2019.
The federal government granted ACC the CDBG funds as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Athens will receive about $1,723,000 in CDBG funding in two installments. The first installment consists of $829,000, and $663,500 will go to Athens Land Trust, Casa de Amistad, The Ark and Athens Area Habitat for Humanity, with the rest being used for administration and planning.
In October of 2019, Salvador Salazar was shot by ACCPD officer Roger Williams after Salazar swung at Williams with a machete. On Oct. 21, 2020, Salazar filed a lawsuit against Williams and Tori Teets, another officer involved, for alleged unlawful arrest and use of deadly force. Under county code, ACC is responsible for compensating the officers involved in the lawsuit. The settlement will cover Salazar’s attorney and medical expenses. District 6 Commissioner Jesse Houle said Salazar has been in the hospital since the shooting.
The incident prompted controversy over the use of force by police. ACCPD saw a total of six officer-involved shootings in 2019, a record for the county. Between 2015 and 2018, Athens saw a total of only two officer-involved shootings.
In a work session immediately following the special called session, ACCPD Lt. Harrison Daniel led a presentation discussing use of force in policing and the importance of having Tasers as an option during physical encounters. Daniel said having more access to Tasers will result in officers using their guns less. ACCPD reported only 0.04% of its 98,216 citizen contacts in 2019 led to a use-of-force incident.
Toward the end of the presentation, Daniel attempted to present a video depicting an officer shooting a Black man who later died. Several commissioners said they would rather not have the video shown on the stream. Jesse Houle, who had watched the video prior to the meeting, said many in the public are tired of seeing such imagery.
“This is going to be another image of police killing a Black man,” Houle said.
The presentation came after the mayor and commission voted in December to hold off on approving a contract extension with Axon, the company that manufactures the Tasers and body cameras used by ACCPD. The contract extension would allow ACCPD to receive new Taser models and replace its body cameras as needed.
The meeting then moved into the discussion of racial disparities and the reason for officers having access to more tasers.
Daniel explained that the purpose of the Taser is to incapacitate the movement of an individual in order to give the officer an opportunity to "safely" put them in handcuffs.
“As a Black man, I'd rather be Tasered than shot,” District 1 Commissioner Patrick Davenport said.
Houle said their concern is not only about the use of Tasers, but the racial disparity of those targeted by police.
“We’ve seen recording break protests and it's been about police,” Houle said. “We’re not going to get anywhere by running away from that discussion.”
“Any system that you look at in America, you’re going to find where people of color are disenfranchised and disproportionately treated,” ACCPD Chief Cleveland Spruill said. “As a Black police chief of your department, I’m saying we are committed and we are willing to sit down and have those tough conversations.”
The mayor and commission will hold an agenda setting session on Jan. 19.