The Athens-Clarke County Police Department released the body camera footage from the Oct. 26 officer-involved shooting on Royale Road at a Nov. 14 press conference.
The man shot and killed by police in the incident was 45-year-old Nan Zhao, who produced a handgun and fired it at Sgt. Matt Smith and Officer Paul Harris while they were attempting to question him. The officers returned fire, killing Zhao.
When officers attempted to locate Zhao, they received no answer at his door. They returned to their car and were about to “clear the call” when they noticed Zhao hiding behind a tree, ACCPD Chief Cleveland Spruill said.
After officers gave repeated commands to show his hands and come talk to them, Zhao fired at least one round at the officers, who “feared for their lives” and returned fire, Spruill said.
After waiting for backup, officers approached Zhao and found him collapsed as a result of injuries. They secured the weapon, handcuffed him and began to perform first aid. When officers asked Zhao why he fired his weapon, Zhao repeatedly stated in the video that he “shot in the air.”
Emergency medical services arrived and transported Zhao to a local hospital, where he died.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has since taken over the investigation of the case, and both officers involved have been placed on administrative leave, per ACCPD policy.
The Oct. 28 incident was the sixth ACCPD officer-involved shooting during 2019. According to police data, ACCPD used lethal force only twice from 2015-2018.
In light of the increase in officer-involved shootings, Spruill issued a new directive on Oct. 28 to all sworn ACCPD personnel to meet away from incident locations before proceeding to a given scene when responding to domestic violence or armed suspect calls. Spruill said that often, only one officer has been responding to an incident involving an armed suspect.
“The recent changes that I’ve made dictated that when officers respond on calls of service or calls of domestic where it involves a weapon…[the officers] are to stop and stage close in the area, wait for their backup and go into the area together and discuss tactics,” Spruill said.
In situations where officers are one-on-one with an armed suspect, they no longer have the tactical advantage, preventing them from deploying other force options, according to Spruill. He also noted a supervisor should respond under those circumstances.
“The preservation of human life for me is our highest value and our highest priority, and we want to find every opportunity to preserve life,” Spruill said. “Every time that we take another person’s life, I don’t consider that a success, be it justified or not, it’s a failure because we weren’t able to save a person’s life.”