Matthew Williams (Credit: Family photo)
By Matt Bruce
A Georgia family finds itself in crisis, questioning why one of their loved ones was gunned down by police inside his home Monday, April 12.
DeKalb County police officers shot and killed Matthew Zadok Williams, a 35-year-old Black man, during a confrontation at the man’s condo in Decatur, a suburb east of Atlanta. The department claims Williams repeatedly lunged at officers with a knife, forcing the officers to open fire on him.
But Williams’ family members are having a hard time buying that story, During an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week, loved ones said that police narrative doesn’t sound like the Williams they know.
Meanwhile, neighbors who witnessed the incident claim they never saw Williams wielding a weapon. And an attorney representing Williams’ family is calling on authorities to release bodycam footage from the deadly encounter.
“I want the video released so the truth can be out there,” his mother, Chris Ann Lewis, told the newspaper. “What they’re saying makes no sense. There’s no reason for them to have shot and killed my son.”
Williams was the youngest of Lewis’ six children and her only son. Family members say he was a real estate agent who became a day trader and spent much of his time at home. He was prone to paying his siblings’ bills and babysitting their children to help them as they progressed through law school or medical training. He let one of his sisters stay with him rent-free after she was diagnosed with cancer.
But police officers brought Williams’ life to an end late Monday afternoon, according to statements issued by the DeKalb County Police Department and Georgia Bureau of Investigations. Authorities claim officers were dispatched to the 2500 block of Terrace Trail following reports of a man outside “aggressively wielding a knife.” Williams was still armed with the weapon when police arrived. When first responding officers tried to take him into custody, he lunged at them causing one of the officers to shoot at him, police allege.
Williams ran back into his house and it’s unclear if he was wounded at that time. More officers arrived on scene and again tried to arrest Williams, who was at the front entrance of his apartment still armed with the large knife, GBI indicated. An officer tried to subdue Williams with a stun gun, but it was ineffective. Police said he lunged at them again with the knife and at least one officer fired more rounds at him.
The officers then fell back and waited for the DeKalb County SWAT team to arrive. When SWAT officers entered the residence, they found Williams inside dead, according to the GBI.
But family members said Williams was a man who hated violence, supported the police, and had never had any serious encounters with law enforcement.
His sister, Hahnah Williams said she thinks her brother was working on a plumbing problem outside his condo and became spooked by officers when police arrived
“He was a non-violent person. He wouldn’t kill a bug,” his sister, Hahnah Williams, told the AJC.
Jason Neal, one of Williams’ neighbors, indicated he’d just gotten off work and arrived to the scene midway through the encounter. He saw Williams running toward his home and kick in one of his glass windows to escape police. Neal told the newspaper Williams wasn’t wielding a knife when he saw him dive headlong through the window.
“He kicked the window a couple times and just went in,” Neal said. “He must have been scared.”
Other witnesses said they spotted Williams carrying a blue bucket before police arrived. None of them said they saw him holding a knife either.
Mawuli Davis, an Atlanta-based civil rights attorney, is calling on investigators to release any available body cam video.
“Based on what we’re hearing, whatever happened is very, very different from what police are reporting,” Davis told the AJC. “We are in a time in our history as a country and a state where we can no longer hide behind open investigations. If there is body camera footage it has to be released immediately so that this family can see, so that the world can know what the truth is.”
The DeKalb Police Department did not respond questions Thursday from Atlanta Black Star on the status of bodycam footage.
The department requested GBI to conduct an independent investigation of the shooting. GBI will turn the findings of its investigation over to the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office for review after it’s complete. GBI spokeswoman Natalie Ammons confirmed Thursday that there is body cam video from the incident, but said it remained unclear if or when it may be released.
For now, Williams mother and the rest of his family is left to grapple with several unanswered questions along with the grief of their loss.
“He went into the house because he thought he would be safe there,” Lewis said. “He thought he would be safe. How could you kill a man who’s inside a house if you’re outside? How is he a threat?”