ATLANTA (AP) — The family of a church deacon who died after struggling with an Atlanta police officer following a minor car crash sued the city, the officer and the police chief on Thursday.
Officer Kiran Kimbrough used excessive force while trying to get 62-year-old Johnny Hollman to sign a citation finding him at fault for the crash, violating his constitutional rights, the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleges.
Body camera video of Hollman's Aug. 10 arrest shows Kimbrough shocked him with a stun gun after he repeatedly said he could not breathe. An autopsy determined Hollman's death was a homicide, with heart disease also a contributing factor.
An attorney for the family said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit that Police Chief Darin Schierbaum, Mayor Andrew Dickens and other city officials were also responsible for Hollman's death.
"While they did not stand over the top of Deacon Hollman as he took his last breath, they were there because they created the culture that allowed this officer to believe that his conduct would go unpunished,” attorney Mawuli Davis said.
The suit seeks unspecified punitive damages and other compensation.
An attorney for Kimbrough, Lance LoRusso, did not immediately respond to an email and text message seeking comment. He has previously said Hollman resisted arrest and Kimbrough acted lawfully when he deployed his stun gun and used force.
Police and the mayor's office declined to comment, saying they do not do so with pending litigation. A spokesperson for Dickens, however, said via email that the Hollman family remains in the mayor’s prayers.
The spokesperson also noted that the mayor ordered a review of police procedures and training following Hollman's death that has led to a new policy allowing officers to write “refusal to sign” on traffic citations rather than arresting someone.
Relatives say Hollman was driving home from Bible study at his daughter’s house and taking dinner to his wife when he collided with another vehicle while turning across a busy street just west of downtown.
In the body camera video released in November, Kimbrough repeatedly demands that Hollman sign the citation, but Hollman insists he did nothing wrong. The two men begin to tussle.
Hollman ends up on the ground. He repeatedly says “I can’t breathe,” and Kimbrough uses a Taser to shock him. Hollman becomes unresponsive.
He was later declared dead at a hospital.
Kimbrough was fired Oct. 10 after Schierbaum said he violated department policy by not waiting for a supervisor to arrive before arresting Hollman.
Hollman's family has also sued a tow truck driver who assisted Kimbrough and has called on prosecutors to charge the officer with murder.
The Fulton County district attorney’s office is reviewing the case to determine whether criminal charges are appropriate and “will make a decision based on the evidence,” spokesperson Jeff DiSantis said Thursday.
Arnitra Hollman, Hollman's daughter, said she was on the phone with him during the encounter with Kimbrough.
“It's not a day go by that I don't hear his voice in my head,” she said, choking back tears. “Imagine listening to your father begging and pleading for help. Imagine hearing your father saying they can't breathe.”