Officer charged; anger over shooting of black man lingers

Posted at 10:04 AM, Jul 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-14 10:04:54-04

KINGSLAND, Ga. (AP) — Anthony Dammond says the two gunshots sounded close enough that he jumped up from watching TV and stepped outside, where he peered into the darkness and saw a man running and clutching one leg as if he was wounded.

As the runner turned a corner and bolted from sight, Dammond said, a police car came into view following his trail.

"The policeman came down the street and swung his car into the intersection. He jumped out of his car and POW, POW, POW, POW!" said Dammond, who lives one house away from the crossing. "I said, 'Oh my God, he shot that man!'"

Now two homemade crosses stand beside the street where 33-year-old Tony Green died. A week after the June 20 shooting, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Kingsland police officer Zechariah Presley on charges of voluntary manslaughter and violating his oath of office. The bureau said Presley fired multiple shots at Green as he was fleeing.

Presley, 27, is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing Tuesday. His attorney, Adrienne Browning, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The arrest and city officials' decision to fire Presley have done little to relieve the anger of Green's family and friends in Kingsland, where the killing of a black man by a white officer has roiled the city of about 16,000 near the Georgia-Florida line.

"There has to be a higher charge," said Tony White, Green's cousin. "How can it be manslaughter? It only takes one bullet for murder."

Carrying a sign bearing Green's photo and the words "Murdered by Police," White joined about 25 people Monday protesting outside Kingsland City Hall. They lined the street shouting "No justice, no peace!" following a tense exchange with Mayor Kenneth Smith during a city council meeting.

The protests are the latest to occur nationwide in response to what demonstrators say is the unjust killing of black men by white officers. In Pennsylvania, a white police officer was charged with criminal homicide after authorities said he fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in the back June 19.

Pastor Mack De'Von Knight, whose church Green attended, criticized city officials for not speaking out to address the community's "tension and frustration." The mayor offered condolences to Green's family, but bristled at the criticism.

"You all are not being treated like dogs or animals," said Smith, who is black. "An incident has happened. It's not going unnoticed. Nobody's sweeping anything under the rug."

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said Presley was following a vehicle Green was driving when Green stopped and ran on foot. The officer chased Green and they had "a brief physical altercation," bureau agent Will Ivey said in an affidavit. When Green fled again, Presley fired the fatal shots, according to the bureau.

Investigators have not said how many times Green was shot or what prompted the officer to follow him. They declined to release video from Presley's body camera, citing the open investigation.

The shooting happened barely a year after Kingsland police hired Presley. A March 1 performance review in his personnel file rated the officer as satisfactory in most areas, though supervisors noted some problems with "poor decision making."

Presley was ordered to take a day off without pay in January after using his personal car for an off-duty pursuit that exceeded 100 mph (160 kph). Presley's file also shows a supervisor cautioned him about "following vehicles for extended periods" after he pulled over Felicia Pittman on Jan. 16.

Pittman said she was out shopping when Presley's patrol car passed her in the opposite direction. She said the officer turned around and followed her for half a mile (0.8 kilometers) before stopping her. Presley said he believed her tag was expired, Pittman said, though it wasn't.

"I said, 'You couldn't have seen my tag because you were going west and I was going east,'" Pittman said. "Then he told me, 'You didn't turn your blinker on.'"

Police records show Presley let Pittman go.

Toronce Jones filed a complaint April 12 saying he had called Kingsland's police chief to complain about harassment by Presley and another officer, and the next day found Presley parked outside his home. Jones said the officer's defiance rattled him.

In contrast, Dean Mosley had nothing but praise for the officer in a letter he sent to the Kingsland police department.

"As an African-American, I have seen various approaches to law enforcement, but his approach was the best," Mosley wrote of Presley. "My wife and I thought his professionalism was exceptional."

Mosley, an attorney in Orlando, Florida, mentioned a citation but didn't give details in his letter, which was in Presley's file. Mosley did not return phone and email messages.

On a questionnaire for his job application, Presley checked "yes" when asked if he ever physically abused a spouse, girlfriend or child. Presley wrote that he and his wife had arguments in the past "that led to some physical altercations."

A background check in Presley's file showed no arrests or charges alleging domestic violence.

Green had his own troubles. Camden County court records show he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in 2009 and to cocaine possession in 2014. Last year, he pleaded guilty to obstruction of an officer for fleeing a deputy during a 2016 drug investigation. Green was on probation when he was shot.

White said his cousin had straightened up and worked hard as a fast-food manager to help support his four children.

"He had those kids to take care of," White said. "He was doing the right thing."