LAWRENCEVILLE — After more than a year, the district attorney’s office has deemed the fatal police shooting of a young Buford boy justified — but the teen’s grandmother said the case is not over.
Fifteen-year-old Dawntrae Williams was shot and killed on Dec. 19, 2011, after Gwinnett County police responded to a domestic disturbance call at his family’s home on Windward Gate Lane. Officers B.J. Irvine and D.A. Genaro fired a dozen shots at him as he reportedly bound down the front steps at them, screaming and swinging a machete.
While family members and neighbors protested, police maintained all along the shooting was justified. District Attorney Danny Porter finished his own investigation into the case this week, and, in a letter to Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters, agreed.
“After a review of this additional information, it is my conclusion that the use of deadly force by (Officers Irvine and Genaro) was justified under the facts and circumstances of this case,” Porter wrote. “Consequently, I am administratively closing my file in this matter.”
Porter said he reviewed police and medical examiner’s reports, crime scene photos and videotaped interviews, as well as requesting “additional measurements and photos.” He also “retained the services of the Force Science Institute, Ltd. for the purpose of conducting and independent review of the facts and circumstances of the incident,” he said.
Williams was enrolled at The Hooper Renwick School in Lawrenceville for students with special needs. He was described in the original 911 call as suffering from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and family has said he had the mental capacity of a 10-year-old.
On the afternoon of the shooting, Gwinnett police responded to the Buford home for the third time in three months, all for domestic calls involving Williams. According to the 911 call, grandmother Anita Harris, a therapist visiting the home and two younger siblings had locked themselves in an upstairs bedroom while Williams “destroyed” the home with a machete and hacked at the bedroom door.
“He is banging on the door desperately trying to get inside,” a dispatcher told responding police.
When police arrived, the teen allegedly jumped down the front steps and charged the officers with a machete. Despite the family’s assertions that Williams had dropped the more than foot-long blade before he was shot, police said he held the knife the entire time.
“When we got there, (Williams) saw our officers as something other than friendly, and he was willing to fight to the end,” police spokesman Cpl. Edwin Ritter said at the time.
One officer fired nine shots and the other fired three. Williams was shot twice in the right leg and once in the left leg, right arm and chest.
Despite the district attorney’s new ruling, Harris told the Daily Post on Friday that she couldn’t “say too much because we are still working on the case.” She didn’t clarify what that meant, but said she had attorneys and that she “wasn’t happy with that decision.”
“I would still like justice for Dawntrae, and for any child that has been murdered by police brutality,” Harris said. “I just think when it comes to a child, they should take things in a whole other direction and not treat them like an animal and shoot them down.”
Harris, family members and a representative of the National Action Network held a vigil in December, on the one-year anniversary of the shooting.
“This case speaks specifically to mental health,” NAN’s Marcus Coleman told the Daily Post at that vigil. “Dawntrae had a litany of conditions. Most of the Gwinnett police department were aware of it. If we don’t get serious about helping the mentally challenged, things like Dawntrae will continue, and things like what happened in Connecticut will continue.”
A spokesman at Coleman’s Atlanta office said he was not available Friday.
Williams’ family has also protested the length of time it took for the DA’s investigation to be completed. Porter said Friday that the decision was delayed because the independent review took “longer than expected.”
Dr. William Lewinski of Force Science Institute had the case for about six months and issued his report on Monday, Porter said.
“There were several items of information that the independent reviewer requested which required some additional work,” he said, “such as some trajectory studies with lasers and transcribing some interviews.”
Irvine and Genaro, the officers who fired the shots, were not off the streets for the entire 14-month investigation, Porter said. Police department protocol typically calls for officers involved in shootings to be placed on paid administrative leave while the details are sorted out.
It was unclear Friday how long Irvine and Genaro may have been on leave before returning to duty.
Harris said she and Williams’ two siblings — a 13-year-old brother and 11-year-old sister — were evicted a few weeks after Dawntrae’s death and currently live in an apartment in Oakwood. Both siblings now suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, she said, and Williams’ brother is homebound after having a mental breakdown.
Williams would have been 17 years old next month.
“He was very helpful, he was learning how to cook,” Harris said. “He always kept a smile, no matter what. He was a very loving, a huggable child. He loved going to church. That was his favorite.”