06/10/2007

Knife-wielding EDP shot, killed by Ga. police

Man killed by police acted strangely before death

By GEORGE CHIDI
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
 
GWINNETT CO., Ga. — A knife-wielding man shot dead by a Gwinnett County police officer Friday morning displayed bizarre behavior in the moments before his death, witnesses said.

Police fatally shot the suspect after the man stole a police cruiser and kept ramming it into a pickup truck.

The shooting occurred after an officer responded to a report about 7:15 a.m. of a man threatening at least two people with a knife near South Lee Street and Buford Highway in downtown Buford, Gwinnett police Cpl. Darren Moloney said.

"These individuals were not harmed, but he did threaten them with a knife," Moloney said. "We don't know if the motive was robbery or what exactly the motive was."

One of the people accosted by the knife-wielding man said the man looked like he was freaking out.

The man ran into the Exxon Food Mart on South Lee Street about five minutes before the first police officer arrived, said store clerk Shahid Ahmed. The store's surveillance cameras showed him to be a young Hispanic, thin with short hair. The man wore a striped shirt. He had another shirt over his arm to conceal the knife, Ahmed said.

Ahmed said the man went to a Coke display case in the middle of the store, then quickly turned to face the clerk. The apparent robber was shaking and sweating, and looked frightened, Ahmed said. When Ahmed saw the knife, he said he backed away and called police. Meanwhile, the knife-wielding man turned back to the display case and took two Cokes, Ahmed said.

Then the apparent robber's behavior grew weirder. He cowered in the store, as though he were hiding. Then he left the store, dropping the Cokes.

He quickly went to two gas pumps and tried to pump gas from each. He had no car. He dropped the shirt concealing the knife. He went to a pay phone nearby and tried to tear it from its case, Ahmed said.

Then the man walked into the middle of South Lee Street with the knife, and "tried to stab cars" as they passed by, Ahmed said.

The first officer on the scene, who had not been identified Friday afternoon, spotted the man on Morningside Drive, about a quarter mile south of the store.

"There was a physical confrontation between the suspect and the officer," Moloney said. "The suspect was able to elude the officer and jump in the officer's vehicle."

The suspect drove about 200 yards down Morningside Drive before losing control of the police cruiser and hitting a pickup truck at the intersection of Church Street.

"It wasn't a simple collision," Moloney said. "It was almost an attempt to drive through the truck."

The driver of the pickup truck, whose identity has not been released, did not require treatment, Moloney said. But for a moment, he was trapped by the man in the cruiser before he escaped from the vehicle's passenger's side.

Moloney said a second patrol car blocked the stolen police car from behind as officers ordered the man to get out.

Police officers started banging on the outside of the patrol car, but the man wouldn't obey, Moloney said. Instead, the man "kept slamming the truck in front him as well as the patrol car," Moloney said.

One officer then opened fire, Moloney said. People working in area businesses nearby said they heard three shots, but police have not confirmed that.

No officers were injured during the incident, Moloney said.

"As with all homicides involving officer-involved shootings, this investigation is being conducted on several different levels," Moloney said in a news release.

Investigators with the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office were at the scene Friday morning to determine whether any state laws were broken, Moloney said. Two sets of investigators from the Gwinnett police department also were at the scene. One will investigate the criminal side of the incident and the other will determine whether any departmental policies were violated, Moloney said in the release.

Police closed Morningside Drive on Friday morning as the investigation continued, but some area businesses were open.

Local businesspeople said the area is not used to such crimes. The Exxon station has a stable base of regular customers, said Josh Uddin.

"We see the same faces," Uddin said. "The worst we usually see is people driving off without paying for gas."

AJC Staff Writer Mike Morris contributed to this story.

Copyright 2007 Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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