ATLANTA—August 10 was the last time Arnitra Hollman saw her father, church deacon Johnny Hollman Sr., a 62-year-old Black man. He was in the driveway of her home conducting a virtual Bible study. When the session finished, the two said their goodbyes. Deacon Hollman then went to grab something to eat for his wife. While on the way home, he got into a minor traffic accident with another driver and called the police.
Ms. Hollman and attorney Mawuli Mel Davis of Davis Bozeman Johnson Law, the firm representing the Hollman family, described to The Final Call the last moments of Deacon Hollman’s life and the family’s current fight for justice.
After the accident, Deacon Hollman and the other driver waited for over an hour for Atlanta police to arrive. Upon arrival, the officer on the scene, 23-year-old Kiran Kimbrough, who is Black, determined that Deacon Hollman was at fault. The deacon challenged him.
“He said he didn’t think he was at fault, and he asked for a sergeant. The officer did not call a sergeant. Instead, he kept saying if you don’t sign your ticket, you’re going to jail,” Atty. Davis recounted.
The deacon then called the eldest of his five children, Arnitra Hollman.
“He called me, and I could hear the officer from the beginning. He was very, very unprofessional. He was already aggressive. His language was not in a professional manner. He was even cursing,” Ms. Hollman recounted. “Once my father asked for that sergeant, it’s like everything went left. It’s like once he challenged his authority, he felt like my father didn’t have a right to do that.”
She heard when the officer grabbed her father’s arm, and her father said he would sign the ticket. She heard the officer sweeping her father to the ground, yelled at him and punch him multiple times. She heard her father ask several times, “Why are you doing this? What have I done wrong?” And, she heard her father take his last breath after repeatedly saying he could not breathe due to his asthma acting up.
“I knew instantly when I got on the scene that my father was gone because I could hear over the phone him taking his last breath. Because once he asked a couple of times and said he couldn’t breathe, it got lower and lower and lower until I couldn’t even hear it anymore,” Ms. Hollman said.
Eric Robinson, a Black tow truck driver from S & W Towing Service, reportedly helped to restrain Deacon Hollman as Ofc. Kimbrough handcuffed him, Atty. Davis shared. The deacon became unresponsive after being tased by the officer.
Deacon Hollman was denied treatment for over 10 minutes, Atty. Davis said. When the paramedics arrived, they asked for the handcuffs to be removed, and they performed CPR. Ms. Hollman arrived shortly after. The phone call with her father lasted 17 minutes and 46 seconds.
Deacon Hollman’s autopsy, which was conducted by the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office, lists his manner of death as “homicide” and cause of death as “cardiac dysrhythmia due to use of conducted energy device in association with hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted an independent investigation into the incident. Results were given to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office but have not been shared publicly.
The fight for justice
It has been a long three months for Deacon Hollman’s family, friends and supporters. Organizers spent late August protesting and marching. In September, students from Clark Atlanta University and the surrounding community marched over one mile from the campus to the CNN Center to demand justice for Deacon Hollman and other victims of police violence. Other supporters include community organizers with the “Stop Cop City” movement, the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, Inc., and the Nation of Islam.
The family’s demands for the release of body camera footage were met on Nov. 22 and is one hour and six minutes long.
Additional protests and press conferences occurred on Nov. 28 and Nov. 30.
“The narrative that the Atlanta police initially gave was one that Deacon Hollman was violent towards the officer, and it just painted a picture that he was really responsible for his own death,” Atty. Davis said. “When you watch the video, it’s really an entirely different story, because you can really see for yourself how disrespectful this 23-year-old was to this 62-year-old elder in our community and how aggressive and violent he was towards him, which ultimately led to his death.”
Ofc. Kimbrough has since been terminated for failure to follow standard operating procedure by not calling a supervisor to the scene before attempting an arrest. That is not enough for the Hollman family. They want Mr. Kimbrough and Mr. Robinson, the tow truck driver and a former security officer, to be arrested and charged with murder.
“That was murder over a traffic ticket, and it shouldn’t have been that way,” Ms. Hollman expressed. She described the family’s emotions during Thanksgiving, the first holiday celebrated after the death of their loved one.
“We were still heartbroken, and we’re still heartbroken. We were emotional. Our kids were crying on Thanksgiving, and it was just like, we’re not able to pick up the pieces and move forward, even though we know that this is our new normal,” she said.
The life of deacon Hollman
Who was Deacon Johnny Hollman?
The 62-year-old served as chairman for the Lively Stones of God Ministries. He had been a deacon for 15 years. Ms. Hollman described her father as a great man.
“He was a loved man. People loved being around my father. He brought joy to so many people, even the babies,” she said. “He’s helped out in the community. He built things and helped people to stay in their homes. He’s canvassed for elections.”
Deacon Hollman spent his life serving his community and his congregation. Ms. Hollman recounted how he made sure every single person in the congregation had breakfast. He talked to people without judgment and was a God-fearing man.
“He would pray for you and with you. He done talked a lot of young guys down. He done helped them to make sure they came to school to get what they needed,” Ms. Hollman added.
She described the amount of people who attended the candlelight vigil and balloon release in August.
“Everybody had a story to tell about him, and nobody said anything negative or badly about him, because that wasn’t him. That wasn’t his character,” she said. “Me and my family and my siblings, we didn’t like that [police] narrative, because we knew that that wasn’t our father. He wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t belligerent, he wasn’t combative. We knew all of those things were not true. And for them to put that out there and then to make it seem as if he caused his own death was a lie, and we’ve been proclaiming it from the beginning.”
Atlanta’s policing problem
Atty. Gerald A. Griggs, president of both the Georgia NAACP and the Atlanta branch, has been vocal about Deacon Hollman’s death on social media.
He posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, “Atlanta has a police brutality problem. #SaytheirNames #atlpol #gapol #EnoughIsEnough. Address the longstanding issues people have been marching for since 2020. Release the tape on #NygilCullins and take decisive action on these cases. #NAACP.”
An attached image depicted the names of several Black men killed by Atlanta police: Nygil Cullins, 22, shot and killed in May 2022; Rayshard Brooks, 27, shot and killed in June 2020; Oscar Cain, 31, shot and killed in April 2019; Jimmy Atchison, 21, and D’ettrick Griffin, 18, both shot and killed in January 2019; Deaundre Phillips, 24, shot and killed in January 2017 and Caine Rogers, 22, shot and killed in June 2016.
Most of the officers involved in the killings of the Black men listed were not indicted on any charges.
Atlanta is 48 percent Black and 41 percent White, according to the 2022 Census Bureau. Out of 559 officers involved in use of force reports in 2023, about 66 percent were Black, according to the Atlanta government’s justice reform website. About 86 percent of male victims were Black and 83 percent of female victims were Black.
Police Scorecard, a nationwide public evaluation of policing in the U.S., gave the Atlanta Police Department (APD) an overall score of 29 percent.
“Scores range from 0-100% comparing cities with over 250k population. Cities with higher scores spend less on policing, use less force, are more likely to hold officers accountable and make fewer arrests for low-level offenses,” the organization’s website reads.
Police Scorecard determined that the APD used more force per arrest than 54 percent of police departments, and out of 103 reported use of force complaints, only 12 percent ruled in favor of civilians.
Activist and policy analyst Samuel Sinyangwe, who developed the Police Scorecard, voiced at an August event that “in Atlanta, a Black person is 12 times more likely to be killed by police.” Nationally, Black people are three times as likely.
“Policing in America is fundamentally rooted in the culture of slave-master culture; that culture being one of oppression of Black people and the myth of White superiority,” Atty. Davis said. “What it allows is for any officer, regardless of color, to come into our community, whether they are the overseer or they are the master, to come into our community as an occupying force and to move against our people in a way that reminds people in our community that our lives, our Black lives, our Black bodies, still don’t matter.”
But a White citizen being disrespected by police is an anomaly, the attorney said.
“Rarely, if ever, do you see that happen with a Black officer and a White citizen. It’s taboo in this culture for Black officers to cause any harm to White citizens,” he added. He also pointed out how former Ofc. Kimbrough placed police culture over the Black culture of respecting the elders in the community.
“He should have just said, ‘Hey pops, hey unc, let’s talk through this.’ But instead, he’s chastising him. He’s telling him don’t raise your voice at me, talking to this 62-year-old elder as if he were a child,” Atty. Davis said. “And that only happens in our community in the context of policing, where our children can’t be children and our elders are not respected.”
He pointed out all the options the officer had to de-escalate the situation: calling the sergeant as requested; allowing Deacon Hollman an opportunity to sign the ticket; not allowing the tow truck driver to get involved and rendering aid during Deacon Hollman’s medical distress.
“There were all of these opportunities for Deacon Hollman’s life to not be taken in the way that it was, but the officer had gotten to a point where he clearly was not thinking in a de-escalation fashion, because even as he was on top of Deacon Hollman, he’s yelling, ‘Sign the ticket, sign the ticket,’ which he would be physically unable to do because he’s on the ground,” the attorney continued.
“You smashed his face into the cement. His face is bleeding, and you’re telling him to sign the ticket and you’re on top of him. It was completely illogical and barbaric in the way that he was treated.”
Student Minister Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad, the Southern Regional Student Minister of the Nation of Islam, said to The Final Call that police need more training, in particular, sensitivity and conflict resolution training.
“They are not trained to subdue people. They are trained to kill our people, and that’s why, I’ll say again, they need sensitivity training, because the culture of the police department, for the most part, is to kill and cover up to protect the men in blue,” he said. “They need to allow the Nation of Islam to teach the police department sensitivity training and the proper handling of people.”
The APD issued a traffic policy update now requiring officers to write “refusal to sign” in the signature line of traffic citations, rather than making an arrest.
Organizers have set up a “Justice for Johnny Hollman” Facebook and Instagram page. The Hollman family is asking for continued support.
“We’re asking for people to continue to rally around us, to continue to stand with us until we get justice,” Ms. Hollman said. “And it’s not just justice for our father, but once we get justice for our father, we can see justice for so many other people that didn’t get this opportunity.”