ATLANTA—The family of Deacon Johnny Hollman Sr. comforted one another as attorneys announced the filing of a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Atlanta, Police Chief Darin Schierbaum and former officer Kiran Kimbrough, during a news conference held on Jan. 18.
The 63-page complaint accuses the city, the police chief and the former officer of violating constitutional rights and Georgia law.
“While we call this lawsuit a violation of Deacon Hollman’s civil rights, when you really distill all of this down to its essence, and when you look at the body-worn camera video footage that we’ve now all seen, this amounts to disrespect and disregard of Deacon Hollman’s humanity,” Attorney Harold W. Spence, a partner with Davis Bozeman Johnson Law, the firm representing the family, said.
Deacon Hollman was a husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather and a beloved member of his community. The 62-year-old Black man was killed by former officer Kimbrough, who is Black, during a minor traffic accident in August 2023. The deacon’s family has been demanding the arrest of Mr. Kimbrough and Eric Robinson, a Black tow truck driver who reportedly helped to restrain Deacon Hollman.
“Shortly after defendant Kimbrough and the tow truck driver had physically suppressed and handcuffed Deacon Hollman, Deacon Hollman remained motionless,” the lawsuit states. The deacon was pronounced dead on August 11, 2023, at 12:53 a.m. His death was ruled a homicide.
Arnitra Hollman was on the phone with her father for 17 minutes and 46 seconds, during his last moments alive. “It’s not a day go by that I don’t hear his voice in my head. It’s not a day go by that I don’t see his face. It’s not a day go by that I don’t see and watch that play over and over and over in my head,” she said. “Imagine listening to your loved one. Imagine listening to your father begging and pleading for help.”
While she has served as the voice for her family, three of her younger siblings also spoke at the news conference. They spoke on their grief, the absence of their father during birthdays and holidays, the pain of their children and their prayers for justice.
In the lawsuit, Deacon Hollman’s family and their attorneys argue that Deacon Hollman should have never been tased and that the force used against Deacon Hollman was excessive and caused or contributed to his death.
The suit includes five total accounts.
Count one relates to the city of Atlanta’s responsibility for Mr. Kimbrough’s improper performance of his duties, by failing to notify a supervisor as requested. Count two goes into how Mr. Kimbrough violated Deacon Hollman’s Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force without probable cause, including using a leg sweep maneuver, straddling the deacon while he stated he could not breathe, striking him in the head twice, tasing him multiple times and permitting the tow truck driver to sit on his head and neck.
Count three states that Mr. Kimbrough physically retaliated against Deacon Hollman because the deacon exercised his First Amendment rights. Count four includes claims against the city of Atlanta for its unconstitutional official arrest policy, and count five includes claims against the city for its unofficial policy of deliberate indifference to widespread pattern and practice of excessive force and inadequate use-of-force investigations.
Seven more counts include the failure to provide medical care, the labeling of Deacon Hollman’s death as a “wrongful death,” estate claims, claims of assault and battery against Deacon Hollman, claims that the officer attempted false arrest, punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
The defendants have 21 days to respond to the complaint, or 60 days if they are an agency or employee of the United States.
During the press conference, attorneys stressed the importance of count five. They accused the city of backing out of police-related lawsuits and placing the responsibility of police misconduct solely on the police officer at fault. They hope that count five will disallow the city to abandon the suit.
Atty. Tiffany Williams Roberts, the public policy director for the Southern Center for Human Rights, based in Atlanta, and Atty. Gerald Griggs, president of the Georgia NAACP and the Atlanta branch, also addressed the press. Atty. Roberts referenced data from Samuel Sinyangwe, founder of Mapping Police Violence, stating that the Atlanta Police Department uses more force per incident than 83 percent of departments nationwide, the city arrests more people for low-level offenses than any other department in the country and the city deploys deadly force more than 88 percent of departments.
“Atlanta has a police brutality problem,” Atty. Griggs said. He noted that citizens were not marching for so many years for more police training, because “training can’t address this,” and he urged the city’s politicians to stop quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the pulpits but to, instead, do the work of Dr. King, a man who spoke against police violence.
Deacon Hollman’s family also filed a lawsuit against Mr. Robinson, the tow truck driver, in December 2023.