No charges are expected in the Feb. 17 shooting death of an Austell man by an off-duty U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer outside a Douglas County Walmart.
Douglas County District Attorney Ryan Leonard said an investigation yielded no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of ICE Officer O.L. Jones at a press conference Monday. Jones shot and killed 45-year old Johnathan Liddell after what appears to be a confrontation on the roadway. The investigators believe Liddell drew a realistic-looking airsoft gun before he was shot.
“In this case, it’s our determination that Mr. Jones faced a reasonable threat and feared for his safety and the safety of his family, and he therefore inflicted deadly force upon Mr. Liddell,” Leonard said. “I don’t anticipate any warrants, any charges being brought, and I do not plan to present this case to the grand jury.”
Leonard demonstrated some of the evidence he said backs up his belief, including security camera footage of the shooting and a 911 call from Jones’ wife, who was on the scene at the time of the shooting, along with the couple’s children.
Leonard said the incident began as the Jones family was leaving church and heading to a Walmart on Thornton Road in Lithia Springs to buy groceries.
“They came upon a car that then stopped in the middle of traffic, directly in front of them,” Leonard said. “This vehicle, according to Mr. Jones, did not move for one to two minutes, and he was trapped behind it because all the other traffic was going around him on either side, and he couldn’t move. After the passage of a minute or two, it was now clear for him to move around the vehicle, which was Mr. Liddell’s vehicle.”
Jones pulled into the Walmart parking lot, where he parked under a security camera, later telling investigators he did so on purpose in case there was a confrontation.
Footage from the camera shows Jones’ car pull into the parking space and Officer Jones step out. Shortly afterward, Liddell’s car begins to pull in, and Officer Jones moves toward the rear of the vehicle. Very soon after Liddell’s car enters the space, Jones fires once through the back window.
Jones said he fired because he saw Liddell going for a gun.
“You can tell that Mr. Jones had seen a gun by the way he’s behaving on the video,” Leonard said. “He backs up, his posture changes, and he continues to hold Mr. Liddell at gunpoint even after shooting him because he has seen a gun and he knows there is a gun in the vehicle.”
He said Liddell’s injury, one bullet wound to the chest, demonstrates Liddell was facing Jones when he was shot, supporting Jones’ claim that Liddell was brandishing the airsoft gun.
“He got shot in the chest, and the only way for him to get shot in the chest by a man behind him is for him to have turned around and faced that man, and he did so with what appeared to be a gun in his hand,” Leonard said.
After the shooting, Mrs. Jones can be seen exiting the car and talking on the phone with a 911 operator.
“We were in traffic in our car,” Mrs. Jones said, speaking with clear distress. “He stopped. He stopped in front of us and we were blowing the horn. Because he stopped. Just stopped. The car followed us, he’s in the Walmart, he covered his face and he followed us to Walmart. … He had a gun. He was pulling his gun, and my husband had to fire.”
DA Leonard said Mrs. Jones’ statements and demeanor on the phone lend strength to her husband’s side of the story.
Before the police arrive, Officer Jones can be seen reaching into the vehicle. Leonard said that was to put it in park and retrieve the airsoft gun, which he placed on the roof of Liddell’s car.
Leonard also said Liddell had been involved in a similar complaint in 2014 at the same Walmart. Leonard said a patron reported Liddell stopped in front of him in the road, followed him into the parking lot and threatened him with a knife. Charges were not filed in that case because it was not picked up on security cameras, Leonard said.
The DA also said it does not appear the victims and the Joneses knew each other, and de-clined to say what the family was afraid would happen when Liddell apparently followed them into the parking lot.
“I don’t know that they specified exactly what they thought was going to happen, I will state that we found a ski mask in the car, actually on the dashboard of Mr. Liddell’s vehicle, but when he was shot and killed, he was not wearing the ski mask,” he said.
Leonard also downplayed suggestions that Jones should have called 911, gone to a police sta-tion or simply not have parked his car if he thought Liddell posed a threat. Leonard said the question at hand was whether Jones broke the law.
“I’m not looking at, Mr. Jones, should he have gotten out of the car, should he not,” Leonard said. “He has an absolute right to get out of his car in the Walmart parking lot. There’s no law against him getting out of his car in a Walmart parking lot. And he’s allowed to carry a gun, and that’s what he was doing. It could have been different, but it’s not. The way it is, we find to be lawful and justified.”