Bibb DA says police officer will not face criminal charges in fatal shooting of Sammie Davis Jr.
From his sofa, the police officer, on paid leave for nearly three months, stared at the TV. It was just past noon Tuesday. The news was on. The news was about him. But he almost didnt watch.
Clayton Sutton pretty much already knew what the district attorney would say in the live news conference. No one had called Sutton to let him know what was coming. No one really needed to. Sutton, a Macon cop, had lived it.
He had known since the afternoon of Dec. 21, the instant he fired three shots and killed a man in front of a supermarket, that he had done so justifiably and in self defense. Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke announced Tuesday that no criminal charges will be filed against Sutton.
I knew I was cleared from the start, Sutton said.
But as Christmas came and went, police for the most part were mum about the particulars of the incident. That, in part, fueled speculation and scrutiny in what soon became a politically and racially charged debate.
Sutton is white. The man he shot, 49-year-old Sammie Junebug Davis Jr., was black.
On Jan. 1, the GBI, as it has been in the past for some police-involved shootings, was summoned to conduct an independent probe.
Since then, the case has played out in slow motion. There were protests. Some called for Suttons job. Even the most basic scenario of what prompted the shooting was never divulged before Tuesday.
For whatever reason, police never said publicly -- as the countys lead prosecutor did Tuesday -- that Davis lunged at Sutton and sliced the officers neck with his fingernails. They never said why Sutton had been called to the Pio Nono Avenue Kroger where Davis had frightened a woman in the parking lot, or that Davis was mentally ill and that he stood 6-feet-2 and outweighed the 5-foot-9-inch Sutton by nearly 200 pounds.
As the probe dragged on, some protesters alleged there was something to hide.
But investigators found there was not. There was just a 29-year-old police officer, an Arkansas-raised Afghanistan war veteran, trying to survive.
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A woman called 911 from her car as she left the Kroger parking lot Dec. 21.
It was a pre-holiday afternoon, and the parking lot was bustling.
Earlier, Davis was panhandling in the parking lot and followed the woman as she walked to the store entrance.
Later, when the woman emerged with her groceries, Davis came up behind her and followed her to her car. As she put the bags in the car, he startled her, asking for money, Cooke said.
She remembered she had a dollar in her pocket and gave it to him, he said.
Uneasy, she got into her car and called police.
Sutton was dispatched to the store with a description of the panhandler and where he would be sitting.
The officer confronted Davis. Upon hearing his name, Sutton remembered that hed taken out a warrant for an alleged shoplifter with a similar name at the same Kroger earlier in the year. He radioed dispatchers to ask if the warrant was still valid.
Sutton was attacked before learning the warrant was for a man named Chucky Alan Davis.
After talking with dispatchers, Sutton ordered Sammie Davis to take his hands out of his pockets twice, and Davis refused.
A woman in a nearby car was watching.
Cooke said the woman later told police that suddenly the big guy lunged at the officer and grabbed him around the neck.
Sutton told authorities he felt a cutting, burning sensation as if he was being cut by a knife, Cooke said.
With Davis still holding on, Sutton pushed away and fired the first of three shots. He continued firing, as trained, as he backed away and fell onto the womans car, knocking off her side mirror.
The GBI conducted a test of DNA found underneath Davis fingernails. It matched Suttons. Ballistic evidence shows the shots were fired from about 3 feet away, Cooke said.
Although authorities have reviewed videos from Kroger security cameras and Suttons patrol car camera, theres no footage of the altercation between Davis and Sutton.
Suttons car camera captured images of people ducking and audio of the officer calling for an ambulance.
Two people saw the altercation. Others only saw what happened after hearing the shots.
The GBIs probe revealed Davis had suffered from schizophrenia for 30 years and had not been taking his medicine, Cooke said.
Agents also found that Davis had scared a teenage girl in the same parking lot on July 7, 2010, and refused to leave. He then shoved a store manager into a wall and knocked him down. It took four employees to control Davis before police arrived.
The managers shirt was torn and his arms were scratched. He still has scars, Cooke said.
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On Tuesday afternoon, police were making plans for Sutton to return to work on administrative duty until an internal affairs review is finished.
The review will include the convening of a shooting review board and a study of whether Sutton followed departmental policies and procedures. The process could take up to two weeks, police said.
Cooke said the decision of whether the shooting was justified wasnt a close one.
The facts were clear and indisputable, he said.
Suttons decision to shoot Davis was made in a split second, and he reasonably feared for his life, Cooke said.
In the spirit of openness, prosecutors have shared a copy of the GBIs file with their federal counterparts. The district attorney said he doesnt expect them to file charges.
At the end of the televised news conference, Sutton showed no sign of a weight being lifted.
He stood and walked across the hardwood floor hed put down in his living room while on leave. The district attorney was done making his statement. In the background, on the TV, a news anchor summarized the news, saying, There will be no criminal charges against officer Clayton Sutton.
You could have said that, Sutton said, months ago.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.