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New York Times
By RICHARD FAUSSET
CHAMBLEE, Ga. — Witnesses to the fatal police shooting of an African-American man gave differing accounts Tuesday. But they all ended with a similar question: Why was it necessary to shoot Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran who was naked and unarmed?
The shooting, which occurred early Monday afternoon, has prompted mourning, confusion and anger in the apartment complex northeast of Atlanta where Mr. Hill lived.
“He was a calm, friendly person,” said Julio Hernandez, 54, a groundskeeper at the complex whose 14-year-old son rode skateboards with Mr. Hill. “To me, this was police abuse, because what can a naked person do?”
On his social media accounts, Mr. Hill, an aspiring musician, hinted that he had a mental illness. And most everyone who saw him at the apartments Monday said his behavior was bizarre in the extreme in the moments before the police arrived. Mr. Hill, they said, had been lying on the ground, semi-clothed and then naked, and had been jumping repeatedly off his second-story balcony.
The shooting is the third police killing of an unarmed or apparently unarmed black man in the last five days, following shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Madison, Wis. They have occurred as the nation considers race, policing and lethal force in the wake of the killing of another unarmed black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is examining the shooting of Mr. Hill. The DeKalb County Police Department identified the officer as Robert Olsen, who has been on the force for seven years. Mr. Olsen, who is white, has been placed on administrative leave pending the result of the investigation.
The dun-colored apartment complex, called the Heights at Chamblee, is home mostly to working-class Latino families. A number of mothers at the complex said they knew Mr. Hill, whom they called Tony, as a friendly presence who liked to play soccer with their children. Mr. Hernandez said Mr. Hill had never acted aggressively or oddly before.
A Twitter account that appears to have belonged to Mr. Hill contained a message acknowledging being bipolar.
“I am thankful to be something other than normal,” it says. “I don’t fight my circumstance, I embrace it. I love myself. Always #IAmBipolar.” Other messages suggested he was an aspiring musician, and the profile features a link to a SoundCloud page with contemporary R & B tracks.
On his Facebook page, Mr. Hill expressed appreciation for his fellow veterans, and he ruminated on race and the “black lives matter” movement that emerged after the shooting of Mr. Brown. He also wrote about mental illness.
“The media continues to paint the same horrific picture of mentally affected people but I have to tell you, there are so many shades in between the extremes,” he wrote on March 4.
On March 6, he wrote, “The key think to remember is, #blacklivesmatter, ABSOLUTELY, but not moreso than any other life.”
On Monday, at 2:01 a.m., a post read, “Up all night. No days off. See you at the top … Girl I’m finna TAKE OFF!”
At 8:40 a.m., his final post read, “Where I once saw death i only see life.”
Ivan Lara, 43, a painter, said he saw Mr. Hill outside sometime after noon Monday, wearing a pair of shorts and lying face down. He assumed that he was exercising. But when Mr. Hill lifted his head, his speech was indecipherable, Mr. Lara said.
Workers at the rental office eventually called 911. Mr. Lara said one of the workers at the complex tried to calm Mr. Hill.
Pedro Castillo, 43, a maintenance worker at the complex, said Mr. Hill was naked and on his hands and knees in the parking lot when the officer arrived in his squad car, parking a good distance away.
When Mr. Hill saw the officer, Mr. Castillo said, he stood up and moved toward him with his hands raised, and the officer, who Mr. Castillo said looked frightened, yelled for him to stop.
Mr. Castillo said that he had not seen a scuffle, but that he did see the officer pull out a handgun and shoot Mr. Hill.
Another resident, a woman who did not want her name published because she is an undocumented immigrant, said Mr. Hill had his hands at his sides and raised them parallel to the ground as he drew nearer to the officer. She, too, said the men did not fight before Mr. Hill was shot.
A third witness, Xochi Macedonia, 27, said she had seen Mr. Hill running toward the police officer from more than 20 yards away. But Ms. Macedonia said she could not see what happened when Mr. Hill got close.
In a news conference on Monday, Cedric L. Alexander, the DeKalb County deputy chief operating officer for public safety, said the officer had a Taser at the time. He said he did not know whether the officer had used it. None of the witnesses said they saw a Taser used.
Harrietta Jones, 62, a cousin of Mr. Hill’s mother, said Tuesday that Mr. Hill was being treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. “To my understanding, he was having some difficulties with the medication that he was on,” she said.
Capt. Steve Fore of the DeKalb County police said Tuesday that Mr. Olsen, like all officers, underwent training in dealing with mentally ill people. But Captain Fore said he was not sure of Mr. Olsen’s exact training curriculum. “They may vary from year to year,” he said.
Mr. Lara did not see the shooting, but he said he had heard three loud bangs. He followed the sounds and found the officer holding and touching Mr. Hill. “I saw his face,” Mr. Lara said, referring to the policeman. “He was very scared. The cop said, ‘You saw what happened, right?’ ”
Another neighbor, Adriana Gomez, 21, said she had seen Mr. Hill lying in the street, with emergency personnel all around and a police officer crying.
“Maybe he chose the wrong weapon, I don’t know,” Ms. Gomez said. “That’s the question everybody’s asking.”
On Tuesday morning, a pair of camouflage shorts was wadded up in front of the door to Mr. Hill’s apartment. Tiffany R. Smith, 25, a resident of Atlanta, was wandering the apartment complex with a camera and a red rose.
Ms. Smith said she had not known Mr. Hill, but just wanted answers.
“To be naked and unarmed and killed, I don’t understand,” she said. “I came here to get some peace and try to understand.”