When the officers, both of whom are White, finally stood up, Walker was unconscious, his face bloodied and swollen as the deputies flipped him over and put his wrists in cuffs.
On Sunday, the Clayton County sheriff fired the officer seen punching Walker, 26, “for excessive use of force.” Walker, who was charged with battery and obstructing officers, remains in custody, with the sheriff’s office saying he can’t be released due to a felony probation warrant from another county.
But Shean Williams, his attorney, noted he wasn’t “detained or arrested for being on probation or having an open case in another county.”
“Roderick Walker is in jail solely because he was illegally arrested after being assaulted by Clayton County Sheriff deputies, not because of anything he did during that incident or in the past,” he said. “Mr. Walker would not be in jail if it were not for this unlawful arrest that violated his legal and constitutional rights.”
Walker’s case is the latest civil rights flash point in Georgia. In late February, Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot while running in Brunswick, Ga., and it took 74 days for authorities to arrest the suspects. The state has been racked with protests after George Floyd’s death in May, and again when Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by Atlanta police officers in June.
Walker’s altercation with police started with a traffic stop. Walker and his girlfriend, Juanita Davis, had dropped off a rental car Friday and found someone to drive them, their 5-month old child, and Walker’s stepson home for a small fee, his lawyer said.
A sheriff’s deputy, who was in an unmarked car, pulled them over and asked for Walker’s identification. When he questioned why, since he was a passenger, the officers ordered him to exit the car, Williams said. Soon more deputies arrived at the scene.
Moments later Walker was on the ground with one officer pinning him down as the other punched him. He became unconscious at least twice during the struggle, according to Williams. Bystanders, including Davis, began recording the altercation and videos soon circulated online.
In video of the incident, one officer accuses Walker of biting his hand — a claim Williams denied. The officers arrested Walker and brought him to the Clayton County Jail.
“Roderick was doing nothing wrong,” Williams said in a news conference Saturday outside the county jail. “How does a taillight being broke end up with a man being beaten, in the way he was beaten, in a chokehold, almost dying?”
On Saturday, Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill suspended the officer who punched Walker and ordered an internal investigation. On Sunday, the sheriff fired the officer. In a statement, the sheriff’s office said the Clayton County District Attorney’s office would take over a criminal investigation.
The Sheriff’s office also said Walker couldn’t be released on bond because he “has a felony probation warrant out of Fulton County for Cruelty to Children, Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and a Failure to Appear warrant out of Hapeville.”
But at a rally on Sunday outside the county jail, Williams argued Walker never should have been arrested in the first place, saying deputies “lied and falsified a warrant for his arrest.”
“This issue is not just about Roderick Walker,” Williams said on Saturday. “This issue that we’re here about tonight, is something that unfortunately has come upon too many members of our community and Black members of our families.”
Williams added the news conference could have been like many others this summer, mourning the death of someone killed by police. “We have seen this happen [with] George Floyd, we’ve seen it happen on too many occasions and we are tired of it,” Williams said.