Johnny Lorenzo Bolton was lying with his eyes closed on a couch in his apartment near the US city of Atlanta when police serving a narcotics search warrant burst through the front door with guns drawn and no warning.
Bolton stood up and at least one of the officers fired, sending two bullets into Bolton’s chest. The 49-year-old Black man died of his injuries.
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Details of the predawn encounter in December – most of which come from a lawyer representing Bolton’s family – resemble a case that is well known across the United States: the killing nine months earlier of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. The 26-year-old Black woman also died after being shot by officers serving a drug search warrant at her apartment.
But unlike Taylor’s, Bolton’s name is not painted in large letters on protest signs or mentioned in the ongoing nationwide discussions on racial injustice and police brutality that began after Taylor’s death in March 2020 and that of George Floyd, who died under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020.
Bolton’s relatives and their lawyers wanted to try to get information about the shooting from law enforcement before drawing attention to his killing, they said. Frustrated in those efforts, the lawyers sent a draft of a lawsuit to Cobb County officials in mid-April along with a letter threatening litigation if county officials did not provide more information and address accountability and compensation for Bolton’s death.
“For almost six months, we gave them quiet,” Bolton’s sister Daphne Bolton said in a recent interview with The Associated Press news agency. “That lets me know that’s not what gets a response.”
Now, Bolton says, “I want my brother’s name to ring beside Breonna Taylor’s. When they say Breonna Taylor, I want them to say Breonna Taylor and Johnny Lorenzo Bolton. I want them to be simultaneous.”
The specifics of Taylor’s killing have been laid out in detail: police arrived after midnight and used a battering ram to knock open the door. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, said he grabbed his gun and he and Taylor got out of bed and walked towards the door. Police say they knocked and identified themselves. Walker said he did not hear them say police and feared the officers were intruders. He fired once, hitting an officer in the leg. Three officers returned fire, discharging a total of 32 bullets, five of which hit Taylor.
Far fewer details about Bolton’s death have been released.
In a bare-bones news release issued the day he died, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), which investigates shootings involving police at the request of local agencies, said officers had executed a narcotics search warrant at a Smyrna apartment about 4:40am (08:40 GMT) on December 17.
“During entry into the residence, a SWAT team member discharged his firearm and an occupant of the apartment was struck,” the release said. It was a Cobb County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team. The agency has said it is cooperating with the investigation.
The GBI said it turned over its investigative file to the Cobb County district attorney’s office on March 16. The district attorney’s office has said it is still investigating and – as it does with all cases involving shootings by police – plans to present the case to a grand jury.
In a letter responding to the family’s lawyers, a lawyer representing Cobb County said officials were reviewing the claims raised by the family’s lawyers but they “believe there are several material inaccuracies” in the draft lawsuit and accompanying letter. County officials have declined requests from the AP for documents detailing the shooting, citing an exemption in the state’s open records law for material related to an ongoing investigation.
The two-bedroom apartment where Bolton lived served as an unofficial boarding house, according to Zack Greenamyre, one of the family’s lawyers. A woman and her teenage daughter lived in one bedroom, another woman rented the other bedroom, and Bolton slept on a couch in the living room, Greenamyre said.
As part of an investigation targeting a suspected drug dealer, police served two warrants at roughly the same time: one at a townhouse where the suspected dealer lived and the second at the apartment where Bolton lived, which police said was paid for by the alleged dealer.
The officer who provided sworn statements for both warrant applications said they were based on information from a confidential law enforcement source and surveillance. The officer said the confidential informant bought cocaine at the apartment in September and that drug sales continued there in December.
The officer asked for a “no-knock” warrant, which allows police to enter without announcing themselves. He cited the criminal histories of people who were known to associate with the suspected dealer at the apartment and previous reports of guns seen there.
Greenamyre says the warrant for the apartment was based on false and outdated information and that the apartment was purely residential, with no drug sales taking place there. Bolton’s name does not appear in the paperwork for either warrant.
Greenamyre said witnesses told him Bolton was lying on a couch with his eyes closed, possibly sleeping, when officers crashed through the door. He stood in response to the noise and was shot by police, the witnesses said. They also said that as Bolton lay dying, officers did not immediately provide first aid but instead handcuffed him.
“The limited information available to the family now does not make this look like a justified shooting,” said the letter accompanying the draft lawsuit.
About two weeks after the shooting, police got additional arrest warrants for the alleged dealer, who had already been arrested in the raid on the townhouse, and his brother, saying the pair had access to a locked closet in the apartment where a backpack containing drugs was found.
Police also got arrest warrants for two women and a man who were in the apartment with Bolton when police entered. The warrants charge all three with possession of a gun despite prior felony convictions after one gun was found in the kitchen and another in a bedroom. The man also had a backpack containing cocaine, cannabis and methamphetamines, a warrant says.