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A police officer was fired after video showed him running down a fleeing suspect with his car

By: Avi Selk, The Washington Post
June 3, 2018 Updated: June 3, 2018 at 9:31 pm
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The following story is based on body camera footage and police statements regarding an incident in which a rookie officer drove his squad car into a fleeing suspect.  The cop was  fired from the Athens-Clarke County Police Department within hours.

The call came in at 7:30 p.m. Friday: Timmy Patmon was running. There was a warrant out for him for violating probation on a drug charge last year — meth and less than an ounce of marijuana — and now he was running from an officer through east Athens, Ga.

Officer Taylor Saulters sat in his squad car a few blocks away, listening to the call. He looked to his left, then his right. Then he threw the car into reverse and turned down a narrow residential street, sirens blaring, wipers flicking light rain off the windshield.

He accelerated between low-roofed houses and veered left at a fork — at an intersection that used to be called the “Iron Triangle” during the crack cocaine crisis of the early 2000s, according to Flagpole.

Oncoming cars veered out of the way as Saulters sped past the liquor store, the police station, the church. He spotted Patmon half a block ahead, sprinting down the sidewalk, clutching his baseball cap.

Patmon was 24 years old. Saulters was a year out of the police academy. He would later tell his bosses that he’d been trying to block the fugitive’s escape. It all happened in a span of seconds — between two passes of the windshield wipers.

Saulters turned the car toward the sidewalk, striking the curb a few paces in front of Patmon. The car jolted and a front tire went flat.

Patmon escaped into the street, sprinting down the yellow line as a second officer pursued him on foot. Saulters accelerated and veered toward him. Another jolt, and then Patmon was tumbling over his hood, bouncing off his windshield.

Somehow he never lost his grip on his ball cap, even as he fell face down in the street.

Saulters leaped out of the car. The second officer had already caught up and was straddling Patmon, who lay writhing on the pavement.

“We got him,” Saulters said.

He reached back inside his car to kill the sirens. Almost instantly, the audio track on his body cam filled with the sounds of people screaming.

A woman had stepped into the street to stare at Patmon, covered in dirt at the officers’ feet. “Oh my God,” she said. “Why’d you hit that man?”

Saulters pointed at her. “Stop!” He bent down to help the second officer cuff Patmon, who wouldn’t let go of his ball cap. The hat was drawn taut as the officers tried to pry his arms apart.

It had been less than 60 seconds since the impact, but already a throng had gathered at the Iron Triangle. The accounts of witnesses were relayed through angry shouts: “He hit the man! He hit the man! He hit the man!”

On the ground, Patmon half-closed his eyes and finally let the officers cuff him.

“You can’t hit the man with a car like that!”

“We’re going to need crowd control,” Saulters said.

“We need, uh, EMS,” he added.

A second squad car pulled up. More uniforms joined Saulters and the second officer. A man in a camouflage T-shirt stepped out of the crowd, pulled a lanyard from his jeans and slung a badge around his neck.

“I got him with my car,” Saulters explained. “That’s what they’re yelling about.”

Most of the officers started making a perimeter, herding the shouters back to the sidewalk. They left Saulters and Patmon to have a sort of conversation in the street.

“Stand up,” Saulters said, almost softly. “We’re going to put you in the back of this car while we handle this, all right?”

Patmon didn’t move.

“You don’t want to lay like that, man. It ain’t good on your handcuffs.”

“It hurts,” Patmon said.

“What hurts?” Saulters asked. “From when you hit the ground?”

“You know!” Patmon said.

“Oh, I know. I know what I did. Why’d you run?”

“I don’t know. I just did.”

Patmon finally rose and sat on the curb with his hands bound behind him. Saulters ignored the jeers from all around him, discussing the damage to his front wheel with other officers.

After a minute or so, a woman walked out of the crowd. She passed solemnly through the police line and held out a cigarette to Patmon.

She put it in his mouth and lit it, and the officers let him smoke it for a few moments. Then Saulters took it away.

“We can’t smoke in the car,” he said. “All right?”

Patmon no longer protested. The officer loaded him into the second patrol car — the one that hadn’t hit him. Two days later, Patmon would remain jailed on charges of probation violation and obstructing an officer.

Saulters had not thought his own squad car would be drivable after the collision, but he was able to rattle away on three good tires, leaving the furious crowd at the Triangle.

He held Patmon’s confiscated cigarette out the car window as he made one of his last journeys as an Athens-Clarke County police officer.

About half a dozen other officers had already gathered in a nearby parking lot when Saulters pulled up in the crippled car.

“Damn!” he shouted, getting out and slamming the door.

“He’s fine,” one of the officers told Saulters. In a new release Saturday, police said Patmon had suffered scrapes and bruises.

“He was running this way,” Saulters told the colleagues gathered around him. “And I just came this way, and he ran into the hood of my car and bounced off.”

“All right,” one of the officers said. “As long as you didn’t make some kind of overt movement to strike him, you’ll be fine.”

But he wasn’t. Within a matter of hours, the police chief would watch footage from Saulters’s body camera, which showed him jerking the steering wheel in Patmon’s direction just before the car struck him.

An internal affairs investigation was opened, and the rookie officer’s firing was announced in a news release less than a day after the collision.

The news release somewhat supported Saulters’s version of events, stating that had been trying to block Patmon, rather than intentionally hit him. But the officer, who could not be reached, had also violated unspecified policies and used force excessively, a police spokesman told The Washington Post.

The state of Georgia will continue to investigate him and might assign additional penalties.

Before he turned off his camera on Friday, Saulters carefully set down Patmon’s cigarette, which he had carried with him from the scene of the crash.

“Anybody got a lighter?” an officer asked.

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Read this story at washingtonpost.com

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