Savannah Police Shot and Killed Ricky Boyd; the Investigation Reveals Fundamental Wrongs in Law Enforcement Use-of-Force Prosecutions
On Jan. 23rd, 2018, Savannah Police officers knocked on the door of Ricky Boyd’s home in Savannah, saying they had a warrant for Ricky’s arrest for murder. When Ricky came out of the house, they shot and killed him.
Nearly everything about this confrontation — even the pretense under which officers came looking for Ricky — has been clouded by false statements, inconsistencies and stonewalling by law enforcement: beginning with Savannah Police, continuing with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, reinforced by Savannah’s city government leaders, and ending with prosecutors in the office of Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap.
“[Ricky] initiated gunfire towards officers,” Savannah Police Chief Mark Revenew told reporters who swarmed to the shooting scene after reports one of the officers had also been shot.
It was Revenew’s first day on the job. His first public statement was a lie.
The same day, in an afternoon news conference, Revenew changes his story, without ever attempting to correct the record. Now Ricky had “confronted officers with a weapon.”
The case – like all uses of deadly force by law enforcement – was turned over to the GBI. Within hours, GBI issues a news release and attaches a photo of a BB gun they claim Ricky wielded at officers.
Media coverage of Ricky Boyd’s death died down almost immediately after the GBI’s release of the photo. Most news updates only related to the treatment and release of the Savannah police officer, who had been shot in the leg. No reporting made the connection between the officer – who was shot with bullets – and the BB gun, which police say Ricky was wielding before they shot him.
Jameillah Smiley, Ricky’s mother, turned to the Claiborne Firm for help.
The Claiborne Firm Takes the Case
In the weeks after Ricky’s death, attorney Will Claiborne began to canvas the neighborhood for information about the shooting. Immediately, he discovered that investigators had not even bothered to interview all of the neighbors who were home at the time of the incident.
But even more alarming was a photo of the shooting scene presented to him by a neighbor. The neighbor’s house and car had been riddled with bullets after the hail of gunfire that killed Ricky.
“When I stepped out of the house, I took a picture of the damage to my car. I zoomed in and saw that there was a gun over there,” said the neighbor, who asked for his identity to be withheld.
A closer look at the photo reveals a black object, sitting on a bed of pine straw similar to the background in the GBI evidence photo. The neighbor believes it was a gun.
Claiborne got out his tape measure. The location was 43 feet away from where Ricky had been shot and killed by Savannah Police.
“In order for the gun that they found — which they claim he had — to be 43 feet away from him, he would have had to have thrown that gun as his last act while he was being shot. And thrown it quite far,” Claiborne said.
The Body Camera Video: A Transparent Tool Clouded by Prosecutors
The incredible technological breakthrough of the body camera introduces a transparent, unedited account of the events of January 23rd.
Jameillah Smiley was taken to the Chatham County District Attorney’s office and shown the video — without audio — of her son’s death.
“They told me my son wanted to die,” Smiley said.
But that’s not what Smiley saw on the video — she says Ricky was not holding a gun while raising his hands to the air. But investigators wouldn’t let her hear what was on the video.
For four months after Ricky’s death, the video was never shared again with anyone in the public. Savannah Police refused to release the video, citing a pending investigation. The same excuse came from the GBI, the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office, and even the Savannah Mayor and City Council, when Jameillah publicly pleaded with them in an open meeting to use their authority to release the video.
But if investigators are so intent to protect the integrity of their investigation, why did Chief Revenew never correct his false statements about Ricky’s actions that morning? Why had they never followed the customary protocol of identifying the officers involved in the incident. And why did the GBI release other evidence, the photo of the BB gun?
The false statements, inconsistencies and hypocrisy of the investigation of Ricky’s death only began there. Investigators did not immediately close the murder case they say they were arresting Ricky for.
“My son didn’t murder anyone,” Smiley said. Detectives from Savannah Police confirmed this to her in a private meeting, she said.
District Attorney Meg Heap and the GBI squabbled over who authorized Jameillah’s viewing of the video. Savannah’s City Attorney, Brooks Stillwell, falsely claimed to Jameillah in the city council meeting that the city could not release the video, before quickly correcting himself and saying the city would not. Savannah Police never acknowledged their sergeant was shot and injured by friendly fire.
For months, Jameillah volunteered to help investigators solve their original murder case, but was rejected. When the Claiborne Firm released the photo that appears to show the BB gun lying 43 feet from where Ricky was killed, the District Attorney requested a copy, tacitly acknowledging the failed to gather the evidence themselves.
All the while, prosecutors refused to share the body camera video with the public. They demanded the public trust the process of a civil grand jury reviewing the evidence and recommending action.
But in the face of all of these false statements, inconsistencies and even violations of their own protocols involving the release of evidence, what have investigators done to earn that trust in this case? In the Savannah community, the record of law enforcement corruption and use of force only reinforces this lack of trust. And shootings of black men by law enforcement have opened a nationwide conversation about the use of force by law enforcement and the investigation of their actions by other law enforcement.
Since taking the case, the Claiborne Firm has been able to direct its careful, individual attention to the Ricky Boyd case that a large firm churning a massive file of cases could not deliver. The firm has brought national attention to Ricky Boyd’s death, the actions of law enforcement and the role of body cameras in use of force by police.
The Claiborne Firm will work tirelessly to deliver justice for Ricky Boyd and his family. And it can do the same for you.