Echoes of Breonna Taylor in Shooting of Black Man in Georgia
ATLANTA (AP) — Johnny Lorenzo Bolton was lying on a couch in his apartment near Atlanta when police serving a narcotics search warrant burst through the front door with guns drawn and no warning.
Bolton stood and at least one of the officers fired, sending two bullets into Bolton’s chest. The 49-year-old Black man died from his injuries.
Details of the pre-dawn encounter in December — most of which come from a lawyer representing Bolton’s family — resemble a well-known case: 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 isn't 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 was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.
Bolton’s relatives and their lawyers wanted to gather information before drawing attention to his killing, they said. Frustrated in those efforts, attorneys sent a draft lawsuit to Cobb County officials in mid-April along with a letter threatening litigation.
“For almost six months, we gave them quiet,” Bolton’s sister Daphne Bolton said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “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 are widely known: 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 toward the door. Police say they knocked and identified themselves. Walker said he didn’t hear them say police and feared they were intruders. He fired once, hitting an officer. Three officers returned fire, killing Taylor.
Fewer details about Bolton’s death have been released.
In a bare-bones news release the day he died, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said a Cobb County Sheriff's Office SWAT team executed a narcotics search warrant at a Smyrna apartment around 4:40 a.m. on Dec. 17.
“During entry into the residence, a SWAT team member discharged his firearm and an occupant of the apartment was struck,” the release said.
The Cobb County district attorney’s office has said it’s still investigating and — as it does with all shootings by police — plans to present the case to a grand jury.
In a letter to the family’s lawyers, an attorney representing Cobb County said officials “believe there are several material inaccuracies” in the draft lawsuit and accompanying letter.
The two-bedroom apartment where Bolton lived served as an unofficial boarding house, and Bolton slept on a couch in the living room, according to Zack Greenamyre, one of the family’s lawyers.
Police served two warrants at roughly the same time: one at a townhouse where a suspected drug dealer lived and the second at the apartment where Bolton lived. The officer who provided sworn statements for both warrants said he relied on a confidential law enforcement source and surveillance. The officer said drug sales continued at the apartment 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 known to associate with the suspected drug dealer at the apartment and previous reports of guns there.
Greenamyre says the warrant was based on false and outdated information and that the apartment was residential, with no drug sales happening there. Bolton’s name doesn’t appear in the warrant paperwork.
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 and was shot. Witnesses also said officers didn’t immediately provide first aid but instead handcuffed Bolton.
“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. The warrants charge all three with possession of a gun by a felon after one gun was found in the kitchen and another in a bedroom. The man also had a backpack containing cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines, a warrant says.
Daphne Bolton wants to know why her brother was shot and wants the officers fired and charged. She also wants “no-knock” warrants banned.
The siblings grew up, along with an older sister who died five years ago, in a tightknit family in Mississippi. As teenagers, they moved to South Carolina with their mother after their parents divorced.
Johnny Bolton never really liked school, but he was funny and well liked and drew a crowd when he’d sing in public. He began using drugs in his late teens, possibly to cope with their parents’ divorce, his sister said. He moved to the Atlanta area as a young man.
Daphne Bolton saw her brother a couple of times a year, but spoke to him often. He worked at a carwash and was popular with customers and staff there, she said.
Johnny Bolton had trouble with the law over the years, mostly drug and misdemeanor offenses, and spent some time locked up. He’d often call his sister to ask for money.
“He always told me, he said, ‘Baby Sis, I’m gonna get better.’ I said, ‘I know you are,’” Daphne Bolton said through tears. “I never gave up hope that he would get better. Now I, unfortunately, will never get to see that day.”