By Ed Brock
Family and friends of a Laotian man who spoke little English say his shooting by three Clayton County sheriff's deputies was unjustified.
At around 10:30 p.m. Thursday three deputies went to 33-year-old Leuang Souvannasinh's apartment on N. Lee Street. Thursday to arrest him for a probation violation, Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle said. When Souvannasinh refused to open the door for the deputies, who Tuggle did not identify, they forced their way into the apartment and found Souvannasinh "wielding" a machete.
"Officers tried to get him to put it down," Tuggle said. "He didn't, he advanced on them and they shot him."
Tuggle said he didn't know how many times the deputies fired, but one of Souvannasinh's neighbors at Morrow College Apartments said she heard three shots.
The original charges that led to Souvannasinh's probation were having an improperly displayed car tag and driving on a suspended license. Tuggle said he did not know what Souvannasinh did to violate his probation.
Souvannasinh's family said he was not a violent person and his sister, 16-year-old Dati, said she didn't know if her brother had a machete in his hands at the time of the shooting or not.
"He was a nice guy," she said. "Whatever the police are saying, whatever's being said in the media, that's totally wrong, that's not it."
Dati said her brother, a veteran of the Laotian army who came to America about 16 years ago, had asked the deputies to wait until his family arrived. His father arrived about 10 minutes after the shooting.
Their mother, Kham, lived in the apartment where the shooting occurred and was home at the time of the shooting. Dati and her other brother, Sy, said Leuang told their mother to go into another room when the police came.
The owners of the apartment complex, Chris and Mary Stergiadis, said the shooting shocked them and said Souvannasinh was a kind man who never raised his voice and who had lived in the apartment since April 2001.
"He was my friend. He never bothered a single soul," Chris Stergiadis said. "If I was present I could have helped save his life."
The Stergiadises hugged and comforted family members who came to the apartment on Friday to pick up some possessions. Mary Stergiadis said Souvannasinh was a temporary employee but she did not know what agency employed him.
Chris Stergiadis said he had seen sheriff's deputies looking for Souvannasinh in the days prior to the shooting but didn't know why. Dati Souvannasinh said her mother had told the deputies on Thursday to come back at 3:30 p.m.
Stergiadis also said he thought Souvannasinh didn't understand the deputies and may have thought they were there to kill him.
Tuggle said that his deputies generally try to call in a translator when they know there is a language barrier, but he did not know if the deputies were aware of a language barrier in this case.
Kham Souvannasinh is staying with one of her other daughters and was badly shaken by the shooting.
The family expects to hold a funeral next week.
"Whoever killed my brother, I hope they go to hell for it," Dati said.
Tuggle said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has been called in to investigate the shooting as part of standard procedure in any shooting by a deputy. GBI spokeswoman Vicki Metz would not comment on the investigation but did say that when it is complete the results would be turned over to the Clayton County District Attorney's Office.
The shooting shook up the three deputies, Tuggle said. They are on leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation and will receive counseling as well.