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Man dies in meth arrest outside restaurant

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Clayton County undercover police shot a man to death in front of a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, as he allegedly assaulted an officer in an attempt to get away.

Police say the man was distributing methamphetamine to dealers in the 355 Upper Riverdale Road parking lot of the eatery that caters to children, and carried $30,000 of crystal meth at the time of his death, about 8 p.m., Monday.

The dead man remains unidentified.

"He didn't have any ID on him and nobody's come forward," Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner said Tuesday.

The three officers involved in the shooting have been suspended, pending the department's internal review and a psychological evaluation. The investigation of the shooting has been turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is standard in officer-involved shootings.

According to initial reports, the shooting happened during a drug buy. The county's narcotics officers arrested a woman on charges of dealing meth on Monday morning, and "flipped her," convincing her to act as an informant.

"She said she could get a bigger person, over her, who dealt in larger quantities," Turner said. "That Chuck E. Cheese parking lot is his normal distribution spot."

Undercover officers watched while the woman, now a "confidential informant," bought the so-called "ice" from the man, who was sitting in a BMW 525. After the buy, police say, the officers put on their "police paraphernalia," vests and badges, and attempted to make an arrest.

"They were donning their police vests and they were shouting 'stop, police, police,' and stuff," said Capt. Greg Dickens, a department spokesman. "They were loud enough that people inside the nearby restaurant could hear."

One witness reportedly told police he heard the officers scream, "Police! Police! Put your hands up! Get out of the car!"

But the man didn't get out of the car, according to the officers involved in the shooting. The man backed up, smashing into the unmarked police cars, knocking over the informant and knocking over an officer. The officer, along with two others, started shooting.

"Once the officer was hit, he opened fire," Turner said. "We never want a pursuit to happen and we really never want to use our firearms, but sometimes we have no choice."

The man's identity remained unknown Tuesday night. He was described by police as a Hispanic male in his late 20s or early 30s.

Turner would not say the shooting was justified -- before the department's internal review has been completed -- but said the officers did take steps to make sure no bystanders were in danger. There was no one in the parking lot when the arrest was attempted, and the officers put an "SUV-barrier in between the Chuck E. Cheese and the bad guy, like a shield," according to the police chief.

The officer who was allegedly assaulted with the BMW was taken to Southern Regional Medical Center, treated there and released Monday night, police said. The vehicle struck him in the thigh.

The shooting is similar to two other officer-involved shootings in Clayton County. In May, a Riverdale police officer shot 21-year-old Mario Quentin Tucker as he allegedly tried to assault the officer with a station wagon full of shoes, while fleeing a shoe store heist.

Tucker was injured, but not killed. In July, three Clayton County officers were cleared by a grand jury, in the shooting of Robert Turman, who was killed while attempting to flee an arrest at a 2007 prostitution sting.

Turman, 23, hit an officer with his truck, police said, and he was shot to death by three officers with the department's special operations unit.

Monday night's fatal shooting is the department's first in 2008. Like all officer involved shootings in Clayton County, it is being turned over to the GBI for investigation. The investigation could take up to six months to complete.