ATLANTA – Tama Colson was finishing an evening walk when she saw the police cars speed into her neighborhood. As she approached her home she heard a loud “pop-pop-pop” and saw her neighbors fleeing into their yard two houses down.
“They shot me and they shot my dog!” one neighbor yelled as his wife ran screaming, according to Colson.
The shooters were DeKalb County police officers who were dispatched Monday night to check out a possible burglary reported at a southeast Atlanta home, authorities said. The officers went to the wrong house. The consequences were bloody.
Authorities said Tuesday the responding officers shot homeowner Christopher McKinley, killed his dog and “likely” shot a fellow officer, Travis Jones, leaving him seriously wounded.
Lacking an exact address for the one-story home, the officers were sent in the dark to a neighborhood where many houses look similar.
Three officers found a home they thought matched a description provided by a 911 caller, but were unable to make contact with anyone inside, according to a statement from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. They entered the home through an unlocked rear door and two officers fired their guns at a dog, killing it.
McKinley, 36, was also shot in the leg by police, GBI officials said. Jones was shot in the hip and listed in serious condition at Grady Memorial Hospital. The GBI released the names of the two wounded men Tuesday evening.
“Early investigation indicates that the injured officer was likely shot accidentally by one of the other officers on the scene,” GBI officials said in a statement.
However, GBI spokesman Scott Dutton said it was too early to determine exactly who fired the gunshots. Dutton said he did not know if anyone in the home was armed besides the police. GBI officials said there is no evidence residents there had committed any crimes.
McKinley returned home early Tuesday, limping and wearing hospital scrubs, but declined to comment.
Colson told The Associated Press that McKinley had a bullet wound a couple of inches above his right knee and was asking: “Why did they come in my house? Why did they shoot me? Why did they shoot my dog?”
She said she knelt beside him in the yard and used a shirt to staunch the bleeding as he told her what happened.
“He told me they were in the house watching television when they heard something in the backyard,” Colson said. “The husband gets up to check, opens the door and he just sees shooting. He gets hit and his dog is dead.”
She said police never questioned McKinley while she was there helping him.
Derek Perez told The AP that he reported the suspicious person, but at a different house from the one police entered. He said he was walking his dog when he saw a man knock on a neighbor’s door and then just stand in the yard. He said he then heard a loud noise, a dog barking and didn’t see the man anymore. There had been break-ins in the neighborhood recently, so he called 911, he said.
Bob Gilman, who lives nearby, said he heard police sirens Monday night, went outside and saw his neighbor sitting on the driveway, wounded. Gilman said police officers escorted him away before he could ask what had happened. He was stunned that officers had opened fire.
“If they say they had the wrong address, that’s very frightening,” Gilman said.
The wounded man’s dog, a brindle boxer, was large, playful and would run up to people. Gilman said the dog never attacked others. The wounded man’s home had been hit by previous break-ins, and the man told Gilman that he owned a shotgun and a handgun.
DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric Alexander said his agency would normally investigate a non-fatal shooting. But given the complicated circumstances, he said he asked the GBI to lead the probe involving his own officers’ actions.
Alexander acknowledged Monday night that DeKalb County officers responded to the wrong home. All three officers – identified by the GBI as Jones, Quhanna Lloyd and Timothy Harden – have been placed on administrative leave.
Police officers have mistakenly forced their way inside homes before in Atlanta, at least once with deadly consequences. In 2006, Atlanta police officers killed a 92-year-old woman during a botched drug raid at her house.