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One year since Adam English was shot by police outside Gainesville hospital, case remains unresolved
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Police work at the scene of an officer-involved shooting at Jesse Jewell Parkway and Wisteria Drive in front of Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. - photo by Nate McCullough

A year after losing her son, Adam English’s mother Laura King reflected on the milestones in his life that will never happen. 

“Those of us that knew Adam best, always seen him with a smile on his face and a lot of love in his heart,” King wrote in an email. “He is deeply missed, and it’s so sad that he’ll never experience meeting his first true love and getting married or having children of his own and knowing the joy that brings.” 

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Adam English

English was fatally shot Sept. 20, 2019, by Gainesville Police officers who were responding to reports of a man with a gun on Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville. 

In a year’s time, the public still has little access to information about what happened that day. Law enforcement officials don’t discuss the case, citing pending litigation.  

“This tragedy has been devastating to our family and the egregious amount of time it’s taking to get any definitive answers regarding what happened in those last moments of Adam’s life has added insult to injury,” King said. 

Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said the case is still under his review, and it may go before a grand jury. The case file from the GBI has been in his office for roughly nine months. 

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Lee Darragh

"Should I determine the need for grand jury review, it may be months longer due to the COVID-19 caused backup in (grand jury) cases," Darragh said in a statement. "If a grand jury review is not deemed necessary, I expect resolution from the (district attorney's) office perspective prior to the end of the year." Grand juries have not been meeting due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Only small bits of information can be gleaned from legal filings brought on by a civil lawsuit filed by English’s parents against the city of Gainesville and two police officers. 

The incident began at 4:33 p.m. Sept. 20, 2019, when hospital security got a call from a nurse in the surgical associates building asking for security to go to the building. Hospital security called the Gainesville Police Department and went to the surgical associates building. 

"English was given verbal commands to drop (a) weapon, but he did not comply with them,” according to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation press release issued the day after the shooting. “English was shot multiple times by two Gainesville Officers. Officers rendered aid and English was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. A gun was located at the scene." 

The GBI did not answer questions this week about when the case file was turned over to the prosecutor’s office and what findings were made. 

Honestly local

We know credible local information is crucial now more than ever. Reporter Nick Watson has for the past year been checking in regularly with court officials about this case after having been on the scene the day it happened. As the year anniversary approached, he reached out to those who knew Adam English, attorneys on all sides of the case and law enforcement. To our subscribers, thank you for your support; it helps us provide stories like this one. For those interested in becoming part of our mission to provide fair, unbiased coverage of our community, please consider these two options.

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English’s parents filed a civil lawsuit in June alleging two of Gainesville Police's officers, Jonathan Fowler and Jose Hernandez, used "unreasonable deadly force" and "failed to make a reasonable accommodation for decedent's mental disability.” The lawsuit against the city and its two officers is ongoing, and a joint preliminary report and discovery plan was filed Sept. 11. 

According to the lawsuit, English’s parents and attorneys have seen part of a video of the incident, where they claim English was “shot in the back by two officers as he continued to walk away from the officers at a normal walking speed.” 

The city wrote in its response to the lawsuit that the incident was captured on body cameras but denied the rest of the allegation. 

"There is a dispute as to whether Mr. English's hands were visible, whether he was brandishing a weapon or raising it in a threatening manner, and what commands were given," according to the joint motion. "The officers fired on Mr. English, killing him. (The city of Gainesville and the officers) maintain that a firearm was found in a bag at Mr. English's feet, but the investigation has not been released to (English's parents) or the public." 

In a response to the lawsuit, the city denies almost all the allegations in the complaint other than English's death, the officers being involved in the call and the preceding active shooter 911 call. 

Attorney Sun Choy, who is representing the city of Gainesville and the two officers, declined to comment when contacted by The Times. 

A Georgia Bureau of Investigation document said Fowler and Hernandez fired their weapons, though at least five officers were involved in the incident, according to the civil lawsuit. 

The Times made numerous attempts to get comment from Gainesville Police. The city’s spokeswoman, Christina Santee, instead responded. 

Santee said Hernandez resigned from Gainesville Police Dec. 4, less than three months after the shooting. Fowler is still with Gainesville Police. 

Both officers were on administrative leave from Sept. 21, 2019, through Oct. 4, 2019. Gainesville Police said Fowler has had 80 hours of training this year concerning use of force and de-escalation. 

Chief Jay Parrish previously told The Times the average officer is getting anywhere from five to 10 hours of training on de-escalation each year, a number he would like to triple by next year. 

“However, upon returning to work, Officer Hernandez did not immediately return to patrol work and was initially tasked with fulfilling duties at the office and not in the field,” Santee wrote in an email. 

Santee said the English case was not a catalyst for mental health initiatives that have been implemented by the city, saying the expanded mental health objectives were “an important initiative of the Gainesville Police Department prior to the incident.” 

An in-house mental health clinician was hired in March to work in the field with officers, and Santee said the clinician will assist with ongoing training in this area. 

The lawsuit claims the officers are not entitled to any qualified immunity as “the law being clearly established in September 2019 that mere possession or suspected possession of a potentially lethal weapon which is not being used in a threatening manner is no justification for the use of deadly force.”  

The lawsuit also alleges a violation of English’s Fourth Amendment rights, battery, negligence and a claim involving the Americans with Disabilities Act, as the plaintiff alleges the officers “were aware that Adam English suffered from some form of mental illness.”  

Under the ADA claim, the officers “failed to make reasonable accommodation for Adam English’s disability by deciding to escalate the encounter into a use of deadly force rather than to utilize de-escalation or other nonlethal strategies which should have been part of their training.”  

The lawsuit is seeking damages, attorney’s fees and court costs following a jury trial. 

"Whatever happened that day, I don't know, but I mean, the way how they handled it, how they approached it, I feel like it wasn't right,” said Dalton Watkins, a friend of English’s. 

On what would have been English’s 22nd birthday in August, Watkins spent some alone time to reminisce. English will sometimes show up in Watkins’ dreams, which have made him think about his friend a lot during a year without many answers. 

"Adam was like my brother, my best friend,” Watkins said. 

Sometimes Watkins said he will get a little bit emotional whenever he sees Adam’s Facebook page or old messages between the two. 

King, said her son was “very loved, and there is not one moment that goes by that he’s not thought about or missed.”  

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