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THE GUN AND THE BAG, part 5: The family sues Gainesville and the police officers who shot Adam English
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The scene where Adam English was shot by police Sept. 20, 2019, after reports he was waving a gun around in the parking lot of Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Surgical Associates on Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville. This photo was obtained as part of an open records request with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

This article is part five of a six-part series. Readers can start with part one.

To believe the family expert for Adam English, his death outside of a medical building in Gainesville was the result of “contagious shooting” by police officers. 

To believe the police officers’ expert, everything fell under established guidelines for containing an imminent threat to the community.

English was shot and killed Sept. 20, 2019, when police officers responded to a report of a man waving a gun outside of Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Surgical Associates on Jesse Jewell Parkway. 

Five officers approached him. Two shot: Jonathan Fowler and Jose Hernandez. Neither were charged in the incident, but English’s family filed a civil lawsuit in June 2020 against the city of Gainesville and the two officers involved.

The gun and the bag: A series

This article is part five of a six-part series telling the story of Adam English, who on Sept. 20, 2019, was shot and killed by police outside a medical office on a busy thoroughfare in Gainesville after reports he was waving a gun around. The Times provided coverage as the story unfolded. When the case was closed, the investigative files became available under open records laws, and The Times paid $289.36 to obtain the records, including interviews, bodycam footage and photos. This series is an effort to more fully tell what happened on the side of Jesse Jewell Parkway that day.

William Harmening, the expert for the English family and a 37-year law enforcement veteran, is a former police academy instructor in Illinois. He wrote in his opinion that the deadly force used by Hernandez and Fowler was “inappropriate and excessive under the circumstances.”

From viewing the body camera videos and a bystander video, Harmening claimed that four of Hernandez’s eight shots came while English was either falling or on the ground.

“It does not take a scientific analysis to conclude either that English was attempting to de-escalate the officers by motioning them with his left palm and then disarming himself by setting the bag on the ground, or he was complying as best he could with Hernandez’s command to show his hands,” Harmening wrote in his analysis.

According to Harmening’s report, Hernandez reportedly said in a deposition that he was able to see both of English’s hands “and that there was no gun in either” when the bag was put on the ground.

“He further admitted that at no time did he ever see a gun in English’s hand,” according to Harmening’s report.

Harmening also raised the issue of the officers not being interviewed nor submitting a written report for days after the incident.

Harmening wrote that such a delay “brings with it the possibility of memory contamination caused by the officers viewing media reports and having conversations with other involved officers.”

Fear alone is not sufficient to justify deadly force, Harmening wrote.

In Fowler’s report cited in Harmening’s report, the officer said he “did not hear any word from dispatch about the situation” after getting out of his patrol car.

In Hernandez’s deposition, the officer discussed what he was hearing on the radio on the way to the scene as “pretty chaotic.

“Officers were still trying to get a location for where the security guards and the subject were,” according to Hernandez’s deposition. “And there was — I believe there was even some county units on the city radio, which was very abnormal, but it definitely clogged the radio. So there weren’t a lot of updates going on through the radio other than people saying that they were either (en route) or that they were in this area.”

In his deposition, Fowler claimed that English made a “hurried movement towards us, which is when I heard two shots, and then I fired my weapon at Adam,” according to Harmening’s report.

“However, the body cam video makes clear that English made no such movement,” Harmening wrote.

Taking issue with Hernandez’s description of English as an “active shooter,” Harmening wrote that the FBI describes that term as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”

Harmening opined that Fowler may have fallen under the phenomenon of “contagious shooting,” where “one officer’s decision to shoot compels other officers to follow suit without properly assessing whether their own actions are justified.”

Jack Ryan, who wrote his opinion for the defense, was an active police officer for 20 years, has been active in law enforcement/police practices since 1981 and has written several manuals for police officers concerning liability and risk management. He is also the Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute co-director.

Fowler said in his deposition that he did not see a gun in either of English’s hands, according to Ryan’s report. Regarding his decision to use lethal force versus a nonlethal option such as a Taser, Fowler said the Taser wasn’t a viable option because of the multiple innocent bystanders and the information he had about English already firing his weapon, according to Ryan’s report.

Hernandez gave a different answer in his deposition about possibly using a Taser.

“Because at the time, I was not aware that there were officers behind me, and I had no — I had no second option essentially other than my firearm at that point,” according to Ryan’s report citing Hernandez’s deposition.

Ryan said he believed the officers’ actions were “consistent with generally accepted policies, practices, training and legal mandates” for officers in the field.

“It is well understood in law enforcement that the use of force must be judged from the perspective of the officer on the scene, taking into account what the officer reasonably believed to be the circumstances at the time and not with 20/20 hindsight,” Ryan wrote. 

Ryan added that the “actual placement of the gun at the time of the shooting is not relevant to the deadly force analysis” if an officer believed he still had access to the weapon and posed a threat.

“Officers throughout the United States are trained that they do not need to wait until a gun is pointed at them to respond with deadly force,” Ryan wrote.

Even if English had moved the gun to the bag, Ryan wrote, he “remained an imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death to the officers and anyone else present in the area.”

The lawsuit is still ongoing. The defense had until Tuesday, Sept. 21, to file its motions for summary judgment, but those motions were not immediately available on the electronic portal for court records. 

The plaintiffs will have until Oct. 26 to file responses to the summary judgment motions.

Continue to part six of this series.