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Riggins shooting justified

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards said Monday that the results of an independent GBI investigation show that Albany Police Officer Eric Strom's use of deadly force was justified in the shooting death last year of Sarah Riggins.

As first reported on www.albanyherald.com, Strom, who has been on administrative duties within the department since the shooting last October, is now officially cleared of any legal wrongdoing, Edwards said.

Reading from a prepared statement to reporters which is available to the public on the Albany Herald Web site, Edwards said that under the circumstances outlined in the investigation, Strom's use-of-force was appropriate.

"As noted, I have received the findings of the GBI investigation and in conjunction with my own observations at the scene and information I have also gathered, I have determined that this instance of an officer involved shooting does not involve any criminal liability on the part of the officer and does not require consideration by the grand jury ...," he said.

Despite the decision, Riggins' daughter, Katherine, said she still believes that her mother didn't have to die in front of the West Gordon Avenue residence.

"All we (the family) want is justice," Riggins said, openly weeping. "There isn't anyone that can make me believe that she would come out of the house with a gun and a knife and shoot at a police officer. It just wasn't her to do something like that."

Katherine Riggins says she spoke to her mother just a few minutes before the argument that is believed to have triggered the incident began and that she sounded far from being distraught or upset.

Sarah Riggins was shot and killed by Strom after Edwards says that she exited the home brandishing a .357-caliber handgun and a knife, refused to drop the weapons when instructed to by the officer, and then fired at Strom.

Police were at the home after being dispatched to a report of a domestic dispute which was called in to 911 by Riggins' boyfriend, Eddie Anderson, after Riggins threatened to kill Anderson and his two grandchildren, Edwards said.

Edwards said that the GBI report shows that Riggins fired at least once, which is supported by a shell casing found at the scene and a bullet that was recovered from a vehicle nearby.

Strom, Edwards said, fired three times, but struck Riggins only once.

Toxicology results contained within the report revealed that Riggins had both cocaine and alcohol in her system at the time of the shooting, although the concentration of the substances was not immediately made public.

"It's the underlying issues that we should focus on going forward," Edwards said. "Domestic violence, drug use and an inherent distrust of police are all issues that contributed to this case and should be addressed in the future."

That distrust, Edwards said, led to the dissemination of mischaracterizations and lies centered on Strom, which included erroneous statements that Strom had been involved in a shooting in another town and that effects of his previous military service played a role in Riggins' death.

While he said it appears that no criminal law was broken by those who flocked to cameras that night and claimed Riggins was unarmed and trying to surrender when she was shot, he did say the public and the media should exercise good judgment under such circumstances going forward.

"There is a criminal penalty for a person intentionally giving false information to law enforcement; however, there is no general criminal penalty for a person giving inaccurate or false information to a media outlet," Edwards said. "Media outlets, however, must determine for themselves what they are going to present because there may or may not be certain civil ramifications on what is presented."

Katherine Riggins contended Edwards -- who said Monday that he was at the scene within minutes of the shooting -- was too close to the case to make an objective and unbiased determination and said that he should have passed the decision on the case to someone outside the county.

"He knows the people who were out there. They work together and if the APD looks bad, he's going to look bad," Riggins said. "So he should've stepped back and let someone else make that decision."

Katherine Riggins, who said that the family is considering a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, said that if local officials simply speak what she perceives to be the truth, then the public distrust of law enforcement would start to wane.

To that end, Edwards said he is actively promoting public access to Sarah Riggins' 5-inch-thick case file through Georgia's Open Records laws so that the public can see the evidence for themselves. Following the news conference Tuesday, The Herald asked for an estimate on the cost of obtaining the file but there was no immediate response.

Albany Police Chief John Proctor is expected to reinstate Strom to street duty once he reviews Edward's findings.