Family Calls on Police to Release Video in Fatal Shooting of Savannah Prom King

Georgia police say Ricky Boyd was waving a BB gun when they shot him dead in front of his grandmother. The family says he had his hands up—and they want body-cam footage released.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Georgia police say Ricky Boyd was wielding a BB gun when officers shot and killed him at his grandmother’s house one January morning.

But Boyd’s family claims he was unarmed—and that authorities showed them body-camera footage that proves Boyd’s hands were raised. Video of the fatal encounter, which involved a group of Savannah officers, has not been released.

The 20-year-old restaurant worker died Jan. 23, not long after he was gunned down on the concrete porch of his home in front of his grandmother and four siblings. Police say Boyd was a suspect in a local murder that occurred two days before.

Jameillah Smiley, Boyd’s mother, says her son was innocent and is demanding authorities release the body-cam footage and clear his name.

“I haven’t been out here marching, protesting. I’m not for all of that right now. I just want answers to what happened to Ricky Boyd III,” Smiley told The Daily Beast.

“That’s my son. He was my everything,” she said through tears.

Will Claiborne, an attorney for Smiley, said Savannah police have refused to release video or copies of the incident report.

So Claiborne and Smiley have published a YouTube video of their own demanding Savannah’s police chief Mark Revenew release the body-camera footage and identify the other officers involved in Boyd’s death.

Smiley’s fight for justice comes days after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called police-involved shootings of African-American citizens “a local matter” that “should be left up to the local authorities,” not the feds.

And after Louisiana’s attorney general declined to charge officers for shooting Alton Sterling—a 37-year-old father of five—six times at point-blank range in July 2016. The officer who killed Sterling called him a “stupid motherfucker” after spraying him with bullets, according to video released last week.

“What are we supposed to do when local officials lie?” Claiborne asked of the White House’s apparent position on police-involved shootings of minority suspects. “Explain to me how that is supposed to work.”

Claiborne said Boyd was “wrongfully implicated” in the murder of 24-year-old Balil Whitfield, who was found shot to death in his vehicle. (A spokeswoman for the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department said the Whitfield investigation remains open—a fact which Claiborne claims shows cops had the wrong guy.)

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“He has no prior criminal record. He was a good kid. We want his name cleared. He did not commit that homicide. He did not shoot a police officer. He did not come out the door with the gun,” Claiborne told The Daily Beast.

“If the suspect is dead, why in the world is this still an open investigation?” the attorney said, adding that Whitfield’s killer “is still walking free.”

Savannah police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) declined to comment for this story. Bill Bodrey, a special agent with GBI, said the probe into Boyd’s death was referred to the district attorney’s office.

A spokeswoman for Chatham County DA Meg Heap said their office received the case file this week and it’s under review.

According to a GBI press release, a group of officers belonging to Savannah PD and the U.S. Marshals Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, arrived at the Marian Circle home around 6:15 a.m. to arrest Boyd for Whitfield’s slaying.

Several of Boyd’s relatives exited the front door. When Boyd came out, he confronted cops “with what appeared to be a firearm,” GBI stated. “However, it was later determined to be a CO2 powered BB air gun.”

Officers fired at Boyd after he raised the BB gun in their direction, GBI claims. Boyd died soon after he was transported to the hospital.

Sgt. Sean Wilson of the Savannah-Chatham police department was shot during the incident and released. (Claiborne says this was friendly fire, not from Boyd. In January, Bodrey told the Associated Press that Wilson “did suffer gunshot wounds as well as other possible injuries.” But when asked if Wilson was shot by fellow officers, Bodrey said, “It’s still being investigated.”)

Authorities haven’t released an autopsy report, nor a cause of death or information on where and how many times Boyd was shot. Still, no one disputes Boyd was killed by law enforcement, Claiborne said.

Boyd had multiple gunshot wounds to his body, including one to his left hand, Smiley told The Daily Beast.

Meanwhile, Claiborne says cops are trying to pin a BB gun on Boyd, who didn’t own one. Authorities haven’t disclosed where the BB gun was found, he said.

The attorney’s YouTube video shows a photo taken by a neighbor, who spotted the BB gun underneath a pine tree near his house. This photo suggests the BB gun was 43 feet away from Boyd’s body, Claiborne said.

“If law enforcement’s version of this story is to be believed, he committed the [Whitfield] homicide with an actual gun, not a BB gun. Then less than two days later, they go to arrest him and he’s in the house. He does not have a firearm, but instead decides to calmly walk out the door holding a BB gun … it just doesn’t make any sense,” Claiborne said.  

“And then after they shoot him, he throws the gun 43 feet. If he’s trying to commit suicide by cop, why would he throw the gun 43 feet away from himself?”

Police claim there’s only one body-cam video, despite at least 10 officers participating in the deadly arrest, Claiborne said.

Smiley met with a GBI agent, who showed her a copy of the body camera video, at the courthouse on March 31.

One detective allegedly told Smiley, “Ma’am, your son wanted to die,” and that Boyd emerged from the house hoisting a gun.

Smiley then told the officer, “Okay, I want to see this tape.”

She watched the footage on a laptop and was told to pay close attention, because the encounter escalated pretty quickly.

“I see Ricky appear,” Smiley recalls of the video. “He was wiping his eye and walked out the door.” Boyd was facing the officers and had his arms outstretched, she said. His palms were up and at waist level.

Someone said something to Boyd that made him turn toward a neighbor’s house, Smiley says. “Before you notice anything, you see my son’s hands coming together and then he falls down. Immediately. It wasn’t a second before he made that turn and they was shooting my child,” Smiley said.

Smiley said she saw no firearm or BB gun in the video clip.

“They were trying to tell me my son wanted to die,” Smiley said of one detective, who allegedly brought a BB gun to prove the shooting was justified.

“They didn’t have to kill my son. They did not even give him a chance at all,” Smiley said.

Smiley said Boyd was her first child, whom she had when she was 15 years old. “I worked ever since I was 16. Fifteen going on 16,” Smiley said, choking up. “I made sure Ricky had everything he needed. Anything he needed.”

She described Boyd as an old soul and hard worker, who loved basketball and cowboy movies. He worked at the Crab Shack, a restaurant on Tybee Island.

Before he graduated from Savannah High School in May 2016, Boyd was voted Prom King, as well as “best dressed.”

The mother said she recently received certification from a local college to become an office specialist. But she doesn’t know if she’ll attend graduation next month, now that her oldest son won’t be there to see her.

“I gotta push myself, because I wanted my son to be there, to let him know he could do it, too,” Smiley said.