ATLANTA — A woman in police custody who was killed by officers in downtown Atlanta had escaped from her handcuffs and fired gunshots at the officers from a patrol car's backseat, police said Friday.
Police Chief George Turner said 26-year-old Alexia Christian had apparently found the .380-caliber Taurus handgun inside a stolen truck, and it wasn't immediately clear why the officers didn't discover the gun when they took her into custody.
Christian had been arrested seven times by the Atlanta Police Department and had escaped from handcuffs once before, Turner said during a news conference. Fulton County Jail records show Christian has also been arrested by the county sheriff's office and police in East Point, an Atlanta suburb.
Officers Omar Thyme and Jeffery Cook were investigating a stolen vehicle call Thursday when they saw a woman inside the vehicle in a parking deck near Underground Atlanta, a downtown mall. Police said the vehicle was equipped with a tracking device.
Christian's hands were cuffed behind her back when she was put into the patrol car. It's unclear how Christian was able to free one of her hands from the cuffs.
The shooting happened after the woman was walked out of the parking deck and was put into the patrol car, authorities said. The department is investigating whether any policies were violated, Turner said.
"It was clear to us that the officers did not search her prior to putting her in the back of the car," Turner said.
Authorities are investigating whether Christian had been patted down before being put in the car, Department spokesman Greg Lyon said. Department policy allows male officers to pat female suspects down by using the backs of their hands in the presence of witnesses. Officers who are the same sex as the suspect are supposed to conduct a thorough search before the suspect is transported from one place to another, Turner said.
"This happened so quickly the officers, I do not believe, had a chance enough to call for a female officer, but all that's part of the investigation," Turner said.
Christian was able to fire three shots while the officers were sitting in the front seats, Turner said. The officers jumped out of the patrol car fired 10 rounds, Turner said. Neither officer was hit by Christian's shots, he said.
"Both of these officers missed being killed by an inch," Deputy Chief Darryl Tolleson said. Christian was critically wounded and later died at Grady Memorial Hospital.
Cook, 53, is an 18-year veteran and Thyme, 33, has been with the department for 10 months, Turner said.
The officers are expected to give statements early next week. The timeline is in accordance with best practices established by The International Association of Chiefs of Police, Turner said. Both the officers are black, as was Christian.
The patrol car was equipped with a camera on the front and back, but Turner said the rear camera only operates when the vehicle is in motion.
Both officers are on administrative leave while the investigation continues, department spokesman Greg Lyon said.