The case against a New Orleans police officer who shot and killed a man this year in Hollygrove has been closed and he will return to his patrol duties next week, officials said Friday.
Officer Jonathan Hirdes fatally shot Keith “Magic” Atkinson, 31, in the chest while responding to a shoplifting call in the 8600 block of Belfast Street the morning of Feb. 16.
After a review of case files, First Assistant District Attorney Graymond Martin wrote to Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas that the incident “does not merit prosecution” by the DA’s Office.
“Absent the receipt of any additional information from your department or the discovery of any additional evidence or witnesses,” the District Attorney’s Office considers the matter closed, Martin wrote in the July 16 letter.
Eric Hessler, Hirdes’ attorney, said the decision to close the case was welcome but not surprising, especially after an internal departmental investigation found the officer’s actions were justified.
“We had no doubt from the officers’ accounts and witnesses’ accounts that he would be cleared,” Hessler said.
Following the shooting, some witnesses claimed that Hirdes shot Atkinson in the back as he tried to run away or else stood over him and pumped bullets into his body and that Hirdes planted a gun near the victim.
According to a copy of the internal police investigation obtained by nola.com, for Hirdes to have placed the gun on the scene, he “would have had to disengage the magazine from the weapon, place it in the hand of Atkinson to gain a (finger)print, tactically reload the weapon, and then place it back onto the scene prior to the almost immediate arrival” of other police.
Hessler said none of Hirdes’ DNA was found on the gun.
He said he will ask the Police Department and DA’s Office to investigate and prosecute any witnesses who might have “blatantly made any false statements.”
“The information that I have is that there are several false accounts. I’m talking materially false, such as the (claims of) planting of the gun and standing over him and shooting into him.” Hessler said. “That’s a plain, flat-out lie.”
Authorities and witnesses have said that officers approached Atkinson because he matched the description of the man who stole a case of juice from a freezer at a convenience store in the neighborhood. The store manager later said Atkinson was not the shoplifter.
Days after the shooting, Serpas said investigators had found a loaded .45-caliber gun next to Atkinson’s body.
Hirdes was placed on desk duty following the shooting.
The internal investigation wrapped up several weeks ago, and Hirdes should have been returned to his regular duties then, Hessler said.
“The exhaustive investigation by the NOPD showed he was justified,” Hessler said. “There was absolutely no reason that he shouldn’t have been put back to work almost immediately.”
Hirdes is expected to return to full duty next week as a uniformed patrol officer, said Officer Hilal Williams, a department spokeswoman. She said she did not know where he will be based.