Black activists demanded answers in the death of a gay Atlanta man found hanging in Piedmont Park and asked the GBI to investigate a case that Atlanta police and the FBI already deemed a suicide.
The activists – including Nathan Knight, president of the DeKalb County SCLC; Amos King; former DeKalb NAACP President John Evans; and Sir Maejor Page, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater Atlanta – held a press conference on Tuesday outside the GBI headquarters in Decatur. That's when they asked for the GBI to investigate the death of Michael George Smith Jr., the 22-year-old man found hanging from a tree in Piedmont Park on July 7.
“We can't rely on our police departments nor our mayors to give us the information that they want us to send back to the community. We are here to do our own investigation,” Page said. “Before we rule this situation as a suicide, we want to ensure that this was not a homicide.”
The Fulton County Medical Examiner's office ruled that Smith's cause of death was asphyxiation by hanging and the manner of death was suicide. Atlanta police also found evidence at the park that indicated a suicide, including a large wheeled garbage can next to the tree with a shoe print on its lid that matched the black Converse Chuck Taylors that Smith was wearing. There were no defensive wounds on Smith's body and no signs of a struggle, police said in an incident report.
Atlanta police also asked the FBI to investigate Smith's death. The agency's review of the findings found no signs of foul play or other evidence to support a federal hate crime investigation, an FBI spokesperson told Project Q Atlanta.
But Smith's suicide came during a week of protests in Atlanta and across the nation over recent police shootings. Speculation on social media doubted that Smith would kill himself, despite a post to his Facebook page minutes before his body was found that said, “I see y'all in the next life.” People who doubted the cause of Smith's death on social media called it a “modern-day lynching.”
Smith (photo), according to his Facebook posts, also suffered from cancer and battled with a mother who did not accept that he was gay. Smith's closest relative after coming out to family, his grandmother, moved to London in 2013, according to the AJC.
On Tuesday, two of the activists met with Nelly Miles, the GBI's deputy director of public affairs, to discuss questions they had about Smith's death.
“They indicated that they would be holding a press conference outside of the GBI that afternoon. Additionally, they had questions about GBI protocols and processes for becoming involved in investigations which I answered,” Miles said in an email statement.
But the GBI has not been asked by Atlanta police to look into Smith's death, “so we have no active investigation related to it,” Miles said.
Atlanta police said the case is closed and that the agency has no plans to ask the GBI to investigate it, said Elizabeth Espy, APD's public affairs director.