Sunday, June 19, 2016, was Father’s Day. Deravis Thomas’ middle son, Deravis Caine Rogers, gifted him a pair of white sneakers. Thomas shares, “I tell my kids don’t spend their money on gifts for me because they are my gifts.” This was a particularly special gift that the young Deravis gave his father and he emphasized this pair of sneakers was unique.
On Tuesday, June 21, 2016, the younger Deravis, 22, called his dad to tell him that he was going to pick up his brothers. In a celebratory mood, he was excited because he was hired to work at the same company with his brothers, ages 19 and 24. He asked his dad if he wanted them to stop by his uncle’s business. His dad told him he was cool and to go have fun with his siblings. Thomas’ last words to his son were: “Keep up the good work. It gets better.”
“The next time I saw my son, we were standing over him looking at a younger version of me, laying there cold. Life was stolen from him,” he said
Deravis Caine Rogers was shot once in the head by Atlanta police officer James R. Burns.
On Thursday, June 22, 2016, an off-duty officer reported to APD a suspect was trying to break into a vehicle. The vehicle he was reportedly breaking into belonged to a girl he was dating. Burns was terminated from his position with APD on Monday, July 11, 2016, because according to Sgt. Warren Pickard, an APD spokesman, “The force used was ruled excessive because there was no obvious threat made toward the officer.”
Deravis was declared dead at Grady Memorial Hospital on Thursday, June 23, 2016. He was scheduled for orientation at his new job.
The distraught father shares, “My son wasn’t breaking into a car. APD has shared there was no evidence or reports of any cars being broken into. It doesn’t matter if he was stealing a car. Take him to jail. That isn’t a death warrant. He never had a chance to plead or defend himself, he was only given a funeral.”
Thomas’ cousin, the Rev L.C. Wheat, who eulogized Deravis, adds, “To see my little cousin … the way he died was senseless. In our communities there are two people we’ve all traditionally trusted: the preacher and the police. It’s sad that now when you are pulled over, you don’t know if you are going to get a speeding ticket or a death certificate.”
“I commend the APD and Chief George Turner for moving swiftly to terminate this officer. I believe justice is moving in the right direction. The wheels are turning. You must be aware. We just had the biggest march in Atlanta’s history and a large percentage of the protesters didn’t know had no idea this happened right here in Atlanta. It was kept very quiet. Of course, upon the firing of the officers, it’s news.”
“This was the hardest eulogy that I have ever preached,” Wheat says, lowering his head. Wheat led the eulogy with the Scriptures “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrew 11:1) and “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). “We must be on this journey with God. We have a lot to endure. APD’s decision was great work, but it’s just a start. Eddie Lee Callahan, people don’t even know who he is, but he was shot six times in the back by an Atlanta police officer while he was handcuffed. The justification was that he resisted arrest.”
Attorney Tiffany Simmons, of Simmons Law, who arranged this meeting, adds, “It’s a major problem when there is no compassion and now empathy for a human life.”
Thomas continues, “I won’t say all police are bad. If you consider yourself a good cop speak up and tell your superiors, ‘I don’t think so-and-so is cut out for patrol, he may be too hotheaded.’ Who decided this officer was competent to have a badge and a gun, holding the power of life and death in his hands, [and the] rationale to make decisions for everything from a traffic stop to a trafficking stop?”
As for the last Father’s Day gift Thomas will ever receive from his middle son whom he affectionately calls Caine, “They are a pair of shell-toe adidas, white and green. I have never seen this type of leather; it’s premium leather. They are still in the box. I can barely bring myself to open it again.” The family had planned to travel to Puerto Rico for Caine’s birthday on Oct. 2, 2016.
(UPDATE: On Friday, July 15, 2016, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced he was seeking an indictment against Burns in connection with the shooting death of Deravis Caine Rogers outside a northeast Atlanta apartment complex. Burns is accused of murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and violation of his oath of officeOn Saturday, July 16, 2016 James Burns turned himself in to the Fulton County (GA) Jail where he will remain in custody until his preliminary hearing on August 1, 2016.)