Sun. May 26th, 2024

ATLANTA — An Atlanta woman was left paralyzed after being shot during an armed robbery. Police arrested a suspect in the case but now 11Alive has learned their charges have been dismissed because the state’s only witness — a police officer — didn’t show up to court.

Danielle Whaley was a rising food prep chef known to her followers as Chef Yummy on Instagram. However, her life took a tragic turn on May 27, 2022, as her career began to take off. 

Whaley was shot by a man along Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway as he tried to rob her.

“When I drove away he shot through the back window and that went through the window and hit me in the back. It pierced through the driver seat and hit me in my back,” she said.

She lost all feeling in her legs and couldn’t stop her car. Whaley then crashed into another vehicle before coming to a stop in front of a nearby barbershop.

“In the moment you’re like ‘am I dying? Am I dead?” she explained.

Whaley now lives life in a wheelchair and is paralyzed from the chest down. 

“You miss those things that you used to do,” Whaley said.

Now with only the use of her arms, she had to cancel on all of her clients and has had to reimagine her dreams.

“I make them smile,” she said of her clients. “I feed the community. I miss those things.”

A month after the violent crash, jail records show Atlanta Police Department investigators made an arrest in late June 2022. The man was formally accused of aggravated assault and robbery.

Court records show in late September, after 101 days in jail, a judge granted the man a $410,000 bond. 

He never posted bond, records show. 

But in October, court records reveal all charges were dropped and he was released from jail. As he is no longer facing charges, 11Alive has chosen not to use his name.

Though he was accused of a crime, he was released from custody because the state’s only witness — a police officer — never showed up to court.

In the case dismissal notice, the judge writes the state had ample time to prepare for a preliminary hearing. The state argued it could not attempt to call their witness prior to court because prosecutors did not have a good phone number.

“The State’s witness failed to appear for a scheduled court date and failed to notify the State of any legal conflicts,” the notice reads.

Recap of important historical events that took place on that day.

The lack of the officer’s presence, the only witness in the case, led to a judge dismissing the case and dropping the charges against the suspect

“Now you’re out here and you can harm the next individual,” Whaley said through tears.

A spokesperson for APD said it does not have a record of the officer being asked to report to the court.

“We have a Court Liaison Office that is responsible for receiving, documenting and distributing all subpoenas and they have no record of this subpoena,” a statement from APD reads.

But a spokesman for Fulton County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday disagreed with APD. 

He claimed the subpoena was served and the officer failed to appear in court.

According to the district attorney’s office, prosecutors haven’t closed this case. In fact, they plan to present evidence to a grand jury this month, with the goal of receiving an indictment to ultimately recharge and arrest the suspect. 

According to Atlanta Police, the officer was also not on active duty around the time the subpoena was supposedly served. A department spokesman wrote, “based on our preliminary findings, the investigator went on approved, extended leave the day after the subpoena is said to have been sent.”

The APD spokesman added, “A successful prosecution is something we take seriously and we will be working with the courts to determine what happened here and what steps may be possible to prosecute this case.”  

For Whaley, this ordeal has broken her heart.

“It feels horrible,” she said. “It feels like a punch in the chest. It feels like I was shot all over again.”

Anyone who would like to assist Whaley with medical bills can make a donation here.