Part IX: Zechariah Presley’s Family Speaks
The family of Zechariah Presley had not commented on the events from June 2018 leading up to the trial, during the trial, or after the verdict and sentencing. After the release of Unfinished Justice: Zechariah Presley & Tony Green, Zechariah’s mother, Kym, and his wife, Rosie, sat down with AllOnGeorgia to share how the last 18 months have impacted their family.
The night of the shooting.
On the night of June 20, 2018, Zechariah’s parents – Mark & Kym – had gone to bed early. They had been at church earlier in the evening and had passed their son working an accident on the way home. Kym texted Zechariah when they got home and told him to stop by for dinner since he was in the area, but Zechariah never responded. Instead of going to have dinner with his family, Presley took one of the drivers involved in the accident to a gas station to wait for his ride instead of waiting on the side of the road. Presley would then go on to have Popeye’s Chicken in his vehicle and throw the trash out at the gas station where he would observe Tony Green getting into his vehicle with another passenger. Zechariah never responded to his mom’s text message.
They were awakened by someone banging on the door just before midnight and Kym went to see who was there. It was a Camden County Sheriff’s deputy – one the family knew – but it didn’t register that something may be wrong because Zech worked for Kingsland Police Department – not the Sheriff’s Office.
When she opened the door, the deputy appeared as though he was expecting Mark to open the door, but began telling Kym about the events that had unfolded anyway. “Zech has been involved in a police shooting. He’s in the back of an ambulance, he’s okay physically, but not emotionally. He’s in shock.” The deputy told Kym that Presley was not able to communicate anyone’s phone number or address, so he volunteered to drive to the Kym & Mark’s house since he knew them and where they lived.
Kym wanted to notify Zech’s wife, Rosie, who was at the family home with two small sleeping children, but she didn’t want to call her and have her drive in a panic, nor was Kym in a position to drive herself. So she contacted Rosie’s parents instead, explained the situation, and her mom stayed with the children so her dad could drive her to the Kym & Mark’s house. Rosie said her first thought when her dad reached out to her was that something happened to Zech.
Zech’s dad, Mark, and their family pastor Michael Sanes, went to the scene to try to see if Zechariah was still there but they weren’t able to get close enough to see anything, so they called the hospital to see if he had been transported, but Zechariah wasn’t there either. The two then ventured to the police department all while everyone else waited at the house for any type of call from someone who may be providing information. At one point, Sanes texted his wife, who was with Kym, a picture of Zechariah in hopes of offering some peace of mind – and that’s the only photo that has ever surfaced of Presley from the night of the shooting. Neither Kingsland PD nor the GBI took photos of Presley or his injuries and an attorney for the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) was not with Presley at the scene or at the police department.
The Presleys still aren’t able to discuss the nature of the injuries from the night of the shooting due to the pending civil suit filed on the part of Tony Green’s children.
The aftermath of the shooting.
When Presley finally made it home several hours later, around 3:30 a.m., Kym said he was still in shock. “He just had a look that I can’t even describe. Pale. He looked horrible.” Kym said as he continued to rub his arm and say he was tased, she asked him if anyone from the department knew he had been tased. “He said he didn’t know, he didn’t know, he didn’t think he had said anything.” According to the body camera footage, Presley said numerous times after the shooting that he believed he had been tased, but he had no recollection of it immediately following the event. And his memory stayed fuzzy for about a week.
The Presley’s are a law enforcement family with a number of others that work in policing, but Kym said it never crossed their minds that this would be something they would be faced with dealing with – one of their loved ones taking the life of another. “We were not prepared for this,” Kym shared. Instead, the worry was always whether or not their family members would return home safely from work. “We always feared them losing their lives…it never cross our minds, the impact of them having to take the life. We just assumed the knock at the door would be that one of our loved ones had lost their life.”
Other officers with the Kingsland Police Department were initially supportive. A superior showed up to Presley’s home Thursday to provide him with a letter letting him know he had been placed on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave, which is standard, and a number of officers stopped by with food and to see how Presley was doing. They remained supportive of Presley, the women said, until they were told by the department that they could no longer have contact with him.
The impact on Zech and Rosie was immediate. By mid-day on June 21, the day after the shooting, the two were instructed to take the children and leave the community because there were already threats against Presley, his wife, and their children. Someone had posted their home address on social media, cars were repeatedly driving by, and it escalated to the point where there were calls for action on social media. By 4:00 P.M. on Thursday, the Presleys left their home, Rosie left her new job, and they never returned.
Presley’s other family left on Friday at the recommendation of law enforcement and joined Zech and Rosie at a safe house outside of Camden County – a location the family found on their own and without compensation from the City of Kingsland, a point of misinformation Kym says has been rampant in the community. Threats of an attack were also made against the church the Presley family attended, which led to an increased law enforcement presence for Sunday services.
Zech’s absence didn’t lead to diminished threats, though. Calls by a Black Panther leader suggested that activists confront Presley in front of his own family and neighbors, complete with pictures of the home and the address of his parents. Zech’s parents were in hiding until the end of August 2018 – about a month and a half – while Rosie and Zech were off the grid until the first weekend in November. At one point, the two boys had to be sent out of state because the threats of violence against the family became so severe and the court ultimately granted Presley the ability to live and work out of the state because attorneys and law enforcement agreed the threats were articulable.
In the interview, Rosie said she wanted people to know that Presley was immediately and continuously distraught over what happened. “He wasn’t sleeping, he wasn’t eating, there would be times when he would just start crying out of nowhere. In the six and a half years of being married to him, I have never seen him so upset or distraught. It was like he was mourning a loss. He was very upset.”
Kym echoed what Rosie said, “Zech has two small children and when he found out Tony Green had children, all he kept saying was ‘It could have been me, my boys could be without a daddy,’ and he felt so bad for Tony Green’s children. He was so upset but at the same time, he was angry. He would ask, ‘Why did he put us in this position?’ He was distraught.”
Rosie and Zech were getting food when they learned that Presley would be charged criminally. “I just remember his face went white and all I could do was cry. We weren’t expecting it,” Rosie said.
Kym said what was more unexpected is what she knows now. Documentation from the GBI shows the investigation was not complete until 21 days after the shooting, but the GBI sought warrants for Presley’s arrest 7 days after the shooting. “They [the GBI] really caved to the political pressure because by Thursday at 5PM, they [Green supporters] were holding a rally in the park and had already said the ante litem notices for the civil suits were being filed,” Kym said. “Once the ante litem notice is given, then the city’s on notice and they can’t make comments.”
So when Presley was terminated upon the issuance of the warrants, no one from the police department or the city made any additional statements.
Presley, however, didn’t opt to avoid making statements for any reason other than it was the advice of his attorney Adrienne Browning, who was assigned by the PBA. Kym said Browning told Presley from the beginning that she did not want him to testify to anything until he was on the witness stand.
“The head part of me knew it was smart,” Kym said, “but the heart part of me doesn’t want my son to go through this.”
For months, the Presleys tried to live life as best as they could, working, meeting with attorneys, and preparing for the trial, but it was difficult. Presley sought counseling for help in coping with the shooting, but work and curfew as set by the bond conditions limited his ability to go frequently. Rosie says even still, Zech spoke of it every day, be it reliving the night of the shooting, analyzing what might happen going forward, or wondering how the family of Green was doing. Presley also encouraged his wife to go back to school for nursing so in the event that the trial did not go his way she would be able to better provide for the family.
But in July 2019, when it was time for Presleys to view the body camera footage with the attorney, everything unraveled. “He had a complete breakdown in her office when he heard the body cam and watched it and everything. It made him relive it,” Kym said.
After seeing the entire reel of body camera footage, Kym says she was frustrated that more wasn’t played in court. “They intentionally stopped the body cam footage where you didn’t get to see him [Zech] vomiting,” she explained. Rosie said he also passed out, but that was not mentioned during trial or shown. “I feel like that would have been helpful,” Rosie said. They both also took issue with the statements made by investigators during the grand jury hearing that the stop of Tony Green was good, but the narrative changed during trial to claim that Presley never should have encountered Green in the first place.
Even still, Rosie said it weighed on Presley often and he spoke of how he wished he could reach out and talk to them – something he was barred from doing as part of the bond conditions. “I just want to tell them ‘I’m sorry for your loss and for what happened’ and to see what they’re really feeling,” Rosie said. “I don’t dismiss that they’re angry, I would be too, but I didn’t go out looking for this to happen,” she said of what Zech would tell her.
Rosie also shared that it was almost nine months before Zech could truly articulate what happened the night of the shooting instead of just in bits and pieces.
Trial, verdict, and sentencing.
The topic of the trial and verdict surprisingly comprised of the smallest part of the interview with Rosie and Kym.
The trial itself was mostly uneventful for the Presleys other than a man who leaned into Mark Presley during the reading of the verdicts and said, “You better get you and your f***ing family out of town because we’re going to kill you all,” in the earshot of others, which led to the man’s removal by deputies.
Rosie said the trial was difficult and though she testified during the sentencing hearing, it was when the verdict was read that she felt angry and like her heart was being ripped out. She also said it was hard to explain to her boys why their dad did not return home after the sentencing hearing because he was taken back into custody immediately.
Kym and Rosie both believe that Zech was adequately represented, but have issues with things that happened during the investigation and through the conclusion of the trial. That, however, is another story for another day…
Life in the new normal.
Just as life has changed for the family of Tony Green, things are much different for the Presley family, too.
“A lot of people think it’s just over and done but we’re still living in this hell,” Rosie said. She and the boys didn’t go back to the church they once frequented, for a number of reasons, but she said a number of people in the community have been supportive the whole way through.
Kym and Rosie both said that it’s been difficult to come to terms with how the case and stroy has been portrayed. Neither were insensitive to the loss of Tony Green by his family. “We all recognize that this was a horrific loss for them. Our hearts have wanted to reach out to them to offer our condolences,” Kym said. She also shared with the mother of Tony Green’s daughter* that should the opportunity present itself, she would be willing to sit down, to answer any questions her daughter might have, and to share that the officer is not a monster or a murderer.
Presley is forever barred from contacting members of the Green family, even in the event that they reach out to him.
“If somebody wants to say that they don’t like Zech, if somebody doesn’t think he did right, if somebody thinks he shouldn’t have done what he did, say that. But don’t spread the lies and make it into something that it wasn’t. Race is not an issue,” Kym said. She also mentioned that Rosie is Puerto Rican. “His own children are half Hispanic and half white. This whole white supremacy thing…that is the biggest farce for their agenda.”
Presley is roughly one quarter of the way through his sentence right now. His family visits him as often as they can and Kym and Rosie had both just left the weekend visitation the day they sat down with AllOnGeorgia. He’s had bouts of solitary confinement for his own protection, which has been immensely difficult on his mental well-being. Both said Presley is doing the best he knows how and has noted a number of changes he would like to see in the justice system. But what’s getting him through, they say, is that he has a strong family unit and an even stronger faith.
*The story of Kym Presley’s interactions with Tony Green’s family will be its own individual ‘Part’ to the series.
See other parts:
Part I: Case Coverage Between the Shooting & the Trial
Part II: Jury Selection
Part III: The Trial
Part IV: Deliberations – 20 Hours Over 3 Days
Part V: The Verdict
Part VI: Second Thoughts
Part VII: The Sentencing
Part VIII: The Lone Excused Juror