The Atlanta Police Department has been under fire in recent weeks. Six officers were recently arrested after they were captured on camera assaulting and tasing two college students while dragging them from their vehicle. On Saturday (June 13), a video circulated showing two officers in a scuffle with Rayshard Brooks outside of a Wendy’s in Atlanta before he ran off and was shot in the back. Brooks died at the scene. Another story involving APD happened in 2014 after the remains of a woman named Vernicia Woodard were found in a secluded area and her murder was linked to an officer, Tahreem Rana, who promised to protect and serve the Peach State’s capital.
On August 22, 2014, the burned remains of 26-year-old Vernicia Woodard were found by a city employee who just happened to stumble upon the grisly scene. An investigation uncovered that someone shot Vernicia three times before pouring fuel on her body and lighting her on fire. According to the Huffington Post, Hapeville police were able to identify Vernicia Woodard and then began investigating her phone records in order to figure out her last movements. It was then that they were introduced to Rana, an Atlanta police officer who, it seems, met Vernicia on the now-defunct Backpage.com.
For those of you unfamiliar with the website, Backpage.com was much like Craigslist where people would trade and sell goods, post about events, and, sometimes, link up for casual sex. The site was a favorite among sex workers and police officers regularly monitored Backpage for illegal activities. Tahreem Rana, however, seemed to be looking for a few illicit encounters because that’s how he and Vernicia Woodard crossed paths.
Rana had been living in New York before moving to the South. The 25-year-old had been employed at the Atlanta Police Department for three years when he became a suspect for murder. Authorities nabbed Rana at the airport as he was attempting to flee the country for Mexico. When questioned, Tahreem Rana told authorities that he met Vernicia online and they agreed to meet for a sexual encounter. He claims that when they met up, she attempted to rob and carjack him. He instead shot her and once he realized she was dead, he panicked and decided to set her body on fire. A number of experts would counter his account, stating that evidence showed Vernicia was in a “defensive position when she was shot.”
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“We are shocked and saddened by these developments. The officer has been relieved from duty, and is in a non-enforcement status. Chief Turner will schedule an emergency hearing immediately today to determine the next course of action. We must allow the justice system to run its course. But these clearly are very disturbing allegations that are not in line with the expectations we have for our officers, and will be immediately dealt with,” said APD Public Affairs Director Carlos Campos immediately following the revelation about one of their own.
Tahreem Rana faced a number of charges and in October 2014, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 16 years.
“It hurts a lot more to know that it was somebody in law enforcement,” said Tashara Gilyard, Vernicia’s sister. At the time of her death, Vernicia Woodard had an eight-year-old daughter.
Vernicia Woodard was our sister and her life mattered.