GAINESVILLE, Ga. (ABP) – Two north Georgia police officers have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit against them for their use of deadly force in a 2009 shooting that claimed the life of a Baptist pastor.
A Stephens County grand jury decided that narcotics officers Billy Shane Harrison and Kyle Bryant were justified in shooting Jonathan Ayers, 28, pastor of Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia, Ga., in a botched drug arrest on Sept. 1, 2009.
Ayers’ widow, Abigail, responded with a civil lawsuit seeking damages for “gross and plain incompetence” by both officers and their supervisors in March 2010. The suit has since meandered through a series of 208 motions, depositions and other court filings.
The most recent, entered into court records Aug. 17, asks District Judge Richard Story to grant summary judgment, a determination made by a court without a full trial.
The officers claim they spotted Ayers dropping off a woman they were investigating as detectives in a multi-county drug task force. They followed him to a gas station where he stopped to withdraw money from an ATM machine. When they approached to question him, Ayers reportedly tried to flee and his car struck one of the officers. Harrison fired shots, and one struck Ayers in the abdomen.
Ayers crashed his car, was taken to a hospital and died hours later in surgery. Family members said he asked who shot him and said he had done nothing wrong. The woman was later identified as someone Ayers had been ministering to, trying to convince her to get off of drugs and turn her life around.
Ayers’ widow believes her husband thought he was being robbed and tried to get away. Her lawsuit claims that the officers’ decision to wait until he returned to his car and then -– in video captured on a surveillance camera -– speed to a stop beside him and jump out of a black SUV wearing plain clothes with weapons drawn would cause a reasonable person to assume they were not police but criminals.
The officers claim Ayers’ reckless driving gave them reasonable cause to believe their lives were in danger and that he was trying to avoid being questioned. They also are pleading “official immunity” that allows police to decide where to investigate, arrest or use force, including deadly force, in carrying out their duties.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.
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