By Bob Allen
Attorneys representing a widow whose pastor husband was slain in a botched drug sting and the former police officer who fired the fatal shot made opening statements in a civil trial in northern Georgia Feb. 3.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in 2010, accuses former deputy sheriff Billy Shane Harrison of excessive use of deadly force, assault, battery and false arrest in the Sept. 1, 2009, shooting death of Jonathan Ayers, pastor of Shoals Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia, Ga., outside a convenience store in Toccoa, Ga.
According to Atlanta television station WSB-2, jurors were shown video of the incident caught on a security camera. Harrison’s attorneys said it shows the undercover officer in plain clothes was justified in using deadly force as Ayers recklessly sped away when approached for questioning. Abigail Ayers’ attorneys said the video shows that Harrison was the aggressor.
Police wanted to question Ayers about a woman under investigation who had just gotten out of the pastor’s car. Agents saw him give her cash. Ayers claims her husband had been ministering to the woman and the money was for her rent.
She says Jonathan Ayers did not know the men who rushed him were police officers and thought he was being robbed. Police say Kayla Barrett, currently in prison for burglary and drug charges, told them the two were having an affair and that Ayers wanted to evade questioning to avoid scandal.
The case sharply divided the northeast Georgia town of about 9,000, with some believing the Stephens County sheriff, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, area law enforcement and a grand jury that found Harrison innocent in 2009 were all covering for one of their own.
A 2010 Atlanta Journal-Constitution story showed a Christmas card Harrison received with the message, “You may escape justice in this life, but you will never escape the final judgment and eternal damnation for your actions” in hell.
Ayers claims Harrison used excessive and “unreasonable” force in shooting an unarmed suspect who posed no immediate danger. “It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape,” a court document states.
Harrison claims the pastor was trying to run over him and his partner, turning his car into a weapon. Ayers says officers may have placed themselves in danger by stepping into the path of a rapidly moving vehicle without giving the driver time to brake, but that wasn’t her husband’s fault and was no excuse to shoot him.
The trial was scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. today at the federal courthouse in Gainesville, Ga.