Pubdate: Tue, 22 Dec 2009
Source: Anderson Independent-Mail (SC)
Copyright: 2009 Independent Publishing Company, a division of E.W. Scripps
Author: Charlie Bauder
Bookmark: (Rev. Jonathan Ayers)


TOCCOA, Ga. -- Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brian
Rickman has called the investigation into the shooting death of the
Rev. Jonathan Ayers fair and just.

"There is no hesitation that the investigative process and the grand
jury process was fair and that everybody involved, the GBI and this
office, went to some very extraordinary lengths to get outside,
independent input to the process to make sure that it was a fair one,"
Rickman said. "Reasonable people can disagree about the result,
reasonable people can have differing opinions. However, I do not see
how anybody could say the process was unfair based on the lengths that
they went to."

On Friday, the Stephens County grand jury ruled that the use of deadly
force by Mountain Judicial Circuit undercover narcotics agents in the
shooting death of the Lavonia pastor was justified.

The grand jury also said that, on the basis of the facts presented,
the officers involved in the shooting would be immune from criminal

Rickman did not comment on the investigation until Monday after the
Georgia Bureau of Investigation report was released to the public.

That documents released Monday include a 1,100-page report that also
has with it 26 compact discs and three DVD's. The report was reviewed
by Rickman, former Mountain Judicial Circuit district attorney Mike
Crawford and current Gwinnett County district attorney Danny Porter.

In a letter attached in the report file, Porter said he believes the
agents had sufficient and lawful reasons to stop and talk with Ayers.
However, Porter listed a series of concerns regarding how the stop
proceeded, such as questions regarding the possibility of alternative
approaches to questioning and stopping Ayers and the decision to
approach Ayers, of whom agents knew little, in a crowded location.

These were questions that should be taken up by a grand jury under its
investigative powers, according to Porter, before any decision could
be reached regarding criminal charges.

That report looked at an undercover drug operation that targeted Kayla
Barrett and her arrest Sept. 1.

The report also includes interviews with Ayers before his death, the
officers involved in the incident, witnesses to the incident, the
target of that day's operation, Barrett, and people who knew Barrett,
as well as others involved in the events of that September afternoon.

In the report, Agent Chance Oxner with the Mountain Judicial Circuit
NCIS Drug Team was allegedly taking part in an undercover cocaine
purchase from Barrett.

During the operation, Barrett spoke with Ayers in his vehicle on
Currahee Street in Toccoa, near the Relax Inn.

At that time, agent Billy Shane Harrison took note of Ayers and his
vehicle as money changed hands between Ayers and Barrett. Harrison
said he could not tell who was giving and who was receiving the money.

Barrett later told investigators the money was for

Later that day, the narcotics agents, including Harrison, saw Ayers
driving his vehicle again on Currahee Street from the direction of the
Relax Inn toward the Exxon and Shell station, according to statements
in the report.

At that point, Ayers pulled into the station and agents pulled over,
as Harrison told investigators he recognized Ayers and the vehicle.

When Ayers came back to his vehicle, Harrison and Oxner approached
Ayers, as shown in surveillance videos.

Harrison said in his statement that he identified himself as a police
officer to Ayers and Ayers began to move his vehicle, striking Oxner.
Harrison said he heard a loud pop and thought that Oxner, was injured
or dead.

That, Harrison said, is when he shot Ayers.

Ayers' told investigators before he died that he did not know that the
men who approached him were officers.

Roland Stroberg of Gainesville, Ga., the attorney for Ayers' widow,
said Friday that the family is not pleased.

"We have been informed of the recent action of the Stephens County
grand jury and Abby Ayers and her family is extremely disappointed,"
Stroberg said. "We are in the process of doing everything possible to
gather all of the facts surrounding this terrible incident and present
these facts in a court of law in public, as opposed to behind closed
doors. Once all the facts are available for public view, we feel it
will be abundantly clear there was no legal justification for the
undercover drug agent to shoot and kill Jonathan Ayers in broad
daylight on the streets of Toccoa, Georgia. That is our position. We
are in the process of getting all of our ducks in a row to get the
matter out where it can be decided in a court of law."

Ayers' wife is pregnant with the couple's first child. The baby is due
to be born in February. 
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