Pubdate: Thu, 31 Dec 2009
Source: Toccoa Record, The (GA)
Copyright: 2009 The Toccoa Record
Source: Toccoa Record, The (GA)
Referenced: DA Danny Porter's Letter to Brian Rickman
Bookmark: (Rev. Jonathan Ayers)


Nobody had to die on Sept. 1, 2009.

A Stephens County grand jury on Dec. 18 returned a presentment ruling
the shooting of Jonathan Ayers by an undercover narcotics officer as
legally justified.

The grand jury made its decision after hearing testimony and studying
a voluminous report compiled by the Georgia Bureau of

The report appears to be complete and forthright.

It must be noted that the GBI was called in to investigate the case
within an hour of its occurrence - taking full control of the
investigation from local authorities and removing any doubt about an
objective probe of the case although allegations from some sectors
persist that the GBI doctored its findings to favor the narcotics officers.

Many have criticized grand jurors for their decision and questioned
their courage. Those 18 Stephens County residents did not choose to be
on that grand jury - they were simply doing their civic duty, picked
at random by a computer long before the Sept. 1 shooting incident.

Jury duty is a thankless, difficult and, in this particular case,
personally risky, civic responsibility.

Fortunately, some still accept that responsibility no matter the
fallout from the decision.

The grand jury has made its decision and it appears the legal recourse
for the Ayers family will move into civil court where a wrongful death
lawsuit can be filed.

It's a case that deserves to be heard by a trial jury where, once
again, a panel of Stephens County residents, will be the ultimate

There were several mistakes, misjudgments and miscalculations that
occurred on that Tuesday afternoon in September that led to the death
of Jonathan Ayers.

Ayers could have defused the situation by stopping his vehicle and
talking to the officers - whether he thought they were legitimate
police officers or not.

Stopping was always an option although it would have been an uncommon
act of physical and emotional courage since armed strangers in street
clothes were approaching his vehicle.

If he had not panicked - one eyewitness told the GBI that the officers
clearly identified themselves as police officers and showed badges -
and tried to flee from the parking lot of the convenience store, no
shots would likely have been fired.

Even if he had been placed under arrest - and later released because
he was not a target of the undercover drug operation - he would be
alive today.

Officers of the Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression
(NCIS) team certainly could have defused the situation and fulfilled
their responsibility of maintaining public safety.

A series of missteps led them to the convenience store parking lot and
facing a precarious, pressurized life-and-death situation.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, asked by local DA
Brian Rickman to review the case, succinctly and accurately summed up
his concerns about NCIS actions in his letter to Rickman.

"There are certain aspects of the case which are of concern when
making the decision as to whether or not Agent (Billy Shane) Harrison
or others conducted a lawful action in an unlawful manner. What
follows is a list of these aspects," Porter wrote. Those aspects included:

.  There is no evidence that the Toccoa Police Department or the
Stephens County Sheriff's Department were aware of the NCIS operation
in Toccoa.

.  There is no evidence as to whether or not NCIS agents had access to
jackets or vests which would clearly identify them as police officers.

.  There is no evidence that if the agents had access to these
identifiers whether a choice was made not to use them.

.  There is no evidence as to whether or not alternative approaches to
the Honda Civic (Ayers' car) were considered - having a uniformed
officer in a car respond before the approach or conduct a pullover
after the car left the Shell station.

.  The tactical decision to approach a suspect about whom so little was
known in a crowded gas station/convenience store is questionable at

At the very least, Porter's concerns should be adapted into policy,
procedures and training for future NCIS operations and by other law
enforcement agencies.

They are sound and filled with common sense.

Nobody had to die on Sept. 1, but because of mistakes, misjudgments
and missed opportunities to resolve the situation without gunfire, one
person, tragically, did so. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake