HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Sheriff Denies Race As Factor In Interstate Shooting
Pubdate: Sat, 13 Dec 2003
Source: Ledger-Enquirer (GA)
Copyright: 2003 Ledger-Enquirer
Author: Jim Houston, Muriel Tan, Kelli Esters And Chuck Williams
Bookmark: (Racial Issues)


Sheriff Calls For Probe But Gives No Timetable For Investigation

Attorney Says Witnesses Saw Roadside 'Ambush'

NAACP's DuBose Urges Patience In Community

GBI Takes Over

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the probe Friday of the
roadside shooting death Wednesday night of a 39-year-old Columbus man
by a Muscogee County deputy sheriff.

Sheriff Ralph Johnson announced his own investigation was nearing
completion, but he's turning his findings over to the GBI so the
community will have an independent agency deciding what happened along
Interstate 185 that night, and whether the shooting of Kenneth Brown
Walker was justifiable or a tragic mistake.

The sheriff said he wants the public to "have the confidence in
knowing that I've investigated" the shooting, but that he agreed with
his command staff that calling in the GBI was the appropriate next

Johnson refused to answer a long list of questions at the second news
conference he has headed in as many days, including the name of the
deputy involved in the fatal shooting. The deputy, a veteran of "at
least 18-20 years of service," is on administrative leave with pay
while the shooting is investigated. The sheriff said he has not spoken
to the deputy.

Two agents from the Greenville GBI post arrived in Columbus on Friday
afternoon to launch the investigation.

"The sheriff asked us to come in," said Special Agent in Charge J.T.
Ricketson. He said three or four agents will review the case, but gave
no timetable for a possible conclusion. The findings will be turned
over to District Attorney Gray Conger, he said.

Independent Probe

NAACP Chapter President Edward DuBose said earlier in the day that
such an investigation would be a sign that the sheriff's department is
"reaching out" to the community. He said he is urging the community to
remain calm and to "give the system time to give us answers."

"One of the questions we are asking is where is the videotape," DuBose
said of the evidence tape of the shooting.

Johnson confirmed Wednesday any such video was a part of the
investigation and would not be turned over to the news media.

The sheriff also indicated he puts no stock in televised reaction from
people speculating that racism may have played a part in the shooting.

"That's ridiculous," he said. "That's not the case. I'm not that type.
I'm tired of the rumblings going on, the snide remarks people are
making to law enforcement officers. People have got to understand
we're trying to do a job here. We're trying to get to the bottom of

Columbus Mayor Bob Poydasheff, reached while vacationing in New York
City, learned of the fatal shooting about 10:30 p.m. Thursday, more
than 24 hours after it happened. He said it was a "tragedy" and that
answers must be forthcoming.

"It has to be a clear and honest investigation," Poydasheff said of
the sheriff's call for an outside investigation. "I trust the sheriff
to do the right thing."

Columbus Councilor Nathan Suber, a former Columbus police officer,
said an independent investigation is necessary.

"Everybody I have talked to wants an outside investigation," Suber
said. "There is an old adage in the black community that you can't
investigate yourself in a situation like this. An outside
investigation would validate whatever findings.

"What transpired is we have a young man who ended up dead," he said.
"It's a tragic accident. It's suspicious. I'm not saying that the
officer did anything wrong, but what I am saying is we have a
39-year-old black male with no police records. He went to work every
day. He had a wife and a daughter. He paid his taxes. Now, he's dead.

"People are saying, 'That could be me.' "

City Manager Carmen Cavezza said the GBI investigation is the right
course of action.

"I don't think he could have done it any quicker," Cavezza said of
Johnson's decision. "He did the right thing. He thought it through."

The city manager said he received dozens of calls and several e-mails
from people in the community urging an independent probe -- "All kinds
of people. Not just the black community."

More information, not less, is the way to deal with this potentially
explosive situation, Cavezza said.

"We have to be open and let everybody know the facts," Cavezza said.
"We'll let the chips fall where they may. We've got to be open,
factual and timely."

How It Happened

The tragic incident began when Walker, a former Kendrick High School
basketball star working for Blue Cross and Blue Shield, met three
friends after work Wednesday evening.

The four men gathered at Applebee's at Gentian Boulevard and
University Avenue, part of their ritual weekly get-together. They
usually followed happy hour at Applebee's with a journey to El
Vaquero, a Mexican Restaurant in Cross Country Plaza, for its
margarita specials.

Walker left his car at Applebee's and rode with the others in Carver
High School basketball coach Warren Beaulah's GMC Yukon, but a Walker
family friend said on this night the men departed from their usual
script. They stopped at the Northwoods Apartments on Armour Road,
where one of the men asked a resident to give him a ride to work
Thursday morning -- then the four took off again to El Vaquero's.

Walker and his friends apparently didn't know that the Metro Narcotics
Task Force had one of the Northwoods Apartments units under
surveillance as a site where drug deals were transacted.

The drug investigation also included a tip from an informant that the
suspected drug dealers' source of contraband would be arriving in a
gray GMC Yukon, which would be occupied by armed people from Miami.

When Beaulah drove his vehicle from the apartment parking lot at 5000
Armour Road, he was followed by officers. He turned onto Manchester
Expressway, then headed south on I-185 toward Macon Road when officers
hit their blue lights and pulled the SUV over against the sound
barrier wall.

Officers with guns drawn ordered the four men, "Get on the ground! Get
on the ground! Get on the ground!" and "Let me see your hands!"

Walker's three companions apparently complied with the commands, but
Walker provided "some resistance," according to the sheriff's account.
Although Walker was on the ground, his right hand couldn't be seen by
the officers, he said.

At least two gunshots rang out on that roadside about 9:30 p.m. -- one
shot striking Walker in the head and the other passing through his
right shirt sleeve.

An ambulance rushed Walker to The Medical Center, where he died during
surgery about 2:25 a.m. Thursday.

Beaulah and the other two men were taken in separate cars to the
sheriff's department, where they were questioned and detained in a
holding cell for six hours. They didn't discover until after they were
released that Walker had died.

During a morning radio show Friday, a caller who identified himself as
having been a passenger in the Yukon offered an account of the traffic
stop and the shooting that followed.

"The way they had the guns in the faces and without not saying
anything and we not understanding what was going on, it was very
confusing," the man told Michael Soul, host of Foxie 105's "Breakfast
Jam." "It was very scary and you basically didn't know what to do. You
felt like if you even tried to turn your face from one side to the
other, they'd shoot you. It was that scary."

Soul described the caller's reenactment as "chilling" and

Columbus attorney Derrell Dowdell said he and attorney Gary Parker
were asked by the Walker family to ensure that an independent
investigation was made into Kenneth Walker's death, but Dowdell wants
federal intervention.

"We're seeking a thorough investigation by the U.S. Justice Department
or by the FBI," he said Friday.

Dowdell said he would provide witnesses, other than the passengers in
the Yukon, who could testify that all four men were "ambushed" by law
enforcement the night of the incident.

"They will testify that Walker didn't physically or verbally disobey
any command by any law enforcement officer," Dowdell said. "The
evidence will show these young men were physically removed from the
vehicle, had guns touching portions of their body and were shoved to
the ground and placed in a prone position."
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