HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html FBI Starts Preliminary Probe
Pubdate: Wed, 17 Dec 2003
Source: Ledger-Enquirer (GA)
Copyright: 2003 Ledger-Enquirer
Author: Muriel Tan


Sheriff Says He Requested Federal Involvement To Retain Citizens' 
Confidence In His Office

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun a preliminary inquiry into 
the fatal shooting of an unarmed Columbus man by a deputy sheriff.

The federal agency became involved at the request of Muscogee County 
Sheriff Ralph Johnson.

"I feel this is the proper, procedural process for the citizens to continue 
to have confidence in this office," Johnson said during a Tuesday afternoon 
press conference at the Government Center.

The announcement comes a day after a coalition of area churches called for 
a federal inquiry into the death of Kenneth B. Walker, a 39-year-old father 
and husband. Some community leaders have also called for an investigation 
into the department's search and seizure procedures and for the sheriff to 
step aside during the investigation.

Johnson said he met at 2:30 p.m. Monday with FBI special agents in his 
office, but did not announce the decision then "because Mr. Walker was not 
laid to rest yet." Walker was buried Tuesday.

Walker and three friends were riding in a grey GMC Yukon along Interstate 
185 on Dec. 10 when they were stopped by officers with the Metro Narcotics 
Task Force Agency and the sheriff's department, according to official accounts.

Acting on information from an informant that the Yukon would be carrying 
men from Miami who were armed, the deputies and agents ordered the men to 
exit the vehicle. Walker was shot in the head after authorities say he 
failed to comply with the deputy's commands.

Authorities later learned that none of the men was armed and none was in 
possession of drugs. The three other passengers in the Yukon were 
questioned by authorities and later released. Johnson said there was no 
information that Walker had been involved in any kind of criminal activity.

Johnson has refused to release the name of the deputy involved in the 
shooting, citing it as part of the investigation. The deputy, an officer 
with more than 18 years of service, has been suspended from the department, 
Johnson said.

Johnson reiterated Tuesday that he had not spoken with the deputy involved 
in the shooting and outlined his reasons for not having done so.

"It was my decision to do that because I have to keep a clear head and a 
clear conscience," he said. "I'm sure people in the department have spoken 
to him. Of course, he's not doing well, as you can imagine."

When pressed for a reason for his continued refusal to release the name, 
the sheriff said: "I've told some of you all before, and I hope all of you 
hear me when I'm saying this is a tragic, tragic incident for the Walker 
family. I mean, nothing could be more horrible," Johnson said. "But on the 
other side, the person is still a deputy sheriff... the person has a 
family. There is tension and I know all of you feel the tension... and I 
don't want to make a terrible, terrible situation worse."

Johnson later added that he was concerned for the safety of the deputy and 
the deputy's family.

"Right now, we need to get to the bottom of this," he said.

The sheriff announced his department had concluded its own investigation 
Friday, less than two days after the fatal shooting. Those findings were 
turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for a separate, 
independent probe. No timetable for a possible completion of the GBI's 
review was set. Findings from the state agency's inquiry will be forwarded 
to District Attorney Gray Conger and to the FBI.
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