Widow Wins Pastor’s Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers recently read about the conclusion of a trial in a tragic case where a young pastor, 28-year-old Jonathan Ayers, was shot and killed when he inadvertently walked into a drug investigation.

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Mr. Ayers, a minister at the Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia, was in the parking lot of a Toccoa convenience store on September 1, 2009. He was unaware that there was an undercover drug investigation going on at the time. He was shot and killed by Deputy Billy Shane Harrison when the police apparently mistook him for a drug dealer. The family’s attorney said, “This young man had done nothing wrong and was shot and killed by officers dressed like thugs that appeared to him were trying to carjack him,” and called it an “egregious case.” In December that year, a grand jury found the shooting justified and cleared Harrison of any criminal wrongdoing. This caused some complaints of a tainted process due to the thought that the police were looking after their own in this case, and some local residents were unhappy. Then in March 2010, Mr. Ayers’ widow, Abigail, who was pregnant with their first child at the time of her husband’s death, filed a wrongful death lawsuit. She alleged excessive use of deadly force, assault, battery and false arrest, accusing Deputy Harrison of “gross and plain incompetence,” saying he was an overzealous cop who violated her husband’s civil rights.

At the civil trial, Deputy Harrison said he thought Mr. Ayers was an imminent threat because he had been talking to a suspected drug dealer, and then backed toward another officer, and then drove forward towards Deputy Harrison. Video from the convenience store shows Deputy Harrison shooting at Mr. Ayers’ car as he drove away. One of the bullets hit Mr. Ayers, who crashed his car half a mile from the store, and was still conscious when police found him. While still conscious, he told police he sped away because he thought he was being robbed and didn’t know the people near his car were police officers. Deputy Harrison claims that is untrue, and believed Mr. Ayers saw his badge and knew he was a cop. Mr. Ayers later died at the hospital during surgery to repair the bullet wound.
In February, a federal jury found for Mrs. Ayers and awarded the family $2,305,352. The jury found that Deputy Harrison had “intentionally committed acts that violated Jonathan Ayers’ constitutional right not to be subjected to excessive or unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer.”

Atlanta Wrongful Death Attorneys

If you or a loved one has died due to the negligence of another, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. These cases are often complicated and, like above, take years to resolve. To discuss the specifics of your case and any steps to move forward in legal avenues, contact the Law Office of Sammons & Carpenter as soon as possible at 404-814-8948, or fill out our confidential online case evaluation form for a free consultation today.

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