I have a developing story for you all, courtesy of libertarian blogger Radley Balko:
Jonathan Ayers, a 29 year old pastor of Lavonia, Georgia was shot and killed last Tuesday by undercover narcotics officers during a botched drug bust. The shooting occurred around 2:30 in the afternoon just outside a Shell station in Toccoa, Georgia, where he had just returned to his car after getting money from the ATM. There, an SUV pulled up to the store, and a joint task force–comprised of three officers from Stephens, Habersham and Rabun counties–sprung out of the SUV with their guns drawn and confronted Ayers. Ayers put his care into reverse and backed into one of the officer and then began to drive off, at which time, one of the other officers opened fired at his vehicle. Ayers was shot in the liver and subsequently crashed his car a short distance from the Shell station. He was taken to a local hospital, where he died from his gunshot wound.
While the full details of this story are still being learned, the police officers are already facing scrutiny due to the differing accounts of the story that they have given. Members of Ayers’ family were initially told that Ayers had died in a traffic accident. It wasn’t until hours later that they learned that he had died in an officer involved shooting. Furthermore, police officers initially told WNEG, the local news station, on Tuesday that Ayers was a suspect/target of a drug investigation. On Wednesday, however, authorities confirmed that Ayers was not the target of the investigation, contradicting their previous statement. Ayer’s family maintains that Ayers, who was the minister of Lavonia’s Shoal Creek Baptist Church and whose wife was four months pregnant, was not involved in illegal drug activity.
This troubling story raises two questions:
1) If Ayers was NOT the target of the drug bust, why did a joint task force jump out of their SUV and confront him with their guns drawn?
2) Even if Ayers HAD been the target of the drug bust (which we know he was not), how can the police officers justify shooting an apparently unarmed man as he was driving away? Ayers lost control of his vehicle after being shot, and could have run into a pedestrian or another vehicle. And as the owner of the Shell station pointed out in his interview with WNEG news, the police officers put the stores patrons at risk given that the incident took place near a parking lot full of people and several gas pumps.
Apparently, the joint task force was after–not Ayers–but the woman who he had dropped off shortly before he arrived at the Shell station. According to Stephens County Sheriff Randy Shirley, the woman had been charged with cocaine possession and distribution, he said. WNEG news has reported that the woman, whose name has not been released, was also the target of an ongoing investigating involving prostitution.
WNEG news has obtained surveillance footage from the Shell station, showing the police shooting. The point in which Ayers steps into his vehicle cannot be seen in this footage, but the point at which the black SUV pulls into the parking is shown, and the police officers (who were dressed in regular clothes as opposed to police uniforms) darting across the street with their guns drawn and shooting at Ayers’ vehicle AS HE IS DRIVING AWAY can clearly be seen.
The county sheriff maintains that the police officers immediately identified themselves as police officers. He also points out that Ayers struck one of the police officers with his vehicle as he was backing up, and though he concedes that Ayer’s striking the police officer with his vehicle was unintentional (the police officer had run behind the car just as it was reversing), Ayers’ was nonetheless driving towards the other police officers “in a threatening manner.”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but it’s things like this that really anger me–far beyond what the words of this page can convey. I realize that we don’t have the entire story yet and they details of this story might emerge that might put what the police officers did in a slightly better context.
However, on just basic principle, law enforcement officers shouldn’t being using deadly force against unarmed citizens, regardless of whether the citizen was a suspect in a drug bust. That Ayers was not even the target of the drug bust but police officers decided to pull their guns on him nonetheless, makes the story even more indefensible.
Now, I realize that some people will argue that this incident reflects a mistake made the police officers in question and not any inherent flaw in the War on Drugs and that I shouldn’t be so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
To them, I would ask, how many innocent people have to be maimed or killed during drug busts before we begin to ask whether there isn’t something inherently wrong with using law enforcement to go after unarmed citizens for what amount to be nothing more than vice crimes/victimless crimes. During his time with the CATO institute, Radley Balko has done extensive research regarding the unnecessary violence caused by our country’s prosecution of the War on Drugs, and the number of cases in which in which the wrong person was targeted or innocent bystanders were maimed or killed paints a damning portrayal of the length drug warriors will go to achieve their utopian dream of ridding the country of drugs–that is–other than those sold legally by Philip Morris and the pharmaceutical industry.
This is probably only the second or third article that I have posted with regards to innocent bystanders who have died during botched drug raid, but I can tell you that these kinds of incidents happen all the time. Radley has been documenting them over at his website for the last five or six years, and I can honestly tell you, that there isn’t a week that goes by that Radley doesn’t point out yet another incident in which an innocent bystander was killed. In order to give you all a truly accurate picture as to the prevalence of this problem, I’d have to have a weekly column here at TMV.
I’m so angry right now, that there’s not much more I can write at this time. I’ll try to update you all as more details emerge.
In the meantime, just because you don’t personally know anyone who has victimized by the Drug War or haven’t heard about it in the news, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.