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by Peter Moskos

March 17, 2010

New Development in Rev. Ayers Case

Turns out that Billy Shane Harrison, the officer who killed Ayers, didn't (and doesn't) actually have police powers. He let his firearm training lapse. Oops (and from TV news).

Maybe if this drug officer had had proper training, oh, I don't know, he could have figured a better tactical way of stopping an innocent man for questioning without causing a situation where a good man gets killed while trying to get away from armed men he didn't know were police!

Now we don't need to get into another debate about the shooting. But all you fools (I mean folks) who think this killing was somehow justified, ask yourself this: Can you imagine any police-involved shooting that isn't justified? (short of cold-blood premeditated murder--which this was not.)

It's one thing to say, "Cops sometimes make mistakes. And sometimes a whole bunch of dumb-ass mistakes. And sometimes they comes together and, well, sorry. But mistakes aren't crimes and we always need to give police the benefit of the doubt." OK, fair enough. But if you go beyond that and think that all police-involved shootings are justified, then why even have this discussion?

[I can think of only one shooting that was as bad as this one. After doing nothing wrong and following the orders of one FBI agent, poor Joseph Schultz gets shot in the face by the agent's partner (a scared agent who probably never walked a beat, cleared a corner, or made a car stop in his life). And he got away with it, too! Turns out only the taxpayer got punished for their professional ineptitude.]

[Thanks to Peter Guither's excellent drugwarrant.com.]


hotrod said...

Well, I'm not one of the fools/folks, but I wanted to take the chance to weigh in.

The Ayers shooting has been an interest of mine for a while. I read the GBI report, and have followed it relatively closely. Disclaimer: I'm not a peace officer, nor an attorney. I do work with law enforcement (sort of). I have no involvement in the Ayers case.

The news that Harrison wasn't qualified with his weapon isn't really new. The raw info was in the GBI report, though I don't recall the conclusion being explicitly stated. The NCIS policy book was included also, and it seems to call for a twice a year qualification. As best as I can tell, Harrison hadn't qualified with his weapon since his return from Afghanistan, where he worked for DynCorp (probably as a advisor to Afghan National Police, but I don't know that).

Harrison's possible lack of POST certification does seem to be new info. I'm not sure what to make of that at this point, but I would assume it to be quite serious if true, and the WSB report you linked to seems to make a pretty damning case. (cont'd)

hotrod said...


All that said, I remain troubled that this has evolved as a Harrison issue. I believe, and think that you (Peter) would agree, that the larger issue is the gross tactical incompentence that the whole lot of them displayed. Since both the commander (Bryant) and deputy commander (Oxner) were not merely on scene but in the truck that tried to box Ayers in, and Oxner is the one that ran up directly behind the car without a weapon, I think that this is a command incompetence issue. I don't doubt for an instant that Rickman et al are going to try and throw Harrison under the bus, but that doesn't mean that he's the only problem, or even the biggest one.

Rickman (the DA) and local law enforcement have tried (consciously or not) to turn this into a matter of shoot/no-shoot once the cops were in that situation. For good measure, they threw the piece about Ayers supposably banging the woman (Barrett) out there. Fun fact of no particular relevance - Barrett's ex-husband is a deputy in Barr County - Harrison's and Bryant's old agency (also in the GBI report).

But it's not just about shoot/no-shoot. The whole series of events was just sheer assjackery on the part of the cops. The lawsuit lays it out pretty well, but a quick recap -

-they didn't coordinate with Toccoa police
-they didn't try to have a uniformed unit respond
-they missed the chance to approach him dismounted
-they let him get into his car and put it into gear, ie secure a deadly weapon and ready it for use
-they approached without windbreakers or other obvious markings
-Harrison, the agent who approached the window had a small badge a black backing on a t-shirt with a large black pattern on it. It was barely visible. If you think I'm piling on, look at the photo included in the GBI report.
-they apparently didn't check the tag
-they disregarded the possibility of executing a normal traffic stop, but they couldn't have done that themselves, because...
-they either didn't have or didn't use blue lights on the Escalade, which also meant they couldn't light him up in the station
-oh yeah, they deliberately made the approach in in a crowded gas station (I guess it's good Ayers turned out to be an unarmed preacher)
-Harrison came right up to the car
-Oxner came up right behind the car, apparently without a weapon (maybe Johnny Law can explain how this contributed to "officer safety")
-they approached quickly, and tried to box him in (they fucked that up too)
-finally, Harrison fired the fatal shots

So I don't think I'm wrong to worry about the tactical competence of the command. Of course, for Rickman, or Sherriff Shirley or Sherriff Terrell to approach it that way, they would have to take a good hard look at Bryant. And Bryant is apparently a golden child. Look right here...


Rickman referring to Bryant - "I put my reputation on this - (he's) as good as you will ever find,".

Yeah, okay, DA Rickman.

I don't hate these men. I've been in situations where things have gone wrong, where you had to make quick decisions, and maybe it goes bad. It sucks, and it's awful. I don't think these guys winding up in jail would be the best outcome. Oh, and the charges by some that these guys WANTED to kill Pastor Ayers are absurd and hateful.

That said, I don't have much patience with the view that I just have to accept this level of incompetence, and that if I don't, well, I must love criminals or not care about officer safety.

Anonymous said...

I don't think these guys winding up in jail would be the best outcome. Oh, and the charges by some that these guys WANTED to kill Pastor Ayers are absurd and hateful.

This wasn't the first time Chance Oxner jumped on a moving car. Last time he got a nice, fat assault on a police officer conviction out of it and a woman, who otherwise wouldn't have gone to jail, went to jail for a long time.

Then there was Billy Shane Harrison's facebook page (now gone).

Some policemen have a hand problem. these three had a car problem. It was not incompetence. They approached it the way they approached precisely so they could kill him, or, barring that, trick him into an assault on a police officer.

Furthermore, there is a pattern in Georgia of plainclothes officers jumping out on cars that are just starting to move. There has been one since Ayers where they shot the guy to death (but he had drugs so it was okay). Just a couple weeks ago a judge dismissed murder charges against Raymond S. Bunn for killing Corey Ward the same way Jonathan Ayers got killed.

What happened to Jonathan Ayers is considered by Georgia police to be a feature and not a bug. frankly, the only lesson they will learn from the Ayers case is to plant some weed in the car next time and save themselves a few million dollars.

I am sickened that more active police aren't speaking out against Officer Oxner and "Officer" Harrison, and I am especially sickened that no action has been taken against the "expert" who testified in their favor before the grand jury. This makes a mockery out of the "profession." Makes police seem like a bunch of failclowns that they can't even get it together enough to definitively and unequivocally purge their ranks of Billy, Kyle and Chance.

Props to Prof. Moskos for trying to fight the good fight. Hopefully you can testify in the civil suit. Worthy pro bono, I would think.

PCM said...

"Gross tactical incompetence."

Very well said (and listed).

Unknown said...

"Can you imagine any police-involved shooting that isn't justified?"

Another shooting that I consider to be as offensive as Ayers is the BART shooting.

Unlike the Ayers shooting, in this one they are actually prosecuting the cop (and the DA is actually trying)


The mind puzzle that gets me on this one, If I was standing on the other platform filming it, do I turn the evidence over to the police immediately? Or make sure it gets out to the media/internet first, then turn it over.

I think if there were not multiple bystander videos of the incident, this shooting would have been handled similarly to the Ayers case.

Anonymous said...

the photo included in the GBI report.

btw, here is the photo:


Jeff N said...

You are not allowed to run from this...


Which is very easily distinguished from this?


A badge around the neck is not enough to distinguish a police officer from a random douchebag.

Anonymous said...

What bothers me about this incident is that it further confirms something I've seen for a long time. Prosecutors take their orders from the cops, and judges take their orders from the prosecutors. Yes, a prosecutor can stand up to an individual cop, but they cannot stand up to the police force, except perhaps in a few large cities.

Neither prosecutors nor judges can help it. Prosecutors are usually elected; judges are often elected; the police are politically connected.

PCM said...

In my experience, prosecutors do not take theirs orders from cops.

But maybe this is a big city perspective.

I've found that prosecutors, in effect, try to give orders to cops because prosecutors make the legal rules. Cops don't have to follow these rules, but it they don't nobody they arrest will ever get charged and prosecuted.

But do I agree that the whole system is a racket? Sure.

hotrod said...

Further developments related to the training/certification issue...


hotrod said...

The trial began on 03 Feb (last Mon) -


PCM said...

Wow. 5 years later. Thanks for the update.

hotrod said...

This case is still, in my mind, the gold standard for a buffonery driven OIS. The three cops did NOTHING right. When they were left with a body on the ground (actually a surgical ward), the whitewash began.

As others have noted, everything was driven by the totality of circumstances. And to take a hard look (not necessarily a criminal charge) at the totality of circumstances, you have to take a very hard look at Kyle Bryant, the commander of the alphabet soup task force and THE DRIVER OF THE SUV that tried to box in Ayers.

Kyle Bryant was hired in mid-2009. Brian Rickman, the local DA, said in referring to Bryant - "I put my reputation on this - (he's) as good as you will ever find,".
That was in the Clayton (GA) Tribune o/a April 16 2009. The URL has gone dead, but I guess someone in the area could do the legwork if they really wanted.

(Sidenote - why is a DA this closely involved in LE hiring? Honest question.)

Kyle Bryant died Nov 25th, 2012, apparently of natural causes.

Note that Brian Rickman was one of the pallbearers.

I sincerely hope that Kyle Bryant is at peace. I'm playing with rehtorical fire a little bit in mentioning his death, and I note it here only to point out how close he appears to have been with Brian Rickman.

Consider that between the time he staked his reputation on Kyle Bryant being as good as they come and the time where he was honored as a pallbearer, Brian Rickman was able to summon up enough objectivity to be the only non-civil law voice Abbie Ayers and her baby had to speak for Johnathan Ayers.

Awesome. Just awesome. Good job Mr. Rickman.

Jonathan Ayers is dead. Abbie Ayers a widow, and her son never met his father. Kyle Bryant is dead. I can't imagine the aftermath of an OIS, particularly THIS OIS, did anything for his quality of life in his last couple of years. Billy Shane Harrison, who hadn't done his training, is no longer a cop. Chance Oxner has gone in the space of a few years from being a task force commander (Bryant's predecessor) to a burglary investigator (check the Habersham County Sheriff's website). The training officer handpicked by Sherrif Randy Shirley, Edwin Wilson, was charged with a felony, fired, and apparently got a plea with no jail time.

But the two sheriffs (Shirley of Stephens County and Terrell of Habersham) and the DA on watch (Rickman) during this absolute grade-A freak show have all been reelected, and it took more than four years to get this case to trial.

PCM said...

There is so much wrong with everything related to the killing of Ayers that I don't even know where to start. Thanks for the update.