TOCCOA, Ga. (ABP) — The widow of a Baptist pastor killed last September in a botched drug arrest has sent notice that she intends to sue the city of Toccoa, Ga., and/or a three-county narcotics-enforcement unit involved in his shooting.
According to media reports, an Atlanta attorney sent notices of "ante litem" — a Latin term meaning "before litigation" — to multiple cities, counties and municipalities saying that widow Abby Ayers intends to seek damages in federal court for her husband's wrongful death.
Undercover officers with the Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression (NCIS) team fatally shot Jonathan Ayers, pastor of Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia, Ga., Sept. 1. Police fired shots at the pastor's fleeing car after trying to question him. Ayers reportedly said before he died at Stephens County Hospital that he didn't know who shot him but he thought they were trying to rob him.
In December a grand jury found no criminal liability, saying lethal force was justified because the officer firing the fatal shot reasonably believed he was in danger. The case still divides the community of 9,000, however, with supporters of the slain preacher viewing it as a case of small-town justice where investigating officers were predisposed to take care one of their own.
"The community reaction has been mostly negative," Bob Claytor, pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Toccoa, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Claytor, a former chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, said the official explanation — that Ayers attempted to run over the officers with his car while trying to get away — "flew in the face of credulity."
Georgia law requires that anyone seeking monetary damages against a municipality for serious injury or death send written notice of their intent to sue within six months of the event. The Atlanta law firm of Finch McCrainie prepared the he ante litem notices about Ayers' death.
According to excerpts published in the Toccoa Record, Ayers' widow intends to "seek damages for her husband’s wrongful death, and also on behalf of his estate for his conscious pain and suffering prior to death, for medical expense and funeral expenses."
The notice goes on to claim that Ayers "was the victim of a wrongful death resulting from an unconstitutional and impermissible assault and battery against his person." It contends that "negligent use of an automobile" by police were a contributing factor in his death. "We also intend to assert claims for intentional infliction of emotional duress, and for false arrest and false imprisonment," it says.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.