Jury Finds For Rev. Ayers’ Widow in Federal Civil Suit

February 21, 2014

A jury has found in favor of the widow of the Lavonia pastor shot and killed in Toccoa back in 2009 in her federal civil suit.

Thursday afternoon, a jury issued a verdict for Abigail Ayers in her wrongful death lawsuit against former Mountain Judicial Circuit N.C.I.S. Drug Team Agent Billy Shane Harrison and awarded her just over $2.3 million in total damages.

Ayers’ late husband, the Rev. Jonathan Ayers, was shot by Harrison in the parking lot of a Toccoa gas station on September 1, 2009 and died of his injuries hours later.

The Rev. Ayers was leaving a gas station at the corner of Broad and Currahee streets in Toccoa that afternoon when Harrison and other NCIS drug team agents approached the pastor’s vehicle.

The agents say they wanted to talk to Ayers because they saw him give money to Kayla Barrett, the target of a drug team investigation, earlier that day.

Ayers said before he died that he did not know the agents were police officers and he tried to drive away from them, which is when Harrison shot Ayers.

Harrison states that he identified himself as police and says that the Rev. Ayers saw his badge.

During the trial, attorneys for Ms. Ayers called this a case of the wrongful death of an innocent man by an overzealous law enforcement officer, saying Harrison’s actions represented professional incompetence and use of excessive force.

However, Harrison’s attorney called it a case of self-defense, arguing that it was objectively reasonable for Harrison to perceive Ayers as an imminent threat when Ayers backed his vehicle towards fellow Drug Team Agent Chance Oxner, who was behind Ayers’ vehicle, and then drove forward towards Harrison.

In its verdict, the jury awarded Ayers more than $1.26 million in damages for the economic value of her husband’s life and another $1 million in damages to compensate for the intangible element of his life.

The jury also awarded Ayers just over $35,500 to compensate Ayers for her husband’s medical and funeral expenses and $5,000 to compensate her for his pain and suffering before he died.

In an e-mail to WNEG News Thursday evening, Harrison’s attorney stated that the lost future income amount will be reduced to current cash value as required by law, making the net award around $1.6 million.

Terry Williams said that he will file a motion on behalf of Harrison requesting the court to vacate the verdict based on qualified immunity and if that fails, he will file an appeal.

In an e-mail response to the verdict, Williams said they strongly believe that the evidence presented in court showed Harrison acted reasonably in response to the situation Ayers created.

Williams went on to say that they feel the criticism made with hindsight and sympathy factors are hard to overcome in front of a jury.

Hendrix has not responded to an e-mail request for comment as of Friday morning.

Sources indicated that Harrison is covered by liability insurance through the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.

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