The civil trial over the 2009 shooting death of Lavonia pastor the Rev. Jonathan Ayers in Toccoa is now in the hands of a jury.
Closing statements took place Wednesday in front of a packed courtroom in U.S. District Court in Gainesville.
During their closing, attorneys for the Rev. Ayers’ widow, Abigail Ayers, called this a case of a wrongful death of an innocent man by an overzealous Mountain Judicial Circuit N.C.I.S. Drug Team Agent Billy Shane Harrison.
Harrison was the agent who shot the Rev. Ayers at a Toccoa gas station on September 1, 2009. The pastor then died at the hospital as a result of his injuries.
Ms. Ayers’ attorneys say Harrison’s actions represented professional incompetence and use of excessive force.
They say that if Harrison had acted reasonably and calmly and professionally identified himself as a police officer, the Rev. Ayers would have cooperated and the shooting would not have happened, adding “we don’t want Rambos and cowboys enforcing our law.”
However, Harrison’s attorney says that he did identify himself properly as a police officer to the Rev. Ayers in the gas station parking lot.
The agent’s attorney calls it a case of self-defense, saying one cannot judge Harrison’s actions with the benefit of hindsight, but must only look at what Harrison knew at the time of the incident.
Harrison’s attorney says that it was objectively reasonable for Harrison to perceive Ayers as an imminent threat when Ayers backed towards fellow Drug Team Agent Chance Oxner, who was behind Ayers’ vehicle, and then drove forward towards Harrison.
Attorneys on both sides told the jury that the video of the shooting from the gas station proves their case.
The lawsuit claims that Harrison intentionally violated the Rev. Ayers’ fourth amendment rights protecting him from unlawful search and seizure.
If the jury finds that Harrison was in fact liable, it will at the same time determine the damages to be paid to Ms. Ayers.