A widowed Hall County woman has been awarded more than $2 million by a federal jury in a wrongful death suit.
Jurors on Thursday deemed $2.3 million in damages and expenses to Abigail Marilyn Ayers, wife of Jonathan Ayers, a Northeast Georgia pastor who was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy in September 2009. The trial began last week at the Federal Court in Gainesville.
In causing Ayers’ death, the defendant, Billy Shane Harrison, “intentionally committed acts that violated Jonathan Ayers’ constitutional right not to be subjected to excessive or unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer,” the jury determined by its verdict, according to court records.
Dressed in plainclothes, Harrison shot the 28-year-old former Shoal Creek Baptist Church minister in the parking lot of a Toccoa convenience store when the victim accidentally walked into an undercover drug investigation.
Harrison was serving on the Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team, comprised of law enforcement officers from Stephens, Habersham and Rabun counties.
Harrison said he used lethal force in self-defense because Ayers was trying to run over him. A Stephens County grand jury cleared the agents of criminal wrongdoing a few months later.
Ayers filed the civil lawsuit on March 15, 2010, alleging “gross and plain incompetence” in the use of deadly force.
However, the verdict’s award likely will be tied up in appeal, said Roland Stroberg of Gainesville, one of her attorneys.
Harrison’s attorney told WNEG News in Toccoa that he will file a motion requesting the court to vacate the verdict. If that fails, Buford attorney Terry Williams said Harrison will appeal.
Attempts to reach Williams on Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Stroberg praised the verdict in an “outrageous” case, but lamented it is small comfort for Ayers, who was four months pregnant when her husband was killed.
“He didn’t even get to know the sex of his child before he died,” Stroberg said. “He just knew he was having a baby.”
The next step in the case will be determining compensation for Ayers’ legal fees, he said.