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Judge rules in preacher shooting
Cities not absolved of liabilty because not party to suit
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Nearly a dozen north Georgia towns that participate in a drug task force could be responsible through their insurance carriers for paying a judgment if a widow of a Lavonia minister who was killed by drug agents wins her lawsuit, following a recent judicial ruling.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story last week ruled in Gainesville that the towns, which were not named in the lawsuit, cannot be absolved of liability in the case.

“The court finds the municipalities are not parties in (the suit), and as such, are not entitled to the requested relief at this time,” Story wrote.

Abigail Ayers of Hall County, whose husband Jonathan Ayers was fatally shot by an undercover agent outside a Toccoa gas station in September, filed suit against the officer, Billy Shane Harrison, as well as two other officers, the Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team and the sheriffs of Stephens and Habersham counties.

In May, 11 north Georgia towns, including Clayton, Clarkesville, Cornelia, Demorest, Alto, Mount Airy, Toccoa and Demorest, filed motions in connection with the case, though they were not named as defendants in the suit.

In some of the motions, the towns asked to participate in the back-and-forth questioning between parties known as discovery.

Ayers was in his car when he was approached by agents who wanted to question him. He tried to drive away from the officers, and Harrison, believing his life was in danger, shot and killed Ayers.

A Stephens County grand jury cleared Harrison of any criminal wrongdoing in the shooting, finding he acted in self-defense.

Ayers’ widow filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in March.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Brian Rickman said Tuesday it’s possible that another grand jury could hear the case in the separate criminal probe after issues arose over whether Harrison was up to date on his required 20 hours of annual training.

Last month the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Stephens County Sheriff’s Lt. Edwin Wilson and charged him with making false statements. The GBI said Wilson, a training coordinator, was not truthful to agents about Harrison’s training records.

Rickman said he is waiting for the GBI to complete its probe into the training issue. The district attorney said he would consult with Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter and former Mountain Circuit District Attorney Mike Crawford before making a decision.

“There’s nothing legally that would prohibit me from taking it back to another grand jury,” Rickman said, stressing the criminal case and civil lawsuit were distinctly separate.

“We’ll just have to make a determination whether there’s something in the training issue that we think is so material to whether or not a crime was committed that it needs to be re-presented,” Rickman said.

Rickman said the GBI might turn over its findings to him in the next few weeks.

The Ayers family’s attorney, Roland Stroberg, on Tuesday declined to comment.

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