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Friday May 27th, 2016 4:44AM

DA: Ayers' case a 'tragedy all the way around'

By Katie Highsmith, Ken Stanford
GAINESVILLE - The District Attorney for the Mountain Judicial Circuit is commenting publicly for the first time since a Stephens County grand jury refused to charge the drug agents who shot and killed a young Lavonia minister three months ago during a botched drug bust.

It is a tragedy all the way around," Brian Rickman said during an appearance on The Local Hour on WDUN NEWS TALK 550. "It's certainly a tragedy for the Ayers' family and it's very difficult for the law enforcement. That can be compounded by the fact that they are not allowed to publicly discuss anything while the case is pending."

The grand jury ruled Friday that the agents were legally justified in opening fire on Jonathan Ayers' car as he sped from a Toccoa convenience store in September... almost hitting one of them. Ayers was not an object of their ivestigation.

The officers involved in the shooting are members of a multi-agency drug unit similary to the Hall County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad.

Rickman said the matter is now closed as far as any state criminal charges are concerned because of Georgia's law against double jeopardy. However, Rickman said that if a federal investigation is conducted, there is the possibility of federal criminal charges being filed against the officers.

"...there's no double jeopardy between the state and federal system, so, in theory, I suppose, the FBI could conduct their own investigation if they chose to."

And, Rickman said, he is almost sure that a civil suit will be filed on behalf of Ayers' widow. In fact, her attorney has already publicly stated that a suit is in the works.

"Concerning the investigation conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, we find that the investigation was very thorough, complete, unbiased and well-presented," the presentment that was returned Friday in Toccoa states.

"Concerning the actions involved in the death of Jonathan Ayers on September 1, 2009, we find that the use of deadly force by Agent Billy Shane Harrison was legally justified based upon his objectively reasonable belief that such use of force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or others. Based upon this finding, we the Grand Jury believe that the officers involved in this incident would be immune from criminal prosecution pursuant to Official Code of Georgia Annotated 16-3-24.2."

The grand jury had convened in special session beginning three days earlier to listen to witness statements, video evidence, photographs, lab reports and additional information contained in the GBI's investigative file in order to make their decision.

(This is a developing story. Please check by for more of what District Attorney Brian Rickman had to say Monday morning about the case.)
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