Answers sought about slain police officer’s final mission

Donations for the family of slain Riverdale police Maj. Greg “Lem” Barney can be made to the Gold Shield Foundation of Atlanta at

The morning after two deputies were killed in Maryland, Riverdale Police Chief Todd Spivey stopped by his staff’s weekly crime meeting. He had an important message for those attending the 9:30 a.m. Thursday meeting: Be careful.

Maj. Greg Barney was there. It would be the last time Spivey would see the 25-year veteran police officer alive.

Within hours, Barney would be shot dead by an assailant evading a no-knock search warrant for drugs, making Barney another statistic in what has been one of the deadliest weeks for U.S. law enforcement. A married father of 15-year-old twins, Barney was 50.

While a family and community mourned Barney's death, questions remained Friday afternoon about the type of mission that led the officer to aid Clayton County police, ultimately costing him his life.

Clayton County police declined to release information on the no-knock search warrant that sent the Drug Task Force to the Villages on the River apartments.

It was also not known whether the man who shot Barney was a suspect in a drug investigation. That man, according to the GBI, is Jerand Edward Ross, and a search of court records showed no active warrant for him in Clayton County.

At an apartment complex across the street from Riverdale police headquarters, Barney was at the back of apartment 10-E around 11:30 a.m. Thursday when a 24-year-old man ran outside, away from officers.

Armed with two handguns, Ross fired two shots at Barney, hitting him in the abdomen and in the arm, the GBI said Friday.

Ross then pointed a gun at Clayton County Police Lt. Francisco Romero, the GBI said. Romero fired at Ross, hitting him in the head. Ross was critically injured and remained hospitalized Friday, the GBI said. He was charged with murder.

Ross pleaded guilty last year in a Cobb County case in which he broke into an apartment at Kennesaw State University, punched a woman and stole her cellphone, a warrant states. He was sentenced to 12 months on probation in September.

Vest Not Required

Maj. Barney's death, meanwhile, continues to rub emotions raw. On Friday, a makeshift memorial of balloons, flowers and teddy bears graced the entrance to the Riverdale police headquarters, where staff members were struggling to come to grips with the magnitude of their loss.

Spivey, still visibly shaken, talked about Barney with a reverence that only comes from 19 years in the trenches together.

“He was a cop’s cop,” Spivey said, clutching several condolence cards. He spent part of Thursday with Barney’s family at the hospital, and he assigned one of his officers to be at the beck and call of Barney’s widow.

“It’s been a tough day,” he said.

Barney is believed to be the first Riverdale officer ever to die in the line of duty, Spivey said. It is also the first time Spivey has ever lost an officer.

Barney, a top-ranking administrative officer, was not wearing a bullet-proof vest at the time of the shooting. “Because of his rank and the nature of his assignment he (was) not required to wear a vest,” Spivey said.

‘Changed My Life’

A steady stream of mourners made their way to the Church Street police station Friday afternoon. Andre Brown stopped by to pay his respects and donate money to the family of the man he said changed his life.

Brown first encountered Barney 20 years ago when he was dealing drugs. Barney asked Brown and his associates who the drugs belonged to, and when Brown confessed, Barney arrested him. On the way to jail, he and Barney had a heart-to-heart, and the officer commended Brown for taking responsibility.

“In life you’ve got to be honest,” Barney told Brown.

“He told me I was killing my own people,” Brown said Friday. “He said, ‘How would you like it if someone was selling (drugs) to your mom?’ That stuck with me.”

After serving three years in jail, Brown got out and started a lawn care business and has been straight ever since. “He changed my life,” Brown said.

‘Was My Sunshine’

Those same sentiments brought McDonough resident B.J. Person and his mom, Teresa Prince of Jonesboro, to the makeshift memorial at the police station Friday. Barney was the school resource officer when Person attended Riverdale High School.

“Kids could talk to him,” Person recalled. “He knew your face.”

Person remembers Barney beaming with pride when he ran into him a few years later when Person was in the Army.

“He was one of my many father figures,” Person said as his mom stood nearby, tears streaming down her face. Barney had often stopped into Prince’s place of employment over the years just to say hello.

June Harris remembered her supervisor and friend fondly Friday as well-wishers dropped by the police station.

“He touched so many lives,” Harris said. “He was my sunshine. He was always able to make lemons into lemonade. He was a special man.”

‘A Hands-On Guy’

He was also a family man. Barney, who would have turned 51 on Feb. 25, was looking forward to taking his twin sons to Orlando later this month, Harris said.

“As you can imagine, our hearts are heavy with the sudden passing of our dear Greg. He loved his job and took great pride in protecting and serving the City of Riverdale,” the Barney family said in a statement. “… Greg was a great husband, loving father to twin boys and a caring friend. We will miss him dearly.”

It was that ability to connect with people that prompted Barney and several other officers to step forward Thursday to help Clayton police when they needed backup serving a warrant at the Villages on the River.

“It doesn’t surprise me he was over there,” Harris said. “He was a hands-on guy.”

Funeral arrangements for Barney were pending late Friday.