Greg ‘Lem’ Barney had numerous titles over the course of his 25-year career with the Riverdale Police Department: sergeant, captain, interim police chief, major.
But to his wife and 15-year-old twin sons, he was simply husband and dad.
In their first joint statement since Barney was shot and killed Thursday, Lisa, Robert and Greg Barney said their “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,” they said Friday. “We sincerely appreciate all of your prayers, words of encouragement and reflections.”
Barney was helping Clayton County police officers serve a no-knock warrant at the Villages on the River Apartment Homes about 11:30 a.m. Thursday when chaos unfolded, Clayton police Chief Michael Register previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
An officer knocked on the front door of 24-year-old Jerand Ross. Instead of surrendering, Ross ran out a back door. A witness said Ross was armed with two handguns, one of which he threw in the woods behind an apartment building, Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman Scott Dutton said Friday.
“He ran approximately 100 to 200 feet from the incident location and we had officers from Riverdale on the perimeter,” Register said.
Ross confronted Barney and shot him twice, once in the abdomen and once in the arm, Dutton said.
Ross took off running toward the front of the apartment complex, where he was confronted by Clayton police Lt. Francisco Romero, Dutton said. Ross pointed a handgun at Romero. The police lieutenant shot Ross in the head.
Ross was taken to Atlanta Medical Center, where he remained Friday in critical condition, Dutton said. He faces a charge of murder.
Barney was taken to Southern Regional Medical Center, where doctors “worked vigorously to revive” him, Register said.
Just before 2:15 p.m. Thursday, the chief, who was visibly shaken, announced the worst. Barney was dead.
He wasn’t wearing a bulletproof vest.
‘He would still be here with us’
Retired police officer Clarence Brown told The AJC early Friday he learned Barney wasn’t wearing his vest after hearing a story on the news and visiting the Riverdale police station, where a memorial was growing.
Brown said he wishes his friend of more than 10 years had worn the protective gear.
“He would still be here with us,” he said. “I’m upset. My heart is hurting for him and his family.”
Police Chief Todd Spivey told Channel 2 Action News it was not uncommon for an officer with mostly administrative responsibilities to not wear a vest. Barney commanded the police department’s support services division at the time of his death. Spivey noted that he wasn’t wearing one when he did the interview.
Still, the department will assess what it can do differently in the future, as they do whenever something like this happens, officials said.
“We’ve got to face the fact that we lost a valuable member of our family,” Spivey said.
The first black chief in the city’s history
After a stint as a DeKalb County sheriff’s deputy, Barney joined the Riverdale Police Department in 1990, according to the family’s statement. He made captain in 2002, then major in 2004.
That same year, Barney became the Riverdale’s interim chief, the first black chief in the city’s history.
The previous chief, Tom Edwards, resigned amid allegations of racial tension within the department, according to Channel 2.
Barney reportedly got to work quickly to restore the department’s image in the community.
Barney visited a senior center to answer questions and address concerns in April 2004, according to Channel 2.
At the time, he told the television station he was “just trying to do the job, make citizens happy in Riverdale.”
‘We will miss him dearly’
In one photo the family distributed Friday, Barney places his arm around son Robert, who was wearing a shiny medal and even brighter smile.
In another, he poses with his wife in a black tuxedo and a purple bow tie and vest.
And in another, the entire family stands in front of water and stunning architecture as they all embrace.
Lisa, Robert and Greg Barney asked for privacy at the end of the statement.
But there were a few things they wanted everyone to know first.
“Greg was a great husband, loving father to twin boys and a caring friend,” they said. “We will miss him dearly.”
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