Fatal shooting of Americus officer continues a deadly trend for police

Minguell Kennedy Lembrick, 32, is suspected in the shooting of two Americus police officers, one of whom was killed. (Americus Police Department via AP)
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Minguell Kennedy Lembrick, 32, is suspected in the shooting of two Americus police officers, one of whom was killed. (Americus Police Department via AP)

An Americus police officer was killed Wednesday and another is fighting for his life after responding to a domestic violence call, continuing a nationwide trend that has made this year among the deadliest on record for law enforcement.

Nicholas Ryan Smarr, 25, of the Americus Police Department, and Jody Smith of Georgia Southwestern State University police were each shot in the head at the Country Club Estates apartments, Americus Police Chief Mark Scott told reporters. Smarr died at the scene and Smith was transported to a Macon hospital in critical condition. So far there's no evidence the officers were ambushed.

Explore“It’s a tragedy beyond words,” Scott said.

The suspect, identified as Minguell Kennedy Lembrick, 32, remained on the loose Wednesday evening and is considered armed and dangerous, according to GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said.

A $30,000 reward has been offered for his arrest.

Smarr is the sixth law enforcement officer fatally shot in Georgia this year, double the total killed by guns in the previous two years combined.

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Americus Police Officer Nicholas Ryan Smarr was fatally shot in the head when he and a fellow officer responded to a domestic violence call at an apartment complex Wednesday morning, Dec. 7, 2016. (Americus Police Department via AP)

Americus Police Officer Nicholas Ryan Smarr was fatally shot in the head when he and a fellow officer responded to a domestic violence call at an apartment complex Wednesday morning, Dec. 7, 2016. (Americus Police Department via AP)
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Americus Police Officer Nicholas Ryan Smarr was fatally shot in the head when he and a fellow officer responded to a domestic violence call at an apartment complex Wednesday morning, Dec. 7, 2016. (Americus Police Department via AP)

There has been a 66 percent increase nationwide in the fatal shootings of officers from this same time in 2015, said Steve Groeninger of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. So far 63 officers have been gunned down in the line of duty this year. No more than 50 officers have been fatally shot in one year since 2011.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a more dangerous time to be in law enforcement,” said Lance LoRusso, an attorney and former cop. “When you get to the point where you can openly advocate for the killing of police officers, we’ve turned a corner.”

LoRusso referenced an oft-cited 2014 demonstration in New York City, where protesters could be heard yelling in unison, “What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now.”

Tensions have increased nationally between law enforcement and citizens, especially African-Americans, following a string of incidents in which unarmed suspects died at the hands of police. Protests followed, and so did a series of shootings in which police were targeted.

It's impossible to conclude a cause and effect, but regardless many officers feel under siege, said Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, a former Georgia Sheriffs' Association president.

“We’re in a crisis situation here,” he said. “I’m hearing deputies say it’s just not worth it anymore.”

And Sills said he no longer knows what to tell them.

“There have been police officers assassinated in the past, but usually for a reason,” he said. “Now it’s just random. The public doesn’t understand how fragile the situation is.”

The danger extends beyond more dangerous urban areas. In fact, all of the fatal shootings in Georgia this year have been in more rural environments.

U.S. Marshal Patrick Carothers was shot and killed last month while serving a fugitive with a warrant in Long County.

Earlier in November, Peach County deputies Patrick Sondron and Daryl Smallwood were shot after responding to a call about an argument between neighbors. Both deputies died.

In August, Eastman police Officer Tim Smith was shot and killed while getting out of his patrol car on a “suspicious person” call. Riverdale police Maj. Greg Barney was killed in February as he assisted police in Clayton County with a drug raid.

Lembrick, the Americus shooter, had warrants for his arrest on kidnapping and other charges, Scott said.

According to the Georgia Department of Corrections website, Lembrick was charged with false imprisonment, simple battery and criminal trespassing in Sumter County in 2003.

A $30,000 reward has been offered for his arrest, GBI Director Vernon Keenan said. He said about 30 agents and 20 agencies are participating in the manhunt.

“We want him arrested so he can face the courts,” Keenan said.

Lembrick fits a familiar profile, said Sills, noting that most people suspected of shooting at officers have prior records.

“There is a base level lack of morality nationwide,” he said. “I’ve never been more worried as I am now for my deputies out on the streets.”