Co-workers stunned after Gwinnett correctional officer gunned down in parking lot

Scott Riner, 59, was shot and killed Tuesday as he arrived for his shift at the Gwinnett County Comprehensive Correctional Complex. He had worked as a county correctional officer since June 2010.

Credit: Gwinnett County Department of Corrections

Credit: Gwinnett County Department of Corrections

Scott Riner, 59, was shot and killed Tuesday as he arrived for his shift at the Gwinnett County Comprehensive Correctional Complex. He had worked as a county correctional officer since June 2010.

There were times when Senior Correctional Officer Scott Riner arrived at work, clearly sick and in need of rest, and it would take his superiors’ prodding to get him to go back home.

Capt. Audrey Henderson would tell Riner to take the day off, and he’d push back. His duty came first, he told his former supervisor, before reluctantly agreeing to some respite.

That’s the kind of dedication Riner was known for at the Gwinnett County Comprehensive Correctional Complex, and how his coworkers and inmates will remember him.

Riner, 59, was shot and killed Tuesday morning as he arrived 40 minutes early for his 7 a.m. shift at the Hi Hope Road facility. His body was found lying near his vehicle in the parking lot, according to Gwinnett County police spokesperson Sgt. Jennifer Richter.

Investigators had few leads in Riner’s killing Tuesday, other grainy surveillance footage of an unidentified suspect seen in the parking lot around the same time. Henderson said the entire Department of Corrections was baffled by his death.

“Being in this negative environment sometimes, working here, it’s easy to come in and be negative and be unhappy, but that’s not who he was,” Henderson said. “And every day he did it on a daily basis. That’s a hard job to do.”

Gwinnett County police released these still images from surveillance video that shows a suspect in Tuesday morning's fatal shooting of a county correctional officer. Anyone with information on the suspect's identity is asked to contact police.

Credit: Gwinnett County Police Department

icon to expand image

Credit: Gwinnett County Police Department

Richter said no one witnessed the shooting, made particularly brazen by its apparent disregard for the numerous law enforcement officers working nearby. The complex, which is next door to police headquarters, houses minimum-security state and county inmates sentenced to full-time incarceration, as well as offenders on work release programs.

“Right now we are still early on in this investigation,” Richter told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from the scene. “The best we can tell is that he had an encounter with an individual here in the parking lot, and we are working to determine what that encounter was and what exactly led up to the shooting, as well as who that individual was.”

Prior to Tuesday, five Georgia law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty this year. Eight were killed in 2021. In addition to the Georgia officers killed on the job in 2022, at least one officer died from COVID-19 complications and others from various medical conditions.

Riner had worked as a county correctional officer since June 2010 and had no prior experience in law enforcement in Georgia, his state police record shows. He served with a tight-knit group that takes inmate crews out for work detail, and his coworkers were taking his death particularly hard, Henderson said.

“Officer Riner was even liked by the inmates, and that’s kind of hard to say sometimes,” she said. “Because he treated inmates fair, he did what he was supposed to do, they even liked him. So they are having a hard time with this.”

John Starks was an inmate in Gwinnett County when he met Riner, who was his detail officer. Starks said he wouldn’t be out of prison and living a good life if it wasn’t for Riner.

“He really helped me a lot,” Starks said. “He showed me there was a better life out here in the free world than having to spend it all in prison.”

Starks said he met Riner around the third or fourth year of his eight-year sentence after being transferred to Gwinnett. He noticed how funny and a good person Riner was with him and with the other inmates.

After leaving prison, Starks remained in contact with Riner and would even go hunting and spend time on his farm. He said hearing about the shooting was difficult.

“I broke down and cried, started praying that they (catch) whoever did it. Prayed for his family, his little grandson.” Starks said. “I know his grandson thought the world of him.”

A family man, Riner always had an amusing story to tell and was known for his office hijinks and funny photos, Henderson said. During a Shop with a Cop event one year, Riner was photographed wearing a pink tutu in solidarity with the little girl he helped to select Christmas gifts.

“My prayers go out to his family,” Henderson said. “I want his family to know he was my family as well, and we’re going to get through this together.”

The parking lot of the correctional facility was roped off with crime scene tape for hours Tuesday while homicide detectives collected evidence. A tow truck took away a maroon pickup truck around 10:10 a.m. as a police helicopter hovered overhead.

Hi Hope Road was closed between Swanson Drive and University Parkway for the investigation, which also impacted Gwinnett Online Campus across the street. The public school rescheduled its final exams Tuesday, according to a message posted on the school’s website.

Richter said prior to the shooting she was unaware of any criminal activity in the parking lot, which is open to the public. Investigators are exploring all possible motives.

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson asked about two dozen people attending a public meeting Tuesday afternoon to observe a moment of silence for Riner.

“We are all shocked and saddened by this tragic and senseless loss and I ask that you keep Officer Riner’s family, friends, his correctional family, in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” Hendrickson said.

Starks said he considered Riner more than a friend.

“I’ll always remember Scott Riner,” he said. “I called him my brother.”

Police requested that anyone who was in the area of Hi Hope Road and Swanson Drive between the hours of 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. Tuesday or has dash camera footage from the area contact detectives at 770-513-5300. Tipsters can remain anonymous, and be eligible for rewards of up to $2,000, by contacting Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.

— Staff writers Alexis Stevens and Alia Malik contributed to this article.