With the search for Gwinnett County Police Officer Antwan Toney’s alleged killer about to shift from a localized manhunt into a nationwide fugitive investigation early Sunday night, word came that a SWAT team was serving a search warrant on a residence just down the street from where the fatal shooting occurred.
But the shooting suspect, 18-year-old Tafarhee Maynard, was not there. Gwinnett Police spokesman Sgt. Jake Smith said it was “50/50” that Maynard was still in Snellville.
“It’s equally possible he got in a car and is in Arizona now,” Smith said.
James Joyner, acting commander of the U.S. Marshals Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, echoed the uncertainty over Maynard’s whereabouts.
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“I can’t say he’s not in the area. I can’t say he is in the area,” he said Sunday afternoon. “But we have to broaden our search.”
As the cat and mouse game played out, some of Toney’s devastated colleagues began the grim task of planning his memorial service.
Sgt. Kris Llewellyn trained the enthusiastic young California native, who had been trying for years to become a police officer. When he finally got the call, he seized the opportunity with unequaled fervor.
“He was a real big go-getter,” Llewellyn said Sunday afternoon as she arranged flowers and stuffed animals, left in Toney’s memory, on a patrol car parked in front of Gwinnett police headquarters in Lawrenceville. But that ambition never overshadowed his big heart, she said.
“That smiling face you see in all of the pictures, that’s who he was. An absolutely fantastic kid,” said Llewellyn, adding Toney was “very popular with his fellow officers.”
“This is immeasurably hard.”
Less than 24 hours earlier, Toney and another officer approached a vehicle reported as suspicious by a resident on Crump’s Landing in unincorporated Snellville. Investigators believe there were three others in the car, though only one has been identified: 19-year-old Isaiah Pretlow, 19, who was arrested late Saturday night and charged with aggravated assault. Bond was denied.
Several shots were fired, but Smith said police are confident Maynard fired the the bullet that felled Toney.
Neighbors who heard the gunfire were stunned by the violent reaction after an incident that had all the trappings of a routine traffic stop.
Police initially suspected the suspects were smoking marijuana, but could not confirm that as of Sunday evening.
“For an 18-year-old to go from smoking a joint to just start shooting is insanity,” said Scott Elzy, whose friend, Rick Green, lives just a few doors away on Crumps Landing Road, where the incident occurred.
Green said that corner of the neighborhood, with scattered vacant homes, has become a popular, and somewhat threatening, hangout for area teens.
“I don’t get out of my truck without my gun in my pocket,” Green said. “I got my pistol on me right now.”
The suspects sped away in their car before crashing nearby. Pretlow, Maynard and the vehicle’s other occupants fled on foot.
Joyner said so far they’ve been unable to connect the suspect to any stolen vehicles. Whether he remains on foot is unknown.
Police have responded to several helpful tips from the public, Joyner said, declining to elaborate.
“Now it’s more detective work,” he said. “This is what we do, and we’re good at it.”
It’s all but certain Maynard will be apprehended — suspects who shoot cops almost always are. Fulton County Courthouse killer Brian Nichols was arrested after 27 hours on the run in that 2005 incident. Ricky Dubose and Donnie Rowe evaded capture for a little longer, but the escaped inmates, accused of killing two corrections officers in Putnam County in 2017, were tracked down in Tennessee, three days after the shootings.
Maynard’s capture may bring closure but no solace for those who knew Toney best.
“He was a warrior,” said friend Reginald Pierre of Snellville. Toney always wanted to be the first man on the scene, Pierre said, but it wasn’t a macho thing.
“He believed in justice,” he said. “He thought of himself as the guy who could defuse a tense situation. To protect and serve meant something to him.”
Toney just recently turned 30, celebrating the milestone with friends in Las Vegas. Pierre said Toney fell in love in Atlanta and decided to move here to begin his law enforcement career. Most of his family remains in California.
“This is such a tragic loss for the community, the police department,” Pierre said. “He was a great cop. And a great friend.”
Toney’s funeral is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday. Toney is the fourth Georgia officer killed by gunfire this year and 45th nationwide — the same number killed in all of 2017.