Jury awards widow $2.3 million in pastor’s wrongful death suit

A federal jury awarded more than $2.3 million Thursday afternoon to the family of a Toccoa pastor shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy.

Jonathan Ayers, 28, was shot Sept. 1, 2009, in the parking lot of a Toccoa convenience store after inadvertently stepping into an undercover drug investigation. Ayers was the minister at Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia at the time of his death.

In December 2009, a grand jury decided the shooting was justified. Then in March 2010, Ayers’ widow, Abigail Ayers, filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging excessive use of deadly force, assault, battery and false arrest against Deputy Billy Shane Harrison.

In causing Jonathan Ayers’ death, the defendant Harrison “intentionally committed acts that violated Jonathan Ayers’ constitutional right not to be subjected to excessive or unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer,” the jury ruled in its verdict, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The jury awarded a total amount of $2,305,352, federal court documents show.

“It was an egregious case,” attorney Michael Sullivan told The AJC. “This young man had done nothing wrong and was shot and killed by officers dressed like thugs that appeared to him were trying to carjack him.”

Harrison’s attorney declined to speak about the verdict when contacted by The AJC.