10/24/18 - Lawrenceville - A caisson carrying the casket processes through a motorcycle honor guard to the church. Funeral services were held for Gwinnett Police Officer Antwan Toney at 12Stone church in Lawrenceville. He was shot and killed last Saturday. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Remembering slain Gwinnett police officer Antwan Toney, one year later

Gwinnett County police Officer Antwan Toney was slain on Oct. 20, 2018 — one year ago Sunday.

Toney, just 30 years old and three years into the law enforcement career he’d envisioned since he was a child, was a man held up as a guiding light and an inspiration to those who knew him. 

His life ended at the hands of a teenager he never met. 

Toney was called to investigate a suspicious vehicle outside Shiloh Middle School that afternoon and, when he and a colleague approached the car, shots rang out.

The car drove off. Toney radioed that he’d been hit and needed an ambulance. 

The young officer, a man known for his incessant smile and unfailing empathy, died at Gwinnett Medical Center.

“The weight of our loss has not lessened nor has his absence gone unnoticed,” the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook early Sunday.

“His sacrifice was great. Please remember him today. And every day. We do.”

The Gwinnett County Police Department held a private memorial service Sunday night with Toney’s family. 

“Though we remain sad for our loss, tonight we remember Officer Toney’s love of his family, his friends, and his work,” officials later wrote on Facebook. “He continues to inspire us.”

‘I wish it never did happen’

Toney was the first Gwinnett County police officer killed in the line of duty since 1993. His death triggered a frantic two-day manhunt across metro Atlanta.

The alleged getaway driver from that afternoon, 19-year-old Isaiah Pretlow, had been picked up within hours of the shooting. But the gunman, 18-year-old Tafahree Maynard, had eluded capture.

On the morning Oct. 22, Gwinnett police got a tip about a “credible sighting” of Maynard on Cordite Loop, a location not far from his mother’s home and less than a mile from where Toney was killed. 

The SWAT team — and as many as 90 police officers — descended upon the location.

After a more than two-hour standoff, Maynard was dead

The suspect had holed up in a wooden shed. Police first used Tasers to try and detain Maynard, who was reportedly wielding a lawn mower blade. 

When Maynard refused to comply, officers shot and killed him.

“The danger to the community is over,” Gwinnett Police Chief Butch Ayers announced at a press briefing less than an hour later. 

Pretlow, the getaway driver, had been detained by U.S. Marshals two days earlier. 

He pleaded guilty last month to his charges, which included aggravated assault on a police officer, and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

Records show he is currently incarcerated at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.

“For the family of Officer Toney and the officers, I’m truly sorry that it did happen,” Pretlow told the court during his Sept. 10 plea hearing. “I wish it never did happen.”

‘He loved the community’

On Oct. 24, four days after Toney’s death and two days after the death of his killer, a memorial service was held

Toney’s family — those in blue and those who made the somber trip from his native California — packed Lawrenceville’s 12Stone Church by the thousands. 

Toney had joined the Gwinnett County Police Department — Georgia’s second largest — as a recruit on Oct. 26, 2015. When he was killed, he was just a few days shy of his third anniversary. 

But he wasn’t shy about saying he would be chief one day. 

“When Officer Toney walked out that door, there was no hatred in his heart,” Maj. Everett Spellman said during the service. “He didn’t fight because he hated the suspects. He fought because he loved the community that was behind him.”

GALLERY: Mourners pay respects along Antwan Toney’s funeral procession

Toney came by it natural.

His eldest sister, Carla Johnson, remembered him playing with police cars as a child in Tustin, California. She told mourners that day Toney was the family’s audacious, ever-smiling linchpin.

“I won’t give up on my dreams because you never did,” she said.

As Toney’s body was driven away from the church that day, hundreds of people lined Gwinnett County’s streets and highways to pay their respects. 

‘The best of us’

This past Memorial Day, Toney’s name was added to Gwinnett County Fallen Heroes Memorial. 

His name was etched into the granite alongside the name of Christopher Magill, the Gwinnett officer hit and killed by a drunken driver in 1993. Alongside the names of Marvin Gravitt, Jerry Everett and Ralph Davis, the Gwinnett officers slain in a brutal 1964 incident. Alongside the names of many others who have lost their lives while serving the public. 

On that sweltering May day, Maj. Cleo Atwater delivered an emotional speech about one of his final encounters with Toney. 

The month before Toney’s death, he and Atwater were part of a team working security at a large party. That night, Toney tried to win over a man who told him he didn’t trust police officers. 

The interaction left Toney visibly upset. His job, his calling, meant the world to him. He wanted the man to understand.

He wanted to make a difference, not just then and there but always and everywhere.

“He was the best of us,” Atwater said. 

The pillar honoring fallen law enforcement officers at the Gwinnett County Fallen Heroes Memorial. VIA GWINNETT COUNTY

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