Trial begins in civil lawsuit over pastor’s shooting death

Opening statements were made Monday in the civil lawsuit filed by the widow of a pastor who was fatally shot by a Stephens County sheriff’s deputy.

The Sept. 1, 2009, shooting of Jonathan Ayers in a Toccoa convenience store parking lot was caught on camera and divided a community.

Abigail Ayers filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging excessive use of deadly force, assault, battery and false arrest against Deputy Billy Shane Harrison, Channel 2 Action News reported.

The deputy’s attorneys said the surveillance video of the incident — which was shown to the jury Monday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Gainesville — will clear his name, the report said.

Jonathan Ayers, a 28-year-old minister at Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia, was shot as he tried to drive out of the parking lot after inadvertently stepping into an undercover drug investigation.

Harrison and Deputy Chance Oxner told investigators they saw Kayla Barrett, a woman whom they planned to arrest later that day on drug charges, get into Ayers’ car and they saw him give her money, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. They thought he may have been her drug source and moved in. Ayers’ car hit Oxner as he tried to leave the scene. Harrison fired two shots, one of which hit Ayers.

Abigail Ayers’ attorneys told the jury her husband did not know the plain-clothes men who rushed to his vehicle were officers, and he was afraid he was being robbed, Channel 2 reported.

Harrison’s attorneys said the officers identified themselves as police, and Ayers’ vehicle was being used as a deadly weapon.

In December 2009, a grand jury decided the shooting was justified.

The civil trial will continue Tuesday.

—Staff writer Rhonda Cook contributed to this report.