Widow to file lawsuit in police shooting of Lavonia minister

The last of the 13 ante litem notices was sent on Jan. 12, so attorneys for Abby Ayers can file the lawsuit Feb. 12. The 30-day notice was given because the federal suit will claim the officers violated state laws -- assault and battery --  when they shot her husband. Ante litem notices are required when a lawsuit is filed against a government entity.

The Rev. Jonathan Ayers, pastor at Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia, was fatally shot Sept. 1 when he tried to flee a Toccoa convenience store-gas station parking lot after he was  confronted by two plainclothes officers. The officers had just seen Ayers with a woman they planned to arrest later that day for selling crack cocaine. The plainclothes officers, Billy Shane Harrison and Chance Oxner, told investigators they tried to stop Ayers because they suspected, incorrectly, that he may have been her drug supplier.

A surveillance camera at the store showed a Cadillac Escalade used in the undercover investigation pull behind Ayers’ red Honda. As two men got out of the Escalade, the Honda backed up and then drove away.

Harrison and Oxner, both assigned to the Mountain Judicial Circuit Narcotics Criminal Investigation and Suppression Team, said after the shooting that they did not know Ayers was a minister, and they saw him for the first time when Kyla Barrett, the woman who was the target of their investigation, got into his car.

Harrison said he fired because Ayers backed into Oxner and he thought at the time his partner had been seriously injured or killed, which he was not, and he thought the minister from Lavonia was going to run him down as well.

Last month, a Stephens County grand jury determined Harrison and Oxner did not commit a crime and that the shooting was justified, based on what they knew at the time.

“Reverend Ayers was the victim of a wrongful death resulting from an unconstitutional and impermissible assault and battery” on him, according to the notice.

Ayers, 28, was reportedly in Toccoa to buy tires. The officers confronted Ayers just moments after the minister got $20 from the store’s ATM  to replace the money he had just given Barrett.

Shot twice, Ayers drove his car into a pole a short distance from the gas station, and he died four hours later.

Abby Ayers, 25, is due to deliver their son in a few days.

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