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April 9, 2009 Issue

Wadley officer shoots and kills suspect
Buses inspected
Polls open in District Three run off Tuesday

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Wadley officer shoots and kills suspect

By Carol McLeod
Staff writer

A man shot by a Wadley Police Department officer died at Jefferson Hospital Friday, April 3, as a result of his injuries.

WPD officers responded to a domestic violence call about 4:28 p.m. Friday, WPD Chief Wesley Lewis said.

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Two officers responded to the call, which was on North Main Street in Wadley, he said.

“One of the responding officers made contact and observed Mr. (Jerry) Conner in the yard beating on a vehicle. When he approached Mr. Conner, Mr. Conner turned on him with a knife and came at him,” the chief said.

Lewis said the officer was backing away from Conner and the knife and fell in the yard. The other officer called for back up.

At this time, a state officer arrived on the scene and attempted to use a Taser.

“He made contact with Mr. Conner but it had no effect. When he tried to use it again, he injured himself with it,” Lewis said. “What type of injury he received, I don’t know. But he was transported to the hospital. At that time, Cpl. (Patrick) Paquette, who was riding in a car with two investigators, arrived on the scene. When they arrived on the scene, they observed the victim going towards one of the initially responding officers with a knife out in an offensive manner. Once they observed that action, they got out of the patrol car to assist the two uniformed officers who were already on the scene.

“They gave multiple commands for him to drop the knife at which time he redirected his attention from the initially responding officers to the back up officers. The back up officers gave multiple commands for him to drop the knife, which he refused to do. At some point during that he focused his attention to Officer Paquette and continued his actions toward Officer Paquette.

“He didn’t comply with the commands from the officers and continued on towards them and all three of them were getting out of the same vehicle. At some point, Officer Paquette had to decide to use deadly force to protect himself and his fellow officers from receiving serious bodily harm or even death,” Lewis said.

The chief described the knife in Conner’s possession as being between eight to 10 inches, including the handle.

“It was a large knife,” he said.

Lewis said Paquette, who is a part time officer with WPD and works full time as an officer with the Richmond County Board of Education, is on administrative leave from WPD.

“My prayers and condolences are with the family for the loss of their loved one,” Lewis said.

Jefferson County Coroner Edward James said Conner was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the abdomen, and died in the early evening Friday at Jefferson Hospital.

The Thomson office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is conducting an investigation into the shooting.

Special Agent in Charge Gary Nicholson said his office had been requested by the chief to investigate the incident.

“We have to be requested by whoever’s jurisdiction it is,” Nicholson said, adding it is not mandated for a city chief or sheriff to request the assistance of the GBI in officer-involved shootings.

“As long as there are leads to follow, we’ll pursue it,” he said. “We view these as a pretty high priority case.

“It is basically our policy not to talk about the details,” he said.

Once a case has been adjudicated and closed, the information is public record, Nicholson said.

Another officer-involved shooting in Wadley occurred in September of 2006. The officer in that case was found to have been justified in using deadly force.

Nicholson said he has been at the GBI post in Thomson since 2004 and those are the only two cases he knows of in the area.

When the GBI has finished its investigation, a report is sent to the district attorney who then decides whether to present a case to the grand jury.

Lee Shellman, president of the Jefferson County branch of the NAACP, and Donald Hatcher, the chairman of the branch’s education committee, are looking into the incident on behalf of the family.

Shellman said he would also like to see an overall investigation into the WPD itself.

Hatcher pointed out that a common misconception about the NAACP is that it focuses only on race relations.

“We are interested in civil rights and human rights,” he said. “Any person’s rights can be violated.”

Both Paquette and Conner are white.

“The police department should welcome an inquiry by the NAACP or any other organization into its agency. Our interest is to make certain of the circumstances so our citizens have confidence in all of our law enforcement agencies and in each of the officers,” Hatcher said.

Shellman said he received a phone call Friday about the incident. He drove to Wadley to see what had happened.

“After talking with several people for about 30 minutes, I then went home to Bartow,” he said

“After sleeping overnight and going to church service on Sunday morning, I was led by the spirit to go and talk to someone about the incident.”

He said he returned to the scene and Mrs. Conner came to his car and he told her who he was and that he was concerned about what had happened.

“She immediately began to tell me what had happened,” Shellman said.

“She kneeled down by my car and she said the police did not have to kill her husband. I told her that I was not there to hurt her that I was there to help her and I would be back and I told her that my name was Lee Shellman. I told her I was fixing to go and I would be back to talk with her about the situation,” he said.

“That is the point the NAACP has to wait for,” Hatcher said.

“We have to wait for the investigation to be completed and review the findings. If the family is not satisfied with the findings, or the community or the organization you look into it further. The means and the process is not really set in stone. This is all new to me and Mr. Shellman as NACCP members. We are not trained investigators,” he said.

“I truly believe that having a new chief and being an appointed chief is an honor to serve in those positions. The chief of police in a small town can really develop a positive relationship between the community and the police officers. The chief can be very influential in a small community like Wadley and have a great career. The temperament of the chief sets the tone for his department,” Hatcher said.

“The family has authorized the NAACP to act on their behalf to get the facts of the incident,” he said.

Shellman and Hatcher said they will be requesting a copy of the incident report from the police department and will deliver a copy of that request to the mayor’s office.

They have also asked for a full investigation of all incidents that have happened in the past three years involving the WPD.

A statement provided by the NAACP from Chris Conner, a son of Jerry Conner, stated, “They shot him three times in the chest. Seems like they should (have) shot him in his leg. (They) didn’t even try to help him afterwards.”

This newspaper was unable to reach the family of the victim as of press time.



Buses inspected

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Every year, the officers with the Motor Carrier Compliance Division inspect the county’s school buses.

Jefferson County’s school buses were inspected last month. This division is a part of the Georgia Department of Public Safety.

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Dr. Curtis Hunter, an assistant superintendent with JC Board of the Education, oversees the transportation department.

“Buses have to be inspected by the local school system every 30 days,” he said.

“We have 64 buses in our fleet. Only 40 buses are used on our routes. We get three or four buses a year, take the oldest ones out,” he said.

Hunter said the drivers inspect the buses before and after every trip.

“The state inspections are annual. There’s also a state law in place that states that we have to service our buses every month. We do a complete service every month. That’s the purpose of the pre-trip and the post-trip, even if it’s a field trip. Drivers are trained to check out the buses. If it’s a field trip or a route, they must do that pre-trip and post-trip inspection every time and they do that. If something needs to be repaired, it’s done then,” he said.

Hunter said there is also a device he referred to as “the no-child-left-behind alarm.” Drivers must walk to the back of the bus and flip a switch or an alarm will sound. This helps ensure the drivers check the seats for items that may have been left behind or children who may have fallen asleep.

Two officers inspected the buses last month. Officer Johnny Pearson usually inspects buses in Jefferson County, which is one of 11 counties where he performs these inspections. He was assisted this time by Officer Michael May.

Pearson has been with the Georgia Department of Public Safety for seven years. Besides inspecting school buses, he also inspects 18-wheelers and other commercial vehicles.

Whatever is not properly working on a bus is marked as being a defect or out of service on a form. A copy of the form is given to the BOE.

The distinction depends upon what the item is. Out of service means it “affects the safety of the kids or is likely to cause a breakdown on the road.” Everything else is a defect, Pearson said.

Everything not working is repaired during the inspection or the bus is pulled out of service, Hunter said. Because of the pre-trip and post-trip inspections, Hunter said buses in need of repairs are taken out of service then.

The state is scheduled to inspect school buses in Glascock County on April 9.



Polls open in District Three run off Tuesday

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

The polls in the District 3 precincts will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, in the run off election for the District 3 Jefferson County Commissioner position.

Six people qualified for the post. The special election, which was held Tuesday, March 17, did not produce a majority for any candidate.

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The run off will be between Michael Brown and Wayne Davis Sr.

Jefferson County Registrar, Chandrel Evans, said approximately 2,700 voters are eligible to vote in the run off.

There was no early voting in this run off; however, advance voting began Monday, April 6, and will last through Friday, April 10, at 5 p.m.

Any voter eligible to vote in District 3 may vote during this time but is required to vote at the registrar’s office on Broad Street in Louisville.

The winner of this election will serve the remaining portion of Sydney Norton’s term, made available by his death last December. The term will end Dec. 31, 2010.

Jefferson County State Court Judge John Murphy is acting probate judge and acting elections superintendent since Judge Q.L. Bryant’s death last month.

Murphy said he expects the run off to run smoothly.

“I’ll be there when the polls open and when they close,” he said. “And when they count. I expect the election to run as they always have.”




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