Police group: Georgia has fourth-highest number of police deaths in 2016
Officers from three small towns -- Americus, Byron and Lavonia -- involved in shootings
The past week has not been a kind one to Georgia’s small-town police officers.
Six days. Six officers shot. Two deaths.
The shootings, which happened in three unrelated incidents, highlight a particularly brutal stretch in a year where at least 64 law enforcement officers have died across the United States.
Those shootings, in Georgia and beyond, have placed 2016 well ahead of last year’s 12-month total for police fatalities, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Georgia has had one of the worst years in terms of police fatalities.
Here’s the latest on this week’s shootings in Georgia.
Two officers, friends since childhood, killed
About 140 miles southwest of Atlanta, Americus Police Officer Nicholas Ryan Smarr responded to a 911 call last Wednesday about a domestic dispute at a local apartment complex. His best friend, Georgia Southwestern University officer Jody Smith, decided to respond to the call as well to make sure there was enough backup.
At the scene, Minguell Lembrick shot and killed Smarr, 25, and critically wounded Smith, who later died from his injuries.
Smith, who planned to get married this upcoming Spring, had asked Smarr to be his best man.
The shootings in Americus, population 17,000, triggered a manhunt that extended into the following day. Lembrick remained at large until Thursday morning when a 911 caller told police he was in a nearby house.
First responders heard a gunshot and, shortly thereafter, a SWAT team found Lembrick’s body with a single gunshot wound inside. No one else was in the home.
GBI Director Vernon Keenan called Lembrick a career criminal who “wreaked havoc on this community.”
Americus police Chief Mark Scott called both Smarr and Smith “model officers” who served their respective forces admirably.
“They’re both heroes in my opinion,” Scott said. “My heart goes out to their families.”
A drug raid gone wrong
Five days after Smarr died, two more police officers from Byron, a 4,500-person city located about 50 miles northeast of Americus, were shot during a drug operation.
The officers – who the Macon Telegraph newspaper identified as James Wynn and William Patterson – were part of a task force serving a search warrant early Monday, Georgia Bureau of Investigation official J.T. Ricketson said.
The officers knocked and announced their presence three times before entering the home, Ricketson said. As soon as they got inside, a man shot at them. The officers returned fire and killed the suspect, Ricketson said.
Both officers are expected to recover from their injuries, Ricketson said. One is in serious condition; the other was treated and eventually released.
On its Facebook page, the Byron Police Department declined to comment, referring questions to the GBI.
A stolen car, a double shooting
On the other side of the state, northeast of Atlanta not far from South Carolina, two officers from Lavonia were shot late Monday night, according to officials in Franklin County, where the town of 2,100 is located.
The officers had pulled a driver over in a Zaxby’s parking lot and, as they ran the vehicle’s information, learned that it was stolen, GBI special agent-in-charge Mike Ayers told CNN affiliate WSB. As the officers tried to arrest the male driver, he brandished a weapon and fired at the police.
Investigators later found 22-year-old suspect Khari Anthony Dashaun Gordon in a wooded area two miles away, Ayers said.
Now Gordon is charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a police officer, two counts of attempted murder and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, Ayers said.
Ayers told WSB that both officers, who are now being treated at a nearby hospital, are expected to survive.
A deadly year in the line of duty
With roughly two weeks left in 2016, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has documented 64 police officers shot to death.
Of those deaths, Georgia has endured eight – giving it the fourth-most among all 50 states, when accounting for both police shootings and other fatalities, the group said.
In early November, two deputies were fatally shot near Byron after responding to a dispute between neighbors. Later that month, a fugitive shot to death a US Marshals deputy commander seeking to serve an arrest warrant in Long County, Georgia, the US Justice Department said.
“Clearly, our officers are facing horrendous and growing risks while serving and protecting our communities,” Alex Murphy, a spokesman for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, said at the time. “It is time for all elected officials, the media and law abiding citizens everywhere to stand in solidarity with our law enforcement professionals and condemn and confront those who are directing violence and hate toward them.”
CNN’s Jason Hanna, Chuck Johnston, Joe Sutton, Shawn Nottingham and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.