A Columbus, Georgia, man was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy on Interstate 185 on December 10. The deputy had pulled over the man's vehicle because it was suspected of carrying armed drug dealers and drugs. It wasn't.
Kenneth Brown Walker, 39, was killed by a single gunshot to the head after a Muscogee County Deputy whose name has not been made public stopped him and three companions in a GMC Yukon. An area anti-drug task force in Columbus was on the look-out for a similar vehicle linked to an ongoing crack cocaine investigation. According to Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph Johnson, who held a news conference to discuss the killing December 11, "the information was that this vehicle -- and there is more than one gray vehicle in Columbus, Georgia -- if this was the vehicle that the informant said it was, that these were people from Miami and they were armed," Johnson said.
After stopping the vehicle, the unnamed deputy ordered the four men onto the ground, according to Johnson. There was "some resistance by Walker," the sheriff said. "He was placed on the ground but his right hand couldn't be seen. That hand wouldn't come out." So the deputy shot Walker in the head. "What I can tell you is that when he shot him, he did not try to shoot him in the head," he said. "I can't tell you what was in his head other than that it's a pure judgment call if he felt like his life was in danger."
Johnson has admitted that Walker was not linked to the investigation and had no criminal history. He would not venture a comment on whether the shooting was justified. Oh, yeah, Walker was black. He was also a devoted husband and father, a respected member of his church, and a 15-year middle-management employee of Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
The driver of the Yukon, Carver High School basketball coach Warren Beulah, called a local radio station, Foxie 105.3, two days after his friend's killing, and described the events. "I felt like an animal," he said. When he asked why a group of Metro Narcotics Task Force agents and sheriff's deputies had pulled him over, he was told "Shut up," he said. It seemed as if "we were tried and convicted" before even getting out of the vehicle, Beulah related. "The way they had the guns in the faces, not saying anything... you basically didn't know what to do and you felt like if you even tried to turn your face from one side to the other, they'd shoot you. It was that scary. We could not even say anything. We were treated like animals until they found out there were no drugs."
Local officials joined friends, family members, and coworkers of the slain man for a memorial service Tuesday. The Rev. Douglas Force, pastor of Walker's home church, St. Mary's Road United Methodist, spoke for many when he talked of race and policing. "We are tired and slaughtered," he said. "Every stop may be our last. There are too many people in this country who don't understand that. It's time we stop living in denial. It's time to start holding folks accountable for their actions."
John Dowdell, an attorney hired by the Walker family, told reporters Walker and his friends did nothing wrong. "They will testify that Walker didn't physically or verbally disobey any command by any law enforcement officer," Dowdell said. "The evidence will show these young men were physically removed from the vehicle, had guns touching portions of their body and were shoved to the ground in a prone position."
The FBI has begun a preliminary investigation into the killing and so has the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.