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Police won’t release name of officer who fired fatal shots

Police won’t release name of officer who fired fatal shots

Police won’t release name of officer who fired fatal shots

Law enforcement officers from various...


The Statesboro Police Department said Thursday that it will not release the name of an officer who fired shots that resulted in the death of a 61-year-old man at his Rackley Street home in October 2013.

Also, police and city officials said this week that there is no official police report subject to release under the Georgia Open Records Act that documents the shooting or the names of those involved.

George Pryor, 61, was killed by gunfire about 9:30 a.m. Oct. 28 after a police officer and a city code enforcement officer responded to Pryor's home, at 315 Rackley St., Statesboro police said during a news conference at the time. Police responded in reference to a civil dispute and a call for service from a neighbor, according to a Statesboro police incident report.

During the news conference shortly after the officer-involved shooting, and in a news release issued the following day, Oct. 29, police did not release the name of either the police officer or the code enforcement officer. The Oct. 29 release did state that both officers were placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of the investigation, which the Statesboro Police Department turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. It is standard protocol for law enforcement agencies to turn over the investigation of officer-involved shootings to a different agency.

A neighbor at the scene hours after Pryor was shot told the Statesboro Herald that Pryor fired the first shots, and police returned fire.

Since then, the Herald has asked several times for the name of the police and code enforcement officers involved in the incident, and the police department has repeatedly refused to release the name. So has the GBI.

Statement from city

The police department issued a joint statement by Mayor Jan Moore and Public Safety Director Wendell Turner at 6:32 p.m. Thursday reiterating this refusal to release the officer's name.

"In October of 2013, the Statesboro Police Department and Code Enforcement Division of the City of Statesboro were involved in an incident that resulted in the shooting death of a citizen," the statement reads. "As per Department policy, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was immediately notified to investigate the incident. All evidence, documents, statements, reports, investigative reports, and photographs were turned over to the GBI for their investigation.

"In order to preserve the integrity of such investigations," the statement continues, "Georgia law exempts from public disclosure investigatory records with the exception of incident reports. The Statesboro Police Department has released the incident report to the media. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is the agency investigating this incident. Any further requests for information should be directed to the GBI Region 5 Statesboro Field Office."

Cathy Sapp, the special agent in charge of the GBI's Statesboro office, has referred inquiries about the name of the officer who fired the shots to the Statesboro Police Department. Sapp also has said the GBI will not release information while the investigation is ongoing.

Incident report

The Police Department and the city of Statesboro have refused to release the officer's name in response to several Open Records Act requests by the Statesboro Herald. The initial incident report, which is subject to release under the open records law, does not refer to the fact that any shots were fired, either by an officer or Pryor.

The original report, released Nov. 1 to the Herald in response to an open records request, refers to the incident as "civil dispute" and "abandoned vehicle." It gives the primary location as 319 Rackley St., which is the address of the neighbor who called in the complaint about a van at 2:33 p.m. Oct. 22, which he said was left on his property by Pryor — six days before Pryor was killed. The neighbor said that Pryor "refused to move the vehicle off of his property" and then had it towed. The narrative does not refer to any of the events of Oct. 28, though the incident date and time is listed as 2:33 p.m. Oct. 22 to 9 a.m. Oct. 28. The report is time-stamped 1:29 p.m. Oct. 28.

In response to another open records request Feb. 26 from the Herald, the city released an amended version of that incident report. In the new version, the incident type is described as "civil dispute," "abandoned vehicle" and "aggravated assault (gun)." However, the narrative is exactly the same, referring only to the initial call placed by Pryor's neighbor on Oct. 22, with no other details, including shots being fired and by whom.

Open records requests

As part of that response, Lyn Dedge, the police department's records clerk, wrote: "The Georgia Open Records Act does not require the City of Statesboro to prepare new reports, summaries or compilations of documents not in existence at the time of your request."

And in response to yet another open records request by the Herald seeking the name or any report listing the names of those involved in the shooting, Heather Anderson, the city's assistant open records officer, wrote that, after consulting with the state Attorney General's Office, the request for the officer's name "does not constitute a request for a public record. Therefore, no response is required."

The amended incident report was also provided as part of that response.

The Herald sent another open records request Thursday afternoon to the city asking for "any document prepared by a City of Statesboro employee that documents the shooting on Rackley Street, as well as the names of those involved."

While no response has yet been issued — governments have up to three business days to respond to such requests — the police department did send out the joint statement from Moore and Turner about two hours later.

David E. Hudson, an Augusta attorney representing the Georgia Press Association, said in response to a Herald inquiry that: "If the City elected to file only a skeleton report and put the balance of the information concerning the identity of those involved in another document, that should be released to the public pursuant to an (Open Records Act) request for the initial incident report."

His response after being informed that the city said there was no report subject to the Open Records Act that documents the shooting: "A shooting takes place and the City Police Department does not document it or the participants?"

He added in response to a later Herald inquiry: "If the incident reports as written are all the City has, then that's all it must produce. But the story there is that the City did not document a shooting or the names of the officers involved."

Other officer shootings

There are several recent cases in south Georgia in which the name of an officer in an officer-involved shooting was released, including one in Statesboro.

On Sept. 29, 2010, Eric Pringle was shot and killed by Bulloch County sheriff's Deputy Rey Rodriguez after Pringle shot and wounded Statesboro police officer Charles Brown when police responded to a complaint about loud music at what was then the Varsity Apartments on Rucker Lane. The sheriff's office released Rodriguez's name right away. Rodriguez was later honored for his bravery in the incident.

On Feb. 22 in Augusta, Georgia Regents University police Officer Wesley Martin — whose name was included in a university police report — shot and killed a man who accelerated toward his patrol vehicle, which was blocking the entrance to an apartment complex, according to The Augusta Chronicle.

On Oct. 4, two Waycross police officers — Officer Casey Caswell and Lt. Scott Rowell, whose names were included in a police incident report — shot and killed a man who police said lunged at them with a large grilling fork in one hand and a knife in the other, according to an Oct. 9 report by The Florida Times-Union.

Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.

 

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