SAVANNAH - A man charged in the weekend slaying of a police officer in rural Georgia was arrested early Monday in Florida, where sheriff's deputies found the suspect hiding in the trunk of his sister's car.
Authorities in Georgia say 24-year-old Royheem Delshawn Deeds fatally shot Eastman Patrol Officer Timothy Smith on Saturday night. Smith had responded to a 911 call of a suspicious person armed with a gun in a residential area of the rural city about 60 miles southeast of Macon.
"Our hearts are just broken," Lewis Smith, the father of the slain officer, said in a phone interview Monday, which would have been his son's 31st birthday.
"More than likely, Timothy would always give people the benefit of the doubt and try to warn them, just tell them to move on, you're scaring the neighbors a little bit," Lewis Smith said, adding that he hopes prosecutors seek the death penalty for Deeds. "This guy just executed Timothy."
Meanwhile, an aunt of Deeds' described him as "a good person" and said his arrest was "a plum shock."
"If he did that, I'm pretty sure he's sorry," said Annie Lee Harris, who acknowledged her nephew has had legal problems in the past. "Yes, he has been in trouble, but not to the extent of taking somebody's life."
Harris said her family felt deeply sorry for the slain officer's loved ones.
Deputies in Nassau County, Florida, apprehended Deeds during a traffic stop about 1 a.m., said Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper.
Deeds was awaiting transport back to Georgia on Monday from the jail in Nassau County, located on the Georgia-Florida line about 160 miles from the scene of the shooting.
Leeper said his department received a tip overnight from U.S. marshals saying Deeds might be traveling in a gold Nissan Altima headed for Gainesville, Florida. He said one of his deputies spotted the car early Monday traveling south on U.S. 1.
Deeds' sister, 22-year-old Franshawn Deeds, was driving the car and had one passenger, 32-year-old Jamil Marquis Mitchell, in the front seat beside her, the sheriff said.
"After the driver and passenger were detained, a search of the car revealed Royheem Deeds was hiding in the trunk of the vehicle," Leeper said.
Deeds' sister and Mitchell were charged with hindering the apprehension of a fugitive, Leeper said. He said all three had waived extradition back to Georgia. It was not immediately known if any of them had defense attorneys who could comment on the case.
Authorities released few details about the events that led to the shooting.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman Scott Dutton said Monday that a citizen of Eastman called 911 to report a suspicious person armed with a gun. Smith arrived on the scene about 9:30 p.m. Saturday.
"He pulls up, he sees who he thinks the call was about and starts to talk to him," Dutton said. "And things happened really quick."
Smith was shot once in the torso. He wasn't wearing body armor, Dutton said, though he had been issued an armored vest.
It's unclear how authorities identified Deeds as a suspect. Smith wasn't wearing a body camera, Dutton said, but he had a dash camera mounted on his patrol car. The officer also had been talking on his radio. Smith was white; Deeds is black.
Dutton said there was no evidence that the officer had been lured into an ambush by a bogus call for assistance.
"It was a legitimate call," Dutton said. "A citizen had reported suspicious activity, which is what (the officer) encountered."
Smith had been with the Eastman Police Department since 2011. He was also a father of three children - two young boys and a 5-month-old daughter - and was engaged to be married.
Smith followed his own father, an officer of 29 years, into law enforcement.
"I call him a country boy with a badge," Lewis Smith said of his son. "He worked seven days a week to provide for his family. There was no such thing as going out and partying or anything like that."
In addition to his full-time police job in Eastman, Smith worked part-time as an officer for the tiny city of Glenwood about 30 miles away. With a population of 730 people, Glenwood employs only two full-time police officers - Chief Randy Rigdon and Lewis Smith, the slain officer's father.
Rigdon said Monday that Tim Smith also worked for him as a part-time officer, just a day or two each week when he wasn't on duty in Eastman.
"He was a quiet, humble guy," Rigdon said. "But he was stern in his abilities to keep the weak from being oppressed. He took his job seriously."