A north Georgia pastor was shot to death by police when he struck an officer with his car after he was seen in a vehicle with a drug suspect, authorities told CNN.
Jonathan Ayers, pastor at Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia, Georgia, died after the incident Tuesday afternoon in the nearby town of Toccoa, Georgia, police said. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) is looking into the shooting. An undercover drug task force team had set up an operation at a local business, and had a woman under surveillance — someone they had bought drugs from on two previous occasions, GBI spokesman John Bankhead told CNN Thursday. The officers saw the woman in a car with Ayers and saw what they believed was a drug transaction, Bankhead said. They followed the car as Ayers dropped the woman off at a gas station. The undercover officers wanted to question Ayers about what they had just seen, he said. “They approached the vehicle. They were in plain clothes. They identified themselves as police officers, which civilian witnesses say happened. They also had badges around their necks.” Ayers put the car in reverse and backed up, striking an officer, Bankhead said. According to Bankhead, Ayers then put the car into drive, and another officer fired into the car, hitting Ayers, because he thought his life was in danger. “The subject kept going and drove off,” Bankhead said. “And later he ran off the road. He was taken a local hospital, went into surgery and died an hour later.” The incident was caught on the gas station’s surveillance camera. Watch surveillance video of Ayers’ car hitting officer Police later determined what they had seen was not a drug transaction, but “other circumstances were involved, and that’s part of the investigation,” Bankhead said. The woman who was in the car with Ayers was taken into custody and faces drug charges, Bankhead said. Stephens County sheriff Randy Shirley has placed both officers involved in the incident on paid administrative leave, he said. The officer that was struck by the car was treated and released at a local hospital. No drugs and nothing else illegal was found in Ayers’ car, Bankhead said, “even though what occurred would make any undercover officer working drugs think that was a possibility. I can’t get into that, but that’s what we’re looking at.” Shirley told CNN the drug task force unit comprises three Georgia counties — Stephens, Habersham and Rabun. Ayers’ sister did not return a call from CNN Thursday.
Ayers maintained a blog, in which he wrote that he had three loves in life: “Jesus Christ, my wife Abby, and the Church.” Toccoa is about 95 miles northeast of Atlanta.