Kenneth Walker Anniversary: Tragedy on I-185 (Dec. 2003)

Veteran deputy placed on leave; sheriff says 39-year-old failed to comply with order to show hand

Staff writer in Dec. 2003December 5, 2013 

Editor's note: This story was published in the Dec. 12, 2003, Ledger-Enquirer.

Original story: An unarmed 39-year-old Columbus man was fatally shot by a Muscogee County Sheriff's Deputy late Wednesday during a drug investigation after authorities said the man failed to comply with the deputy's commands.

Kenneth Brown Walker, 39, was pronounced dead shortly before 2:30 a.m. Thursday at The Medical Center of a single gunshot wound to the head, several hours after he was stopped in a vehicle on Interstate 185. His body was sent to the state crime lab, Muscogee County Coroner James Dunnavant said.

During a news conference Thursday afternoon, Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph Johnson was flanked by City Manager Carmen Cavezza, City Attorney Clifton Fay and other sheriff's officials. Johnson called the incident "a tragic day for the family of the deceased and for my office and for the city of Columbus." The deputy who shot Walker has been placed on administrative leave. Authorities say he is a veteran deputy who works with the department's Special Response Team. His name was not released.

Walker was among three other men riding inside a gray GMC Yukon allegedly seen Wednesday evening leaving an Armour Road apartment complex under surveillance for drug activity. The three friends were not arrested and were later released. As for Walker, Johnson said authorities later learned there was no information that he was involved in any kind of criminal activity.

Johnson said the Yukon matched the description of one provided by a confidential drug informant.

"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," the sheriff said. Johnson said the Yukon also matched the description of one that officials believed had regularly dropped off narcotics at the apartment.

When the vehicle was stopped around 9 p.m. on Interstate 185 between Manchester Expressway and Macon Road, Johnson said all four occupants were taken out of the vehicle.

Though Walker's friends complied with the deputy's commands to get down on the ground and reveal their hands, there was "some resistance by Walker," the sheriff said.

"He was placed on the ground but his right hand couldn't be seen," Johnson said. "That hand wouldn't come out."

Johnson said the commands given consisted of: "Get on the ground, get on the ground, get on the ground," followed by a repeated refrain of "let me see your hands."

"Nine times out of 10, people will comply but occasionally they don't," he said. "This one turned out bad. I can't sugar-coat that."

When asked if he thought the shooting was justified, Johnson said he could not answer since the investigation is ongoing.

"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."

In 85 percent of cases dealt with by the Metro Narcotics Task Force, Johnson said a firearm was involved. In Wednesday night's incident, no gun was found inside the Yukon.

Before meeting with members of the media, Johnson said he had spoken with Walker's family.

"They're very upset and they should be," he said. "I'm very upset --- and nothing I can say or do will change any of this."

The stop Wednesday night that ended in Walker's death was part of a lengthy narcotics investigation that began with information initially provided to Task Force agents by a confidential informant, Johnson said.

Related arrests

During a separate Recorder's Court hearing Thursday afternoon, Task Force agents outlined three arrests that resulted from the investigation.

Around 7 p.m. Wednesday, an informant placed a recorded call to a unit at Northwoods Apartments at 5000 Armour Road, Metro Agent J. Ellerbee said. Four ounces of crack cocaine were ordered from a man known as "Bo-Jack."

"The person said they had nothing at the time and that 'all they had was walking out the door right now,' " Ellerbee testified. While those words were being recorded, agents watching the apartment observed a man leaving the unit. Agents followed as the man drove to a Popeye's restaurant on Wynnton Road.

The driver was later identified as Michael Powell, 31. Inside the car, agents recovered more than $6,000 worth of crack cocaine. Powell pleaded innocent to one count of trafficking in cocaine and remained held Thursday without bond at the Muscogee County Jail.

The informant whom agents had been dealing with also explained that the occupants inside the apartment unit were waiting for "a supplier to resupply" them drugs and that they would arrive in a Yukon, Johnson said.

Johnson said a gray Yukon had "later showed up at the apartment." That Yukon was followed from the apartment and later stopped along the interstate, with Walker and its occupants ordered out.

Around 10:50 p.m., drug agents returned to the Armour Road apartment to execute a search warrant.

Inside apartment 3G, agents found two men, both of them convicted felons and one wanted on outstanding warrants since 1999. Arrested on drug and gun charges were: Thomas Randall, 33, and Darren Jackson, 32. Randall was ordered held on more than $15,000 bond. Jackson was held without bond.

A 9 mm gun was recovered near Jackson, who was sitting near a bed, Agent J. Memmo said. Also recovered were $2,700 worth of cocaine, a set of digital scales, plastic baggies, and an empty gallon bag with cocaine residue hidden inside a speaker system.

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