Pastor’s Widow Awarded $832,000.00 in Fees and Expenses


On June 13, 2014, U. S. District Court Judge Richard W. Story awarded Abigail Marilyn Ayers, the widow of Jonathan Paul Ayers, attorneys fees and expenses in the amount of $832,200.19. This award comes at the conclusion of a jury trial in which the jury previously awarded Mrs. Ayers $2,325,000.00. Following the entry of the jury’s verdict, Judge Story reduced the jury’s lost wage award in order to reduce it to its present cash value. This reduction was over Mrs. Ayers’ objections and may be the subject of an appeal. Having prevailed in the wrongful death case against the Drug Task Force Officer involved, Billy Shane Harrison, Mrs. Ayers had sought the award of attorneys’ fees and expenses under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Judge Story’s fee award is believed to be the largest award ever rendered in the Gainesville, Georgia Division for a successful civil rights claimant. Lead counsel for Mrs. Ayers was Richard W. Hendrix of the Atlanta firm Finch McCranie, LLP.

In addition to entering judgment for the Plaintiff, Judge Story also ordered the Defendant to post a Supersedeas Bond in the amount of $2.9 million in order to stay the execution of the judgment pending appeal. The Court awarded total judgment to Mrs. Ayers in the amount of $2,479,256.19. It is anticipated that the central issue on appeal will be whether the Trial Court properly denied Officer Harrison’s claims for qualified immunity. That defense has been previously rejected by Judge Story and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The jury also rejected Harrison’s claims of self-defense.

It is noteworthy that following the jury’s verdict in this case, the same Drug Task Force has become embroiled in yet another case involving allegations of the use of excessive force. An informant of a the same Drug Task Force involved in the wrongful death of Jonathan Ayers is a central player in the ongoing tragedy involving numerous media reports indicating that 19 month old toddler Vounkham Phonesavanh was tragically burned by a flash grenade that had been tossed into his crib while sleeping during a “no knock” raid conducted by the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office. The Habersham County Sheriff’s Office is a member of the Mountain Judicial Circuit Task Force, the same drug task force which employed Billy

Shane Harrison when Reverend Ayers was shot and killed in Toccoa, Georgia. According to media reports, an informant of the same Task Force provided the information which allegedly justified the “no knock” drug raid which culminated in the use of flash grenade seriously injuring the innocent toddler.

Both the Ayers case, and the case involving the use of the flash grenade involve significant issues of whether excessive force is being used in the fight against illegal drugs. Both cases starkly illustrate the dangers of using excessive and unreasonable force when innocent civilians become caught up in the investigations. In the Ayers case, a jury in Gainesville agreed that Reverend Ayers’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable force was violated when he was shot and killed by Billy Shane Harrison at a time when the preacher was unarmed and at a place where he had a right to be.

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About Richard Hendrix

Richard W. Hendrix is a former state and federal prosecutor who has more than 30 years of experience in complex civil and criminal litigation. He has also served as a mediator in Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADR).

Since joining Finch McCranie in 1985, Mr. Hendrix has built an extensive litigation practice focusing on wrongful death and serious personal injury cases as well as federal white collar criminal defense cases. He has successfully represented injured parties in personal injury cases throughout the state of Georgia. Mr. Hendrix has also effectively defended business and individuals, including a former US Congressman, against indictments and grand jury investigations. In 2006 and 2008-2012, he was selected to Georgia Super Lawyers.

He is admitted to practice in Georgia and South Carolina. Mr. Hendrix is licensed to appear before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia and the District of South Carolina as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Fifth Circuit, and Eleventh Circuit.

From 1979-1985, Mr. Hendrix served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. He was also Associate Independent Counsel for the investigation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1991-1992.

Mr. Hendrix graduated with cum laude honors from Davidson College and he received his law degree from Emory University. Since 1992, Mr. Hendrix has been an Adjunct Professor of Litigation at Georgia State University College of Law. He is also a Master of the Bench with the Lamar American Inn of Court where he works to enhance the professional, ethics and skills of the legal community.

Mr. Hendrix has also authored numerous articles including: “High Speed Police Chases and Injured Innocent By-Standers,” The Verdict (Summer, 2015) “Tolling the Statute of Limitations in Tort Cases for Victims of a Crime,” The Verdict (Fall, 2007); “A Refresher On the Federal Tort Claims Act,” The Verdict (Winter, 1999); “Rule 16 and the Jencks Act: A Need for Legal Reform,” Calendar Call (Winter, 1996); “Corporate Criminal Liability: The Need for Effective Compliance Programs,” South Carolina Lawyer (March/April, 1993); “Crossing State Lines in Wrongful Death Actions: Traps for the Unwary,” The Verdict (Fall, 1990); and “White Collar Crime: New Tools for Prosecution,” The Atlanta Lawyer (Summer, 1986)