Law enforcement remembered at memorial ceremony
Published 2:35 pm Monday, May 21, 2018
By Ken Gustafson
AMERICUS — Several law enforcement officers from the City of Americus, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office and Georgia Southwestern State University, as well as the families of recently slain officers, gathered on Tuesday, May 15, outside the Russell Thomas Jr. Public Safety Building for a the inaugural Peace Officers Memorial Day Ceremony to remember all of the Americus and Sumter County police officers, dating back to 1839, who had lost their lives in the line of duty.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy designated May 15 as Peace Officer Memorial Day, and the week in which that falls as National Police Week.
“This is our first annual police officers’ memorial celebration. We will be recognizing the officers that lost their lives in the line of duty, dating back as
far back as the late 1800s,” said Col. Eric Bryant, chief deputy of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. “This is the first event that we hope to continue on an annual basis,” Bryant said. “It gives us an opportunity to reflect and remember the officers that have given the ultimate sacrifice, that have given their lives for public safety here in Americus and Sumter County. Today, we will not only reflect and show strength for their families, but at the same time, show a sign of unity for public safety here in Americus and Sumter County.”
Bryant said they would hope that having Peace Officers Memorial Day celebrations like this one will show the community that as a public safety group of individuals, police officers come together and celebrate the good and the bad. “We are a strength of sisters and brothers, striving for service of the people here in Americus and Sumter County,” Bryant said. “The message that we hope to send to the community is that despite the negatives that happen, despite the negatives that are around us, we still stand strong and very proud and able to serve and protect.”
Charles Kinnamon, a Sumter County Sheriff’s deputy, said for him, being a part of the Peace Officers’ Memorial Day ceremony is better than anything in the world. “I love to represent those who have come before me,” Kinnamon said. “The thin blue line is an extremely important part of this job. What we do every day and what I do out on the streets, and every day when I do my job is for these people that have come before us and have given their lives in the line of duty. We’re carrying on their legacy and their memory.” Kinnamon is hopeful that having the Peace Officer Memorial Day Ceremony every year will boost morale among police officers, and possibly get more people interested in being police officers and, therefore, lowering the crime statistics in Americus and Sumter County. “I would hope that this would get the word out, get the message out and that people see this and it gives them that motivation to come out and assist their community and help out in any way they can,” Kinnamon said. “To become a part of this family, this thin blue line, to protect our community the best way we can, I would hope it would put the message out to people, and the community as well. It could motivate them as well to give us their support, as they already do, to come out in any way they can.” Kinnamon said there are groups in Americus that police their own neighborhoods and communities and assist law enforcement. “Even just regular citizens that aren’t part of, necessarily, a group, help us out every day in every way they can,” he said.
Maj. Joseph Monts of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, said there needs to be a time set aside to remember the fallen officers slain in the line of duty. “We’re making things more safer out in the community,” Monts said. “We’re memorializing the fallen officers that have lost their lives in the line of duty. It’s something that we need to take time to reflect, stop and memorialize.”
Americus Police Chief Mark Scott made his opening remarks. “Since 1982, a memorial service has been held in Washington, D.C., during Police Week to honor all fallen law enforcement officers. We were privileged to attend Police Week in Washington last year as escorts for the families of Nick Smarr and Jody Smith.” Scott said there were over 30,000 people gathered outside the Capital to honor those who had given their lives in service to their communities in 2016. “Nick and Jody were two of the nine Georgia officers, and 215 officers from across the nation whose names were inscribed on the memorial wall last year,” Scott said. “So far, this year, there have already been 53 line-of-duty deaths in the United States. That’s 53 too many.” Scott thanked the crowd for coming out to participate in remembering the fallen officers of Americus and Sumter County. He also said that people in cities and counties all over America are gathering at smaller ceremonies on this day to remember their police officers who were slain in the line of duty. “Just as importantly, we appreciate the support that you show to our men and women in uniform across the city, the state and our federal agencies, many of whom are represented here today,” Scott said.
The Rev. David Kitchens led the opening prayer, but before he prayed, Kitchens asked those assembled to bow their heads, close their eyes and block out any other things going on in their lives. He asked the crowd to focus on the officers who have given their lives to the service of Americus and Sumter County. After the prayer, there was the presentation of colors by the Joint Honor Guard, followed by the singing of the National Anthem by Latonya Bowen. Americus Mayor Barry Blount then came to the podium to read a joint proclamation, along with Sumter County Board of Commissioners Chairman Randy Howard. “I can’t think of a better time or occasion to celebrate and thank the men and women who serve our law enforcement agencies, not only in Americus, but throughout the state and throughout this nation,” Blount said. “They are the ones who answer the call every day to protect and to serve, so we honor them today for their dedication to the service of our community, but we also come here today to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in protecting and serving us.” The mayor said the gathering was also to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and that in recent years, local police officers had lost their lives, most recently, Nick Smarr and Jody Smith, who were killed in the line of duty on Dec. 7, 2016. “We come today to recognize them and their families and to thank them for their service and dedication, and to ask that God would continue to bless all the men and women who serve every day.” At that point, Howard made his proclamation. “This is very important to me because number one, I spent 31 years in law enforcement,” Howard said. “At the same time, I have three sons who are still in law enforcement. That means a lot, but it also means a lot that I know the family members who have lost loved ones here, and in the past, too.”
Howard said it’s a great honor to be here. He then read the proclamation, calling on the city of Americus and Sumter County to recognize the week of May 14-20, 2018 as Police Week. Once the proclamation was read, Eric Bryant came to the podium to introduce the keynote speaker, state Sen. Greg Kirk of District 13.
“I am honored to serve as State Senator for District 13,” Kirk said. “Today is certainly a somber occasion as we remember those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms right here at home.” Kirk said he would be remiss if he didn’t recognize the passing of Shirley Duke, who was the Magistrate Judge in Sumter County for years. Kirk then led the crowd in prayer for the Duke family. Kirk stated that tragedy struck in Senate District 13. “It first started on Aug. 13, 2016,” he said. “Eastman Police Officer Timothy Smith was killed by gunfire on a Saturday night around 8 p.m. answering what would be a routine call.” Kirk explained that somebody had called the police saying that there was a strange person hanging out by the railroad tracks in downtown Eastman. “What’s happening at 8 p.m. on Saturday? Usually, as it gets later is when it gets more interesting, as the officers can attest,” Kirk said. He described Officer Smith’s call. “There’s this gentleman there. He (Smith) gets out of the car and shortly thereafter, he’s shot and killed,” Kirk said. “I was asked to speak at a memorial service for him and I sat there, and there was a lot of us who spoke: Representative Pruitt from Dodge County, the Mayor, the City Council, County Commissioners, everybody was there.” Kirk said ¬¬he looked at the family. Officer Smith had four young children. “I’m looking at this young mother and all these children that are left behind, and I’m thinking ‘What can I say? What can I do?’ That began something inside me. It stirred up something that I knew I had to do something.”
Kirk told the crowd that on Nov. 8, a long-time officer in Crisp County, Officer Daryl Smallwood, who had recently transferred to Peach County, was killed by gunfire, along with his partner. “They were just delivering a warrant,” Kirk said. “Smallwood’s mother, as far as I know, still lives in Andersonville today. This happens again. It begins in August, then in November.” Kirk described what is still fresh on everyone’s mind in Americus: the slaying of officers Jody Smith and Nick Smarr. “You know what happened here in Americus with Nick and Jody,” Kirk said. “I’ll never forget that day. It happened at an apartment complex that I owned at the time, and I remember talking to many of the officers out there.” Kirk said he and some of the officers searched many of the apartments he owned, looking for the suspect. “It was a tragic, tragic time in our community,” Kirk said. He said that in 2017, when he went to Atlanta, he said that he knew that he had to try to deter what was happening. “Senator Tyler Harper and I drafted four pieces of legislation, and named it “Back the Badge.”
“Back the Badge came from a local resident, Aaron Cosby, who called me in December,” Kirk said. He said Cosby told him that he wanted to do something, that he wanted a specialty plate for his vehicle, but that they didn’t have any for law enforcement. Cosby asked Kirk that if he could design something to show his support for law enforcement, and asked Kirk to make that happen. Kirk told Cosby, “Absolutely.”
Cosby designed a specialty plate that supported law enforcement. “I got mine in September, when my birthday is,” Kirk said. “I got my Back the Badge tag, so when you see those tags, that was the brainchild of someone here in Sumter County, Aaron Cosby. It’s made a difference.” Kirk said all the funds go to POAB (Peace Officers Annuity Board). “I’m very honored to have been a part of making that happen and furthering the cause for law enforcement,” Kirk said. Kirk said that later on that year, the Lieutenant Governor asked him to co-chair the Compensation of Police and Sheriffs. “We called it the COPS Task Force. This year, we had four pieces of legislation that came out of the task force,” Kirk said. “Last Tuesday, the Governor signed Senate Bill 369, which will restore $4 million a year that the POAB was losing. It was just an oversight. We established a diversion force. Some of the money that was going to the Peace Officers Annuity Board for their retirement, got diverted. We changed that. We fixed that … ”
Kirk said he saw Bobby Carter of POAB last week and that Carter showed him a tag that they will be voting on soon. “Soon, in the state of Georgia, as a result of the Back the Badge tag, families who lose an officer will get a vanity tag from POAB with the officer’s number on it, and the name of the agency they were working for when they passed,” Kirk said. He said Carter will give him a report in July of the total funds that have been received from the Back the Badge tag.
“Law enforcement is a dangerous profession,” Kirk said. “The public attitude towards law enforcement has shifted in my lifetime. We need to restore the office of law enforcement to the honorable position that it should hold in our society.” He said that without law and order, the nation cannot have prosperity. “It just will not happen if there is no law and order,” Kirk said. “I appreciate, and hold in high regard, all of those who put on the uniform each and every day.” He cited some statistics. “In 2016, there were 164 deaths of law enforcement in the line of duty and 61 of those were by gunfire,” Kirk said. He said that his youngest son Jeremy will be graduating this Friday from Fort Benning and will become an Army Ranger. Kirk said that he was very concerned when his son told him that he wanted to serve in the military. “When he told me that he wanted to go into the military, that he wanted to be an Army Ranger. I said ‘Son, you want to be one of the first ones they shoot at? Is that what the deal is?’ and he said ‘No, Daddy, I want to be the tip of the spear of freedom’, and I said ‘Well, God bless you ,son. That’s what you need to do,’ and that’s what he’s going to do.”
Kirk shared with the crowd the staggering difference between deaths in the U.S. military and deaths among law enforcement officers. He stated that in 2016, 26 U.S. military personnel were killed in the line of duty, while 164 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty. “At any given time, any given moment, those numbers can change,” Kirk said. “For many years, we had up in the thousands of people in the military that were killed in the line of duty. We just happened to be in a time in 2016 when we didn’t have as much going on. Ladies and gentleman, as we stand here today to remember those who have lost their lives protecting us, ordinary citizens, let’s remember that we must support law enforcement as they do extraordinary work, and place their lives on the line each and every time they put on that uniform.” At that point, Kirk asked the crowd to join him in prayer.
After the prayer, fallen officers from Americus and Sumter County, dating all the way back to 1839, were honored. As the names of the fallen officers were read, the families and representatives of the fallen officers that were named approached three officers who were bearing wreaths. They placed carnations on the wreaths in memory of the fallen officers. This was the Roll Call and Wreath Presentation. After the name of each fallen officer was read, the bell was rung, and family members and representatives placed carnations on the wreaths in memory of that fallen officer. The first name was Officer William R. Morris of the Americus Police Department. Officer Morris was shot and killed in the line of duty on March 12, 1907. The next fallen officer to be honored was Americus Chief of Police William Cyrus Barrow. Barrow was shot and killed in the line of duty on June 27, 1913. The next fallen officer to be honored was Lt. Homer Allen Lee of the Americus Police Department. Lee lost his life in the line of duty due to gunfire on Feb. 20, 1923. Next honored was Officer Mary Anne Barker of the Americus Police Department. Barker was killed in a traffic accident on May 9, 1983. The next fallen officer to be honored was Officer Nicholas Ryan Smarr of the Americus Police Department. Smarr, along with his Officer Jody Smith of the Georgia Southwestern State University, were both gunned down on Dec. 7, 2016, while responding to a domestic call. Smarr’s mother, Janice Smarr, along with the rest of the family, approached the wreath to lay a carnation in his memory. Jody Smith was next to be honored. Smith’s mother, Sgt. Sharron Johnson, along with Smith’s stepfather, Paul Johnson, placed a carnation on the wreath in memory of their son. The last officer to be honored was Sumter County Sheriff John Kimmey. Kimmey lost his life in the line of duty due to gunfire on Dec. 11, 1839.
After the Roll Call and Wreath Presentation concluded, there was a closing prayer, followed by the playing of Taps. That concluded the ceremony.
For Janice Smarr, this was a special day for her, as her son Nick, and the rest of the fallen officers were honored. “It’s a very nice event that they’ve started doing for our boys,” she said. “We want them to be remembered for who they were, they were. They were best friends. They were good people just doing their job.” Smarr said Nick and Jody had been together since middle school, and graduated from Police Academy together. “They actually graduated on Dec. 7, 2012,” She said.
For Paul Johnson, stepfather of Jody Smith, it was also a special time to honor Officer Jody Smith, whom he raised since he was four years old. “It’s an honor to be here and to have the people of Sumter County and the city of Americus honor our sons and the other officers that were killed in the line of duty,” Johnson said. “The people of Sumter County have been absolutely gracious. It’s unbelievable how many people have reached out to Sharron, Jody’s mother, and me to express their grief and their condolences. Sumter County is a great place to be. We love it.” Johnson said Jody Smith left Sumter County to go work for his biological father, Johnny Smith, who was sheriff of Telfair County at the time. According to Johnson, Jody worked there for about a year, then came back to Sumter County to work for Sheriff Pete Smith. “He went on to Georgia Southwestern to get a little more education where he could advance even further in law enforcement,” Johnson said. “We all miss him. We all miss all of the officers that gave their lives for our community.”
For Sharron Johnson, Jody Smith’s mother, it was a humbling experience to be at the ceremony. “I’m humbled to be here. I’m humbled as an officer that all of the fallen officers are being honored,” Johnson said. “I stand here as the mother of one of the fallen officers, who is Jody Carl Smith, the love of my life. I’m so honored that this has been done today. I’ve been with the department for 20-plus years. This is the first time this has happened here in Americus, Georgia. I’m very grateful.”
Going forward, every year on May 15, there will be a Peace Officers Memorial Day Ceremony in Americus to honor those fallen officers who gave their lives to protect the citizens of Americus and Sumter County.