ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The family of a man who was fatally shot last week by police is demanding more answers and enlisting the help of attorneys and activists to question the use of deadly force in the case.
The family of Jai “Jerry” Williams gathered outside the Buncombe County courthouse for a press conference Wednesday, accompanied by John Barnett II, a Charlotte-based activist with the national civil rights group True Healing Under God.
Williams, 35, was fatally shot by Asheville Police Sgt. Tyler Radford at the entrance to Deaverview Apartments following a police chase Saturday evening. Authorities said the officer was in fear for his life after seeing Williams armed with an AR-15 rifle.
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Williams’ mother, Najiyyah Avery, called her son’s death “an unnecessary, unjustified shooting,” in a statement read at the event. “My son was not a man of violence. He was a hard-working American who took care of his children.”.
Genya Williams, Jerry Williams’ older brother, said of the police investigation, “none of this makes sense… I want people to tell the truth.”.
Other family members questioned if “excessive force was used” in the shooting and accused the police department of “covering up the truth,” citing witnesses who said no gun was visible at the time of the shooting.
Photos obtained by the Citizen-Times show Williams lying on the ground next to what appears to be a black rifle. The family did not offer evidence of any police wrongdoing.
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Barnett, who spoke on the family’s behalf, evoked examples of other black men shot by police in recent years including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., And Eric Garner in New York City in 2014. He also referenced Jonathan Ferrell who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Charlotte in 2013, among others.
“When you get all kinds of races coming together America has a problem,” he said. “America wasn’t built on love. I love America, but we have some issues.”.
“Today the mother asked us to help, and I gladly came to Asheville,” Barnett said. “We ask today that the police in Asheville be very sensitive to the loss of life. I don’t know if there was a gun pointed at the officer, but I do know one thing that innocent blood cries from the grave.”.
Barnett said he plans to sit down with several witnesses to the shooting, including some who have video footage, and plans to talk to police. He also plans to speak to Jerry Williams’ girlfriend who was in the car with him at the time of the shooting, he said.
His organization is also working to attain Christopher Chestnut, an attorney from Florida, to fight a legal battle on the family’s behalf, Barnett said following the press conference.
In recent years, Jerry Williams hasn’t been the only black man shot and killed by Asheville police officers.
In 2006, Lacy Pickens III was fatally shot by officers at a Cracker Barrel, according to his widow, who spoke at the conference.
“He was executed,” Kecia White said. “I will never get over it. They took the father of my kids away. There was no justice and things were covered up.”.
Police said Pickens tried to run over officers with his car. Then-District Attorney Ron Moore determined the death was justified.
White hopes that people will continue asking questions even “as time goes on,” she said. “Things need to get shaken up and keep going.”.