On July 21, 2015, Wayne County resident Jerrod Tyre was shot and killed in his own backyard by a Wayne County Sheriff’s Office Deputy. A few months ago, when we were approached about covering this case, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Then, when all the alarming cop videos came out, and then the protests that turned into riots, my reluctance intensified. There have been wrongs committed and misinformation released from both sides, fueling the fire that’s tearing this nation apart.
Police officers have a tough job. They risk their lives, deal with the worst in people, and are disrespected on a day-to-day basis. The good ones aren’t paid enough for what they do, and they deserve our respect. The night Jerrod Tyre died, some good officers were on duty, those who did their best to de-escalate a volatile situation.
But a man is dead, and Jerrod Tyre and his family are owed a proper investigation. They deserve the chance to have their questions honestly answered. Questions such as why were officers on Jerrod’s property that night? Why weren’t non-lethal options used? And most importantly, was Jerrod Tyre's death justified?
The jury from the coroners inquest didn’t think so. After viewing the evidence, the jury unanimously decided that Jerrod Tyre’s death was an unjustified homicide.
On December 7, 2015, four-and-a-half months after Jerrod Tyre’s death, a coroner's inquest was held.
A coroner's inquest is performed at the coroner's request and is used to determine the cause of death. A coroner's inquest is not a criminal prosecution; it is a fact-finding court proceeding to discover the truth and makes the evidence available to the public.
In this case, the jury unanimously voted that Jerrod Tyre’s death was an unjustified homicide. This is where The Baxley Informer’s investigation began. Still, halfway through the 127-page transcript of the coroner's inquest, we started having doubts. Some things jumped out as unusual, but we’d mostly come to the same conclusion as the District Attorney and GBI. We almost fell for it, as we imagine the jurors almost did as well.
Assistant District Attorney John B. Johnson called only one witness at the coroner's inquest—the GBI agent in charge of the investigation. His testimony was a basic rundown of the investigation and went like this:
On July 21, 2015, Jerrod Tyre got into a domestic dispute with his fiance, Tabitha Keith. Tabitha walked away from the property and called law enforcement to report Jerrod. While interviewing Tabitha on the roadside, Jerrod was spotted driving along his property before turning around and going back toward his house. Officers followed, and when Jerrod got out of his truck, he had a pistol in his hand. Jerrod was drunk, rude, and belligerent and began demanding the officers leave his property. The officers called in the SRT for backup, who responded quickly with high-powered rifles. Jerrod Tyre was aggressive, and the officer feared for his life. Officer Brantley shot Jerrod three times to protect himself and other officers.
Based on that quick synopsis, it sounds like an open-and-closed case. So why did the jury conclude it was an unjustified homicide?
A Second Look
Things aren’t always as they seem. Sometimes you have to dig deep and search desperately to find the truth. Other times all you need is to read until the end.
We had almost been convinced. Up until the very end of the coroner's inquest when the jury surprised everyone by coming back with an "unjustified homicide" verdict. The jury had been cautious. Twice they asked for clarification before returning with a unanimous vote when only a majority was needed.
What was it that made up their minds?
This entire case started when Tabitha Keith called in a complaint of domestic violence against Jerrod Tyre. When officers responded to the area, they saw her walking on the roadside and stopped to get her statement. From the dashcam video of the officer’s car, the entire conversation can be heard.
Gunshots were firing in the distance as Tabitha Keith demanded the officers arrest Jerrod. When Tabitha complained that they should do something about him firing that gun, Officer Manning told Tabitha that “people were allowed to fire guns on their own property,” and then asked for her side of the story. Tabitha conceded, telling her story and showing them the cuts and scrapes she’d sustained. She failed to disclose that some, if not all, of the wounds were obtained earlier in the day when she busted out a window during an argument with her ex-husband, who was not Jerrod Tyre.
About that time, officers saw a truck on Jerrod’s property pull up close enough to see them before it turned and headed back toward Jerrod’s house. Deputies followed the vehicle onto Jerrod’s property, where Jerrod Tyre got out with a pistol in his hand. When officers told Jerrod to drop his weapon, he refused.
Right away, it is easy to see that this could become a volatile situation.
If you continue the story without analyzing this situation, it would be easy to believe that what ensued was justified. But was it?
Officer Manning told Tabitha Keith just moments before that Jerrod had the right to shoot his gun on his property. The only reason officers had for being there was to investigate the domestic violence allegation by Tabitha.
According to Georgia law, both parties must be interviewed whenever there has been domestic violence, to determine who the primary aggressor was. Having cuts or scrapes doesn’t prove you’re the innocent party. You must reasonably show that you weren’t the attacker. To determine this, police interview both parties. These officers would have known this, which is why they insisted that Tabitha explain her side of the story.
During her statement, Tabitha had told officers that she was going to her mother’s house, which put her out of harm’s way. Therefore, the only reason the police had for being on Jerrod’s property that evening was to get his side of the story.
Tabitha Keith had already warned the officers that Jerrod had been drinking that day, which would make any testimony he gave inadmissible in court. These officers had little reason to remain on Jerrod Tyre’s property. They could have backed away, ensured that Tabitha Keith did in-fact have somewhere else to stay for the night, and then return in the morning to take Jerrod’s statement.
That did not happen.
Instead, officers stayed despite Jerrod demanding that they leave his property. Jerrod Tyre had been drinking that day. The autopsy report showed that his alcohol level was .167. When officers came onto Jerrod’s property, he became agitated and yelled at them when they wouldn’t leave. Jerrod was as belligerent and disrespectful as the officers claimed. Still, according to the GBI interviews, even though he fired his gun a few times into the ground and tree-line behind him, Jerrod never pointed his gun at the officers. Videos show Jerrod pacing around and talking to officers with his pistol by his side. He can be heard cursing, asserting his second amendment rights, and telling officers to get off his property. Officer Karnegay, one of the responding officers, holstered his gun in hopes of calming Jerrod and tried to convince him to put down his weapon.
During this exchange, Officer Manning called in the SRT (Sheriff’s Response Team). An SRT is a small-town equivalent to SWAT and is governed by the sheriff. According to the Wayne County SRT Policy, the purpose of SRT is to “successfully resolve a crisis situation.” It should be activated under the following situations:
Nothing on this list applies to this situation, considering the officers had no clear objective in being there. Officers shouldn’t have escalated this situation, and there appears to be no policy to back up their actions. Yet, SRT was activated anyway, in an apparent violation of policy.
Officer Brantley, the off-duty, on-call detective that night, received notification that SRT was activated at approximately 8:20pm and arrived on the scene by 8:37pm. About four minutes after arriving, Officer Brantley shot and killed Jerrod Tyre.
Officer Brantley was highly trained. He was a former MP (Military Police) for the U.S. Army. He’d worked for the Jesup Police Department for a little over a year and a half before transferring to the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, where he’d worked for almost two years.
How does a highly trained officer with only four minutes on the scene decide to shoot and kill in a manner that a jury unanimously voted unjustified?
Did Jerrod Tyre and Officer Brantley know each other?
According to Jerrod's family and a yearbook photo, Jerrod Tyre and Officer Brantley were in FFA together in high school. While it’s possible they didn’t know each other, it’s highly unlikely considering the small size of the school and the minimal members of the club. Yet, during his GBI interview after the shooting, Officer Brantley claimed he didn’t know Jerrod Tyre.
What happened on the evening of July 21, 2015, when Officer Brantley arrived? Why has there been so much controversy?
When SRT members began arriving, their guns caused Jerrod Tyre to become more agitated. Keep in mind, the officers had no real objective here. Jerrod had told them multiple times to get off his property. Not only did they refuse to leave, but more showed up and pointed their weapons at him.
Twenty-five minutes into the ‘standoff,’ Officer Brantley arrived and pulled out his M-16 and moved behind the open passenger-side door of Officer Kornegay’s truck, and took aim at Jerrod Tyre.
A distant video taken from an officer’s helmet camera showed Jerrod approach the officers. He’d stopped yelling and never lifted his weapon as he steadily walked toward them. Officer Brantley repeatedly yelled at him to “stop.” Jerrod calmly responded “no” each time. When Jerrod was within 10 feet of Officer Brantley, and he’d just been told to stop for the third time, Officer Brantley shot Jerrod three times in rapid succession. Once in the face and twice in the chest.
Officer Brantley was a trained marksman. With an M-16 rifle at ten feet, it’s highly unlikely he missed. Why did Officer Brantley shoot Jerrod Tyre in the face? The Use of Force policy says that deadly use of force is “intended to be defensive” and used only to “achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective.” Officers are trained to aim just above the belly. But a shot to the face is intended to kill, and there is nothing defensive about that. And while Jerrod Tyre had displayed poor judgment that evening, what ‘legitimate law enforcement objective’ did the officers have in being there? Why did they insist on staying when they could have returned in the morning to get his statement?
Officer Brantley claimed he’d feared for his life and that of his fellow deputies. Fear for one’s life is one of the few justifications for homicide. But the officers had sniper rifles aimed at Jerrod Tyre. They were shielded by the vehicles they hid behind, they were sober, highly trained, and if Jerrod lifted his weapon, they would’ve taken him down in an instant. So was Officer Brantley’s fear and subsequent shooting justified? Again, the jury didn’t think so.
Every officer interviewed claimed that even though Jerrod never pointed his gun at them, Jerrod approached them “in a quick manner,” “fast,” and with an “aggressive bowed-up posture.” Every officer but one. Only one officer admitted to seeing what we saw, Jerrod steadily walking toward them with his hands and weapon by his side.
The local GBI office was called to investigate. By 9:15pm, Special Agent Lawrence Kelly arrived on the scene and began his investigation.
Officer Brantley had been off-duty when SRT had been activated. When asked if Officer Brantley had been drinking that evening, he’d answered no, and Agent Kelly took his word for it. Now, this may be standard procedure, but it doesn’t seem right. After workplace accidents, many employees are drug and alcohol tested whenever an incident occurs. Yet, in this case, a man was dead, and the investigator took only the officer’s word that he hadn’t been drinking.
Agent Kelly, the GBI Special Agent in-charge of the investigation, knew Officer Brantley. They knew each other well enough that in his interview, Agent Kelly stated he knew Officer Brantley and mentioned how he’d been a former paramedic. Did their familiarity with each other change how Agent Kelly investigated this case? And as the only witness at the coroner's inquest, was his investigation and testimony unbiased?
Coroner's Inquest Verdict
Much of the information from the previous section was not disclosed in the coroner's inquest. In fact, the jury was told that the sheriff’s department claimed no policies had been violated and never bothered to clarify whether that was true. Special Agent Lawrence Kelly did, however, state that the GBI was not interested in the departmental policies and it wasn’t part of their investigation.
Despite all the information not mentioned in the coroner's inquest, the jury still concluded that Jerrod Tyre’s homicide was unjustified. Why?
After all the evidence was shown and the jury convened, they immediately requested to see the video labeled Exhibit 69. They watched the video and then returned to deliberations. An hour passed, and the jury returned, asking the court to hear the charge again. The possible charges were read for the jury, along with an explanation for each.
Another hour later, the jury returned with a verdict: Homicide, Not Justified.
As previously stated, the coroner's inquest almost had us convinced it was a justified homicide, and we’d assume the jury would have been convinced as well. But the jurors were selected from the previously-seated grand jury, they’d done this before, and they were cautious. From what we could conclude, it must have been something they saw in the video labeled Exhibit 69 that swayed them.
Exhibit 69 was what Agent Kelly claimed to be the “primary” video. It was the dashcam video from Officer Kornegay’s truck, the truck that Officer Brantley had positioned himself behind, and had the best, up-close and unobstructed view of the shooting.
After the coroner's inquest, when the files became public, this video should’ve been available to the public. Yet, when the family's lawyer tried to obtain it, he ran into some alarming roadblocks. He originally went to the Clerk of Court, but then was told he had to get it from the judge. When he got to the judge's office, he was sent back to the Clerk of Court, and told that the judge had sealed the video and it couldn't be released. When the clerk's office was asked to provide the documentation proving the video had been sealed, they changed their tune, and pulled up their records. According to the lawyer, the clerk's face suddenly paled as she stared at her computer screen, then, without any explanation she claimed she couldn't release the video, and she was afraid she'd lose her job if she did.
Apparently, somebody went to great lengths to hide this video.
Even when we searched through the GBI case file, we discovered that the "primary" video was missing. When we contacted the GBI and tried to obtain it, we got the same runaround the family had gotten at the Clerk of Court's office. They began by claiming they’d already given us everything. When we produced proof that the video was missing, they backtracked and claimed it must have been saved to their archives. Why that video would have been placed in the archives and not all the other videos in that case file was never mentioned. They eventually "found" it and said they'd mail it to us. Assuming it’s the correct video, we’ll post it as soon as it's received.
It seems oddly coincidental that the video the GBI considered to be the “primary” video was somehow “unavailable” at the Wayne County Courthouse AND was the same video that the GBI had “misplaced.”
Of the videos we did have access to, this one was the best:
***WARNING: This video is very graphic***
The jury determined that Jerrod Tyre had been verbally aggressive but not violently aggressive. He never pointed his gun at the officers, and his actions didn't justify the use of deadly force.
Despite the jury’s ruling, District Attorney Jackie Johnson declined to proceed with criminal charges, and according to a post in the local paper, Jackie claimed that a coroner's inquest was just an “antiquated” system.
Antiquated or not, the purpose of a coroner's inquest is to find the truth of a situation and make it public. For a district attorney with a record for keeping things hush-hush, we can understand her disdain. But even so, why would she ignore the coroner's inquest jury if she already intended to take it to a grand jury anyway?
On July 27, 2015, prior to the coroner's inquest, District Attorney Jackie Johnson filed a motion to stop the release of all evidence until the completion of the investigation. At that time, she intended to present the evidence to a grand jury. But then, eight months after the coroner's inquest deemed it an unjustified homicide, DA Jackie Johnson changed her mind and refused to prosecute.
If District Attorney Jackie Johnson’s intent had been to present the evidence to a grand jury, why didn’t she go through with it? The coroner's inquest was comprised of the previously-seated grand jury, and they’d come to a unanimous decision. A case could be made that a grand jury would’ve come to the same verdict as the coroner's inquest. Would Jackie have ignored their ruling too? Or was the coroner's inquest verdict the reason she decided against taking it to a grand jury?
It seemed that DA Jackie Johnson’s office, an office charged with prosecuting criminal acts, was biased against prosecuting a potentially criminal act. The District Attorney’s office asked all the questions during the coroner's inquest and then refused to accept the verdict. It’s as if they assumed since they controlled the flow of information, they could control the result. But they didn’t get the result they expected, and it took them eight months to say so.