Originally created 07/01/00

Felon shoots officer; police force shaken



A Wrens police officer was recovering from gunshot wounds late Friday after an ex-convict opened fire during an early-morning traffic stop, according to the Wrens Police Department.

At about 4:30 a.m., Sgt. Willie Nelson Jr. pulled over a Ford Ranger, possibly for weaving, Wrens Police Chief Harold Usry said. As the officer walked toward the truck, the driver jumped out, fired four rounds at him from a .40-caliber pistol, then fled the scene on foot, he said.

Sgt. Nelson, 36, an 11-year veteran with the force, was shot once in the left hand and once in the upper right thigh, the chief said. He summoned police and paramedics himself as he lay in the parking lot of Green Meadows Apartments off Denny Road in Wrens.

A sleeping passenger in the pickup was jolted awake, and reportedly stayed with the fallen officer until help arrived.

Sgt. Nelson was listed in fair condition late Friday.

More than five hours after the shooting, Demetrius Birt, 24, was arrested at his father's house about five blocks from the apartment complex. He had recently been released from prison, and is being held in the Jefferson County jail without bond on charges of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Mr. Birt has been in and out of jail since 1994 on a variety of drug and assault charges. According to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, he was arrested in 1995 for fighting with police.

Speaking from the family room at Medical College of Georgia, Chief Usry said the incident has shaken department members charged with protecting the small town in Jefferson County about 20 miles southwest of Hephzibah. Sgt. Nelson is one of eight officers.

"You just don't expect something like that," Chief Usry said. "It just opens up a reality factor. It can happen to anyone in the department."

The Thomson post of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or jedwards92@hotmail.com.