Sheriff defends deputies

Video from Sheriff Ronnie Strength's press conference on the Cherry Tree Crossing shooting.

Two Richmond County deputies appear justified in shooting a man who tried to run one of them over Sunday at Cherry Tree Crossing, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said Monday. But the incident is still under investigation by internal affairs and the GBI, he said.

"I know last night while we were out, there were many, many, many rumors circulating throughout the county on exactly what took place, but we want everybody to wait until the investigation is completed and to definitely wait until the video is seen by the public, and they will understand the actions of our officers," Sheriff Strength said.

According to the tape, it appears the deputies, Jose Rivera Ortiz and Michael Hodge, were defending themselves, he said. Neither has been involved in an officer-related shooting in the past. Both have been assigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation.

The deputies were responding to a tip about a man with drugs and weapons in an SUV when they boxed in Justin Leonard Elmore, 23, using their patrol cars, Sheriff Strength said. As Deputy Ortiz approached from the front on foot, Mr. Elmore put his SUV in reverse, rammed Deputy Hodge's car and drove toward Deputy Ortiz.

Sheriff Strength later confirmed that Deputy Ortiz fired at Mr. Elmore but was unsure whether Deputy Hodge did, too. He didn't know how many shots had been fired.

Mr. Elmore was in critical condition at Medical College of Georgia Hospital late Monday.

"We don't dictate shooting our weapons," Sheriff Strength said. "The bad guys dictate when we shoot our weapons."

The SUV will be searched once the GBI obtains a search warrant, he said, adding that drugs and ammunition can be seen inside.

An angry crowd at Cherry Tree Crossing grew to a few hundred people, and 40 to 50 deputies responded to control the scene, where trash bins and a car were set ablaze, bottles and rocks were thrown at deputies and firefighters and gunshots were fired throughout the night, the sheriff said. Eight extra deputies have been assigned to that area as security.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

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