Residents' anger boils at police

Supporters of Justin Elmore say it doesn't matter if he has a lengthy criminal record or what he might have done to provoke sheriff's deputies Sunday -- they still had no right to shoot him.

"They gonna kill everybody with a record?" said Sha'keela McNair, 22, who identified herself as Mr. Elmore's girlfriend. "They shot him for nothing. He didn't have no gun."

After an accidental fire broke out at an apartment and once again drew police and fire trucks into the housing project Monday, angry residents of Cherry Tree Crossing and surrounding neighborhoods gathered at the place where Mr. Elmore's SUV came to a stop near 15th Street and Carver Drive. It wasn't far from where a throng of people had hurled bottles and rocks at police cars in the hours after the shooting.

"This ain't nothing," Cruz Sharpton, 22, said of the bedlam. "It's just beginning."

It was a sentiment echoed by several people.

They said they don't trust the police, and they're fed up with what they perceive as harassment, racial profiling and a cavalier attitude toward the poor and powerless.

"You've got to figure, these people are close," said Frank Thomas, the executive director of the Augusta-Richmond County Human Relations Commission. "That's their area. Sometimes they don't trust the police, and the police have their job to do."

Friends of Mr. Elmore said he goes by Jed, is a construction worker and has three children -- a 2-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 1 and 6 months.

Ms. McNair said he was shot in his head and chest, and his mother is keeping vigil at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.

"I put (the police) at fault for everything that happened," said Ashley Brown, 22, who lives in an apartment near the spot where police cars boxed in Mr. Elmore's SUV on Sunday before the shooting erupted. "They should have done the pursuit better than that."

A few doors down, Tavares Green is still furious, too.

During the shooting, two bullets went into his girlfriend's apartment, whizzing within inches of his 8-month-old son and 8-year-old daughter.

Mr. Green showed a reporter the bullet holes in a glass window and a wood front door, and where they lodged in a Sheetrock wall and hit a stereo speaker.

"They could have shot her in the back," said Mr. Green, a city employee in the roads and bridges division. "My little boy's head could have been bust open."

Mr. Thomas said he was unsure what position the Human Relations Commission will take on the matter.

The city cut the commission from next year's budget, and he's working to close all pending cases so the office can be shut down by the end of February.

Otherwise, he would be involved, Mr. Thomas said, helping to "sift through the smoke" and find out whether police overstepped their bounds.

After the 1998 killing of Alfaigo Davis, a similar incident in which police shot a man they said was trying to run them over, Mr. Thomas called for a police review board, which was rejected by Sheriff Charlie Webster. The two officers were later cleared of any wrongdoing.

Had the review board not been rejected, it might have built up credibility by now and could come in handy, Mr. Thomas said.

"People become emotional when things like that happen," he said. "Maybe they need some help. Maybe they need some kind of counseling."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

CHERRY TREE CROSSING

With 389 apartments and 1,018 residents, Cherry Tree Crossing is the city's largest public housing project, one of 13 federally funded developments providing affordable housing to low-income families and elderly residents. The average household income in Cherry Tree Crossing is $7,917. Apartments there range from one to five bedrooms.

Cherry Tree was formed through the merging of two developments, Sunset Homes and Sunset Homes Extension, constructed in 1940 and 1952. After renovations in the early 1990s, the two parts were renamed Cherry Tree Crossing and Cherry Tree Crossing Extension. They were merged into a single project last year.

The section along Carver Drive, where the shooting occurred Sunday, is part of the newer section constructed in 1952.

For about $600,000 per year, the Augusta Housing Authority contracts with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office to provide 15 extra deputies to patrol housing projects.

The deputies involved in the shooting were part of "housing patrol."

BREAKDOWN OF CHERRY TREE RESIDENTS BY AGE

0-6 years old 301

7-18 years old 302

19 and older 415

BREAKDOWN OF RESIDENTS BY RACE

Black 1,006

White 11

Other 1

Source: Augusta Housing Authority Director of Resident Services Buddy Oldfield

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