Henry County honors fallen officers

By Aisha I. Jefferson

Two Henry County Police officers who died in the line of duty were honored Friday during a memorial service that also officially declared May 13 as Law Enforcement Memorial Day in Henry County. The memorial service was held in front of the Henry County Police headquarters in McDonough.

Henry County Police Chief Russell Abernathy also was honored for the bravery he displayed during a brief stand-off with a Stockbridge man last November.

Officer Chuck Haist, 32, wrecked while en route to assist other officers on a burglary call Feb. 16 in Stockbridge.

Sgt. Jimmy Gilbert, 41, died in a traffic accident May 2, 2004 when he rear-ended a truck parked off the northbound lanes of Interstate 75. They are the only Henry County Police officers to die in the line of duty.

Public Safety Director Mike Turner presented Haist's sister, Kathalee MacDonald, with the Medical of Honor, which the American Police Museum awarded to Haist posthumously.

At least 10 other members of Haist's family were present, including his mother, Virginia Haist.

"The Henry County Police department is top-notch," MacDonald said. "They're our family."

Gilbert's name was added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Friday, and Haist's name will be added next year.

To Abernathy's surprise, the two fallen officers weren't the only ones who were recognized for their contributions to the police department.

Abernathy appeared to be completely shocked when Turner and Abernathy's wife, Chryl, presented him with the Medal of Valor for "willfully (exposing) himself to danger."

Hubert Sprayberry, 43, led police on an hours-long manhunt where he shot at officers. Sprayberry, who had a handgun, surrendered after Abernathy negotiated with him.

"He basically negotiated the situation out on a face-to-face" Turner said. "It's an extremely dangerous type of negotiation to take."

Ironically, Sprayberry is one of the four inmates who escaped from Henry County Jail last week. All of the inmates are back in Henry County Sheriff's custody.

Abernathy said he "had no earthly idea" that he was going to be honored.

"I accept this on behalf of all the police officers in this county," Abernathy said. "Every man and woman in this police department is a hero."

Friday also wrapped up a week of activities leading up to the observance of National Police Week, May 15-21. Friday, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which maintains a memorial with the names of 17,000 officers killed in the line of duty, held a candle-light vigil in Washington, D.C.