Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Johnathan Bun, 17, enters a plea of not guilty to felony charges stemming from the July 20 shooting death of Clayton County Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Daly. With him are his attorney, Lloyd Matthews, and Chief Assistant District Attorney Erman Tanjuatco. Bun is being held without bond in the Henry County Jail.
There was nothing thin about the blue line associated with public safety officers the day in July when a Clayton County sheriff's deputy was gunned down on a quiet street in a Riverdale neighborhood.
Clayton Sheriff Kem Kimbrough was in Lexington, Ky., at a national conference for black law enforcement officers when he got the call that Deputy Rick Daly had been shot during a felony traffic stop.
As required by law, a uniformed officer in a marked patrol car is needed to initiate a stop to make an arrest on felony warrants. Daly was in the area and answered the call for assistance. Two officers from the fugitive squad, and Deputy Minh Doan, were also at the stop.
The shooter fled, and was the subject of a massive manhunt. On one level of reality, time slowed to a trickle. On another, the minutes flew into hours in a matter of seconds.
"Lexington police were ready to go, to get us to the airport, and Delta and the TSA were briefed on what happened," Kimbrough said. "Delta moved heaven and earth to get us on the next thing smoking. The other Georgia folks in Kentucky were calling back home telling their people to get into place in Clayton. It was awesome. I didn't have to ask for anything. It just happened."
Kimbrough juggled incoming and outgoing calls on two BlackBerry phones to the point they lost power. "People gave up their chargers for my BlackBerry," he said. "They just plugged them in and handed the other end to me. People were whipping out their iPads and pulling up the news coverage to see what was going on. It was incredible."
In between calls from about 20 other agencies wanting to know where to send their officers to aid in the search for the shooter, Kimbrough spoke frequently to Clayton Fire and Emergency Services Chief Jeff Hood.
"He had the most up-to-date information on Rick's condition," he said. "He was completely honest with me and told me it didn't look good. They were doing everything they could, but they just didn't think he'd make it."
Daly was taken to Southern Regional Hospital in Riverdale. He'd been shot twice at close range, outside the protection of his bulletproof vest. Inside the emergency room, doctors and nurses worked to save his life. One doctor had changed out of his scrubs and was on his way out the door when the call came in.
"When he heard it was a deputy, he stayed," said Kimbrough. "They had to operate on him right there in the emergency room. They did everything they could to save his life. From what I understand, the doctor was completely covered in blood. They were devastated that they were unable to save him."
Kimbrough got the death confirmation from Hood before he even got back to Atlanta.
Daly is the first county officer in Clayton to die by gunfire in the line of duty. Forest Park patrolman, Richard Cash, was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1996. Several public safety officers have died in car or motorcycle crashes, while on the job.
The search for the alleged shooter in the Daly case intensified. The residential neighborhood where Daly initiated the traffic stop grew crowded with officers in all colors of uniforms. A deputy from Monroe County, some 50 miles to the south, just showed up.
"He said, 'I was told to come here. Where do you want me?'" said Kimbrough.
Sirens pierced through a light summer rain as patrol cars raced through the streets of Clayton County. It was a show of force designed to rattle the shooter into believing he was surrounded. Escape was impossible. Capture was inevitable.
The heavy gray clouds darkened into night. The warm weather brought out curious and anxious residents. Motorists, who passed the command post at East Fayetteville Road and Ga. 139, honked and hooted their support for the officers. It seemed the whole county waited on pins and needles for word that the shooter had been caught.
The solidarity was comforting to Kimbrough. "If I got shot in Clayton County, I know the world is coming to save me," he said. "I know because I've seen it. That relationship that means so much. There is a bond cemented forever."
About five hours later, and less than a mile away from the shooting scene, the search ended with the discovery of the alleged shooter hiding in the woods. Johnathan Bun, two months past his 17th birthday, was arrested on charges of felony and malice murder, for Daly's death. The warrants that sparked the felony traffic stop were for allegedly robbing a Forest Park store in January.
A subsequent investigation revealed the gun used to kill Daly belonged to the Georgia Department of Corrections, and had been stolen.
The shooting and its aftermath have altered the men and women of the sheriff's department. It is probably Clayton County’s “most significant” crime of 2011, Kimbrough said.
"We're more connected to our brothers and sisters in other agencies who have lost officers," said Kimbrough. "We reach out more. The sense of family is more solid than beforehand. We closed ranks around Rick's family, too. We've looked after them. We have a sense of what we have at home. We're more aware of what's waiting for us at home, and of each other, too."
The sheriff's office held several fund-raisers for Daly's widow, who was a homemaker who relied on her husband's income. The fugitive investigators, who were with Daly the day he was shot, were hailed as heroes and awarded Medals of Honor. The state's case against Bun churns through the judicial system.
Daly's mother, Joyce Ormond Daly, of Hampton, has attended every hearing, sometimes accompanied by one or more of his sisters. His widow, Cheryl, keeps a low profile. His daughter, Amber, has her children and husband to care for. His son, Toby, is a lieutenant with the Fayette County Sheriff's Office, with his own family.
They all try to remain upbeat.
"Rick Daly didn't believe in dark days," said Kimbrough. "He was bright. I can't imagine being Toby and not being able to pick up the phone and talk to my daddy. You know, Rick was the rock of that family. They're gonna have tough days."
Daly is never far from the minds of Clayton deputies, especially on close calls. Kimbrough said keeping Daly alive in spirit is healthy.
"Memory without guidance can be destructive, but with leadership, preserving his memory is positive," he said. "It's good to remember. It's good to have that swelling in your chest to remind you of what's important. They know what brotherhood means now.
“They were there that day."