Popular Black Alabama Sheriff Shot to Death; White Teen Arrested

HAYNEVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Law enforcement agencies in Alabama and beyond posted messages of condolences on social media Sunday after the fatal weekend shooting of a sheriff in the state.

Few details were immediately available about the circumstances surrounding Saturday evening’s shooting and the capture of an 18-year-old suspect hours later.

William Chase Johnson, a suspect in the fatal shooting Saturday night of Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams, in Haynesville, Ala. (Elmore County Ala. Sheriff’s Office/Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

Governor Kay Ivey tweeted that Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams had been “tragically killed” in the line of duty and she offered her prayers and sympathy to his family and the county sheriff’s department.

Williams is the fifth Alabama law enforcement officer to die from gunfire in the line of duty this year, and the sixth overall, according to state Attorney General Steve Marshall.

The suspect in custody was identified as 18-year-old William Chase Johnson. Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham told news outlets that Williams was shot at a gas station.

It was unclear what, if any, role race played in the shooting.

Amid messages of condolence from law enforcement agencies Sunday, members of the public responded with prayers and well wishes for the sheriff’s family.

The state issued an emergency alert late Saturday saying it was seeking an 18-year-old white man last seen around the time of the evening shooting at a QV gas station in the Lowndes County seat of Hayneville, about 20 miles southwest of the capital Montgomery.

Sgt. Steve Jarrett, commander of state troopers’ Montgomery post, confirmed to reporters that the shooting took place at the QV station, and that Johnson was the only suspect. An emailed message announcing the alert said the man they were seeking was considered a “serious risk” and possibly was traveling on foot.

Jarrett confirmed that Johnson subsequently approached the shooting scene just after midnight and that he had a handgun with him. The state law enforcement agency canceled the emergency alert early Sunday, saying Johnson has been arrested.

“Details as to how he fled the scene and then reappeared at the scene, all that’s going to be investigated,” Jarrett told WSFA-TV.

The tall sheriff was known as “Big John.” Gov. Ivey paid tribute to him online, writing that in the sheriff’s years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps and “his many years working in law enforcement, he dedicated his life to keeping other people safe.”

Williams was first elected sheriff in 2010, running as a Democrat. He was a Lowndes County native who had begun volunteering as a reserve deputy in 1978. He worked for Hayneville police before joining the sheriff’s department full-time in 1987 and being appointed chief deputy in 1990.

“Sheriff Williams always wanted to make a difference in his community and felt there was no better way to help his community than to protect and serve them in law enforcement,” the biography states.

Lowndes County is predominantly black. It had a population of around 11,000 in the 2010 census. In 2007, more than 60 people gathered at the county courthouse to protest then-Gov. Bob Riley’s appointment of a white law enforcement officer to replace the county’s deceased sheriff. At the time, the county commission president said all five commissioners and other elected officials had recommended Williams for the position.

During his decades with the sheriff’s office, Williams in 2000 was the arresting officer of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, a 1960s black militant who was known as H. Rap Brown before converting to Islam. Al-Amin was wanted and later convicted in the fatal 2000 shooting of a Fulton County sheriff’s deputy in Atlanta.

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