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Marine veteran sheriff shot, killed; suspect caught after four-hour search

Lowndes County, Ala. Sheriff “Big John” Williams. (Lowndes County Sheriff's Department/Released)

Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams was shot and killed Saturday at a convenience store in Hayneville, and law enforcement apprehended the suspect after a nearly four-hour search.

Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham confirmed Williams’ death about 8:15 p.m. at the QV convenience store near the Lowndes County Courthouse on the downtown square in Hayneville.

The suspect in the case, William Chase Johnson, 18, walked up to the shooting scene about 12:05 a.m. Sunday with a firearm in his hand and was taken into custody after the manhunt. He was taken to another county’s holding facility, but law enforcement did not say which county.

“I’m saddened to hear about Sheriff Big John Williams, who was tragically killed this evening in the line of duty. Through his service to our country in the United States Marine Corps and his many years working in law enforcement, he dedicated his life to keeping other people safe,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a release Saturday night. “He will be remembered as a consummate professional and pillar of his community. I offer my prayers and deepest sympathies to his family and to the men and women of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department.

Williams is a beloved member of the Lowndes County community and well-known in law enforcement circles in the state.

“This is a sad time for Lowndes County and the state of Alabama,” said Sgt. Steve Jarrett, commander of the Montgomery Alabama State Troopers’ post. He held a press conference on the scene about 11:20 p.m. Saturday. “Big John was a wonderful man. If you ever met him you would never forget him. We ask for your prayers for his family and for the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department.”

Jarrett declined to offer many specifics on what happened, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation. Before Johnson was taken into custody, Jarrett urged residents not to approach Johnson if he was spotted.

Williams was born and raised in Lowndes County and graduated from Calhoun High School in 1976. Because of his height, he was known as “Big John.”

He “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,” according to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office website.

In 1978, he started volunteering as a reserve deputy, and for three years in the 1980s he was in the Hayneville Police Department until full-time work with the sheriff’s office.

In 1990, he was appointed to chief deputy and served in this capacity until leaving the department in 2009. In 2010, he won election to be sheriff and has held onto the role since.

Lowndes County in central Alabama in the Black Belt has about 11,000 people. The county is contiguous to Montgomery County. Hayneville is about 20 miles southwest of the city of Montgomery.

“We are deeply saddened by the great loss of Lowndes County Sheriff Big John,” Montgomery County posted on its Facebook page. “He was a wonderful sheriff and an even more incredible man. To know him was to love him. His family, friends, and all of Lowndes County remain in our thoughts and prayers. Big John, you will be greatly missed.”

According to The Associated Press, more than 60 people gathered at the Lowndes County Courthouse to protest then-Gov. Bob Riley’s appointment in 2007 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.

When Williams was chief deputy, he notably 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, according to the AP. Al-Amin was wanted and later convicted in the fatal 2000 shooting of a Fulton County sheriff’s deputy in Atlanta.

“I know all Alabamians join me in passing along our condolences and prayers to Sheriff Williams’ family and to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office,” Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a news release.


© 2019 the Montgomery Advertiser