October 20, 2013

Moving memorial preserves legacy of fallen police officers


— CHATSWORTH — Debra Hickman’s hand traced the name of her son, Chatsworth Police Officer Jonathan “Cole” Martin.

Martin, then 20, died 10 years ago on duty while watching a warehouse that had been burglarized when a metal gate swung into his patrol car.

Now, his name is included with those of 691 other law enforcement officers who have died on duty in Georgia on the Georgia Law Enforcement Moving Memorial, which is on display this weekend in Chatsworth City Park as part of the annual Black Bear Festival.

“This means everything. The last thing you want is for your child to be forgotten,” she said. “To know that they remember him and honor him and all of these fallen officers means so much.”

The wall is sponsored by the Blue Knight Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club Georgia Chapter 7 and the Georgia Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors.

“We started honoring Georgia’s fallen law enforcement officers 25 years ago,” said Ed Christian, president of Blue Knights Chapter 7. “And when we started working their families, we learned that what they wanted was your memory. They wanted you to remember the sacrifices that their loved ones made for their communities and for the state of Georgia.”

The first name on the wall is that of Robert Forsyth, a U.S. marshal who was killed while trying to serve court papers in a civil suit in Augusta in 1794. He was the first law enforcement officer killed on duty in Georgia, and according to the website of the U.S. Marshals Service, he was the first federal marshal killed on duty.

Another name on the wall is that of Murray County Sheriff Benjamin Keith, who was shot in 1907 while apprehending a man wanted for murdering a boy in Fannin County. Despite his injury, Keith managed to arrest the man and take him to jail. But he succumbed to his wounds five days later.

“It’s a honor for the wall to be here,” said Murray County Sheriff Gary Langford. “We wanted the citizens to know about these men and women and what they gave. And we wanted them to see that the names of several people from Murray County and Whitfield County are on this wall. One of my deputies was looking at the wall, and he saw the name of his great-grandfather who was killed in the line of duty in 1928 in south Georgia.”

The wall includes the names of any law enforcement officer who died on duty in Georgia from state, federal and local agencies. It includes those who died in accidents as well as those who died in violent confrontations.

“When people think of police officers dying on duty, they think of the large agencies. They think of the large departments. They think of places such as Cobb County or Fulton County,” said Roger Parker, executive director of Concerns of Police Survivors. “But it can and does happen everywhere to departments of every size.”

One of the most recent on-duty police deaths was that of Tony Barfield, police chief of Barwick, who suffered a heart attack while responding to a domestic dispute call earlier this year. Barwick has a population of 444, according to the Census Bureau, and Barfield was its only full-time officer.

Christian said there have been only three on-duty law enforcement deaths in Georgia so far this year. Typically, there are seven or eight in a year, he said. But there have been as few as three and as many as 15.