According to Bell and an incident report, officer Jimmy Mathis saw a Chevrolet mini-van with a tag that “looked like it had been altered” while he was patrolling Ga. Highway 225 South at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday. According to the report, he noticed one of the tail lights was not working. Mathis said the van turned onto Ga. Highway 286 and pulled off at ABC Convenience Store, which is across from Bagley Middle School.
That’s when the traffic stop began.
Mathis wrote that he spoke to the driver and noticed he had a passenger seated up front plus two more passengers in the back seats. Mathis asked for identification from all of them, a practice which Bell said officers often observe either as routine or at times when they feel something may be amiss.
The driver, Byars’ husband, Thomas, told the officer they had been out to look at buying a car.
When dispatchers ran their drivers licenses for warrants, Mathis was told Neale had a warrant through Cherokee County and that the warrant said he was “violent and to use caution,” the report states.
After Mathis learned about the warrant, he called for backup and remained in his patrol vehicle until other officers arrived. A sergeant on scene said to get Neale out of the van, the report states, and he and two others began walking to the passenger side.
Mathis wrote that as he reached to tap on the passenger window, he saw Neale put a gun to his chin. Mathis then warned the other officers and heard the gun fire.
Sgt. David Gowens, who Mathis called in as backup, reached inside the van and grabbed the gun while Neale was still holding it, but Neale fired again, according to Bell and the report. Bell said the second shot hit the center console, and Gowens’ hand was caught in the slide of the gun as he tried to wrest it from Neale.
No one else was injured. No charges were filed.
Preliminary reports show Neale had consumed alcohol, Bell said. How much Neale had and whether that played a role in the incident wasn’t immediately clear, Bell said.
Ramey said Neale’s body was sent to the state crime lab for an autopsy.