Wadley police officer shoots shoplifting suspect after chase

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September 11, 2006

A Wadley man is dead after he was shot by a city police officer...all over an alleged shoplifting incident.

Now authorities are investigating whether the officer made the right decision.

It all started at a Family Dollar store just before noon on Friday.

Was it a case of self-defense or a judgment made too soon by an officer?

It's a split second decision--shoot or don't shoot--now being investigated by the GBI.

Not even 50 yards from the Wadley police station, police say 51-year-old Walter Graham, Jr. pocketed a couple of watches at a Family Dollar store.

"The suspect fled the store prior to the officer arriving," Wadley police chief Paul Jordan told News 12.

There was a short chase, and officer Donald Medows caught the suspect with the watches in a nearby neighborhood.

"From the description clerk gave, the officer was able to recognize the suspect and questioned him," Chief Jordan said.

Eric Overstreet saw it all and says what should've been an ordinary arrest escalated quickly.

"Police officer walking behind man at dollar store kept saying, stop, stop," Overstreet said. "He took off back here and I couldn't really see what he was doing. That's when I heard the shot."

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says that when Graham refused to cooperate, the officer shot him once in the abdomen.

The officer says he did it because Graham made "threatening moves".

Overstreet says Graham seemed to be reaching inside his shirt for something, but still says the officer reacted too quickly.

"He didn't have to shoot him."

But Chief Jordan says he stands behind his officer's decision.

"These things happen, and they're trained to handle these situations," he said.

Regardless, it's a life lost over a petty crime.

"Those watches couldn't have been more than $10," Overstreet said. "That's bad."

51-year-old Walter Graham was pronounced dead early Saturday morning after he was taken to MCG.

Officer Medows has been temporarily relieved of duty while GBI investigates.