A group of Georgia inmates are opening up about a heartfelt letter they sent to the sheriff in the wake of an officer's death in the line of duty.
Officer Antwan Toney, 30, was shot and killed by a suspect while responding to a call on Oct. 21. The suspect was later killed by police.
Last week, Sheriff Butch Conway shared a letter on Facebook signed by a Gwinnett County inmate "on behalf of myself and a number of fellow prisoners who are currently serving time."
The handwritten letter honored Toney and expressed solidarity between inmates and police. It was signed by at least 20 inmates.
"I wish to extend condolences to officer Toney's family and the G.C.S.O. (Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office) as a whole," it reads. "This was a tragic incident that never should have occurred. And though law enforcement and criminals may be considered opposites, the intrinsic value of a human life transcends those boundaries by far."
The letter thanks all police officers, military personnel and first responders.
"Your service and sacrifice make the world a better place for all," it reads.
Conway originally redacted the names of the inmates who signed the letter to protect their privacy. But their words struck a chord.
Leroy Dollar, who originally wrote the letter, said his initial motivation was thinking of his own grandchildren and how they would feel if something like that happened to him.
"I felt a measure of empathy with the family," Dollar said. "I wanted to write and express condolences. It was just senseless and tragic."
Dollar also felt that maybe the letter was a way to show that people aren't all that different, no matter what divides us.
"I know that some people see certain stereotypes, that people see you in the green and other people are hostile to police officers," Dollar said. "But we're all the same as a whole in regards to what color uniform you wear. Right is right and wrong is wrong."
Tarazzo Anderson said Dollar approached him after church and asked if he would sign. Anderson, who said he is a first-time inmate, said he was all for it.
"He came to me and I said, 'Yeah. Show them that we've got integrity, too. We don't hate them," Anderson said. "We love them because God loves them. Let this show that we're not all bad guys. And they're not all bad guys."
Larry Richards had said he just felt sorry for the family, and that Toney's death was senseless.
"It was a stupid thing that happened," Richards said. "I couldn't believe that he would get killed just walking up to a car... and lost his life for actually nothing."
Thomas asked Douglas Phillips what their broader message was.
"We're all one species of one part of one unit of one whole, and we should all have care and respect for each other," Phillips. "No matter what happens, we're part of the grand plan and should work towards bringing peace and unity to all aspects of life."
Anderson said he hopes the letter proves that inmates are just like everyone else.
"We're still human. We've still got emotions. We still have family," Anderson said. "Not everybody is always who they are labeled to be. A loss is a loss, regardless."
About the Author