GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — A group of Gwinnett County 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 was shot and killed by a suspect while responding to a call on Oct. 21. He was just 30 years old. The suspect was later killed by police.
Last week, Sheriff Butch Conway shared a letter on Facebook signed by an 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 goes on to thank 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.
Seeing the impact the inmates' letter had on the community, Channel 2 Action News reached out to get their side of the story.
This week, Channel 2's Tony Thomas sat down with five inmates, including Leroy Dollar, who originally wrote the letter.
Dollar 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."
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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."
All the inmates say they were shocked by how much attention the letter got. Carlos Tabb said he wasn't even sure why officers came to get the men out of their cells when Channel 2 crews showed up.
"When we got called down I didn't know what it was," Tabb said, laughing. "I'm surprised it even went that far where people were sharing it."
"You surprised a lot of people," Thomas said to the group
"Well thank you, sir. We surprise ourselves sometimes," Phillips said.
Thomas asked Anderson what message he would send to Toney's family.
"I would tell them that God loves them. Keep their faith up, stand on Jesus' promises, and just know that you will see him again."
FULL TEXT OF THE LETTER:
"With All Due Respect"
Dear Sheriff Conway,
On behalf of myself and a number of fellow prisoners who are currently serving time in the Gwinnett County Detention Center, I wish to extend condolences to Officer Toney's family and the G.C.S.O. Brotherhood as a whole.
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. Right is right and wrong is wrong. No matter the color uniform.
It is from this standpoint, in a spirit of gratitude and utmost respect that I submit this letter to honor all police officers, military personnel first responders. Your service and sacrifice make the world a better place for all.
In tribute to your courage and dedication, we present this communication that may serve to bring healing, restoration and forgiveness to the lives of all affect by the loss of this officer.
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, through he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." John 11:25
The following signatures on this page represent a group of Christian men who wish to express heartfelt condolences to Officer Toney's family and all Gwinnett County Staff.
Cox Media Group