Family of Georgia woman killed during raid to sue Camden sheriff’s office for $25M

Latoya James was shot and killed as deputies served search warrant at home in Woodbine

WOODBINE, Ga. – Family members, friends and activists showed up to the Camden County courthouse on Thursday to show support for Latoya James who was shot and killed in her cousin’s home as deputies served a search warrant at a home in Woodbine.

James’ brother and mother are still devastated by her loss and demand answers.

The family announced they plan to sue Camden County and the Camden County Sheriff’s Office for $25 million for her death.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said James was shot and killed while deputies were serving a drug-related search warrant at a home in Woodbine in May. It is still not clear who fired the fatal shot.

“What you saw wasn’t law enforcement. What you saw was the wild, wild west. It was a botched raid at best. It was a murder at worst,” said attorney Bakari Sellers.

Her family said it was the home of 46-year-old Varshaun Brown, James’ cousin. GBI said there was an exchange of gunfire, but the agency did not say who fired the first shot. Brown was also hurt during the incident.

“You said it was a search warrant, but you got in the house within 3 seconds and gunfire was going off,” said brother Demetrius James. “We’re tired. We’re angry. We’re frustrated.”

James’ family said just because she was there at the time doesn’t mean she deserved to die.

“I want them to know she is the sweetest person you’ll ever meet. That was Latoya,” her mother Betty Jean Murphy-James said.

Body camera footage released of the incident shows approximately 3-minutes and 16-seconds of a total 3-hours and 43 minutes worth of footage from a deputy’s camera.

“We want that video. We want the whole video,” said attorney Malik Shabazz, who represents James’ family. “We’re going to pursue it vigorously.”

Footage shows deputies approach the home and announce themselves before knocking on the door. “Sheriff’s Office, search warrant,” a deputy can be heard saying as authorities enter the home.

In the footage that was released, a series of gunshots are heard, however, the footage is dark and not much is visible as the deputy is holding a shield.

“Why is the only person with a camera the one with the shield so you can’t see what they’re seeing? That’s one of the biggest questions we have,” said attorney Reginald Greene, also representing the family.

The attorneys feel the deputies didn’t allow enough time for those inside the home to answer the door.

“The one body camera shows very rapid actions, which makes this search warrant equivalent of a no-knock warrant,” Shabazz said.

The attorney also said, “This case looks just like the Breonna Taylor case.”

Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police during a no-knock warrant raid.

“This wasn’t from what we see a technical no-knock warrant, but what it was, was an ineffectively executed warrant that rose to the level of a no-knock warrant,” Greene said.

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said because it was a high-risk warrant, the deputies had the right to go inside without waiting.

“These type of warrants are served with an element of surprise,” Jefferson said. “They don’t want them to be expecting them to come and then they walk into an ambush.”

The GBI said it will conduct an independent investigation. When completed, it will be turned over to the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office for review.

Attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case, spoke to News4Jax about the family’s plans to sue.

“Whenever you sue a government agency, such as a school board, such as a police department, you have to provide that government notice,” Nichols said.

Nichols said the family will most likely be pursuing a wrongful death claim.

About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.