Man in police custody dies and police chief's home is torched

January 20, 2006

Marshallville - A police chief's house is torched in Middle Georgia, hours after a inmate dies in police custody. Tensions still are high in Marshallville, which is about 15 miles west of Perry. Thursday night, Marshallville police tried to arrest 48 year old Clarence Walker for a parole violation. But they say he ran and that they were forced to use pepper spray to subdue Walker. He died at an area hospital. Just a few hours later, the police chief's house was set on fire.

Marshallville is a small, quiet farming community of about 1,300 people. But Friday, it was bustling with law enforcement, arson investigators and media as everyone tried to figure out how Clarence Walker died while in police custody and if his death led to the burning of the police chief's home.

Crime scene tape surrounds a burned house in Marshallville, where the police chief's family lived until last night. Less than a mile away, there was more police tape. This time where three city police officers tried to arrest 48 year old Clarence Walker, who was called Clint.

Walker's sister, Jessie Mae Paster, said her cousin saw police kill Walker during that arrest.

Paster said, "She says this truck drove up, three police men jumped out, pepper sprayed him and they were tussling with him."

Paster says one cop held Walker on the ground, and she claims witnesses heard Walker gasping for air. But the GBI says Walker ran from the officers, forcing them to use pepper spray to subdue him. Police finally arrested Walker but by the time they got to city hall, he was unresponsive. Walker was rushed to Fort Valley hospital but was already dead.

"When I saw him in the emergency room, he had all these bruises on his face and had blood coming out his mouth," said Paster.

As word of the death spread quickly through the small town, a group of family and friends gathered downtown. Sheriff deputies dispersed them without problems. But not long after, someone broke into police chief Steven Stewart's home and set it on fire.

The house was actually owned by First Baptist Church of Marshallville. The church allowed the police chief and his family to move in a couple months ago, after he came home from serving in Iraq.

Luckily, Chief Stewart and his family weren't at home. Arson investigators shifted through the house Friday morning. They and GBI agents are trying to determine if the fire was set by someone outraged over Walker's death.

Macon County Sheriff Charles Cannon says authorities knew Walker well.

"I can't say he was a violent man," said Sheriff Cannon. "But I can say he was one that always had a problem with conducting himself as he should. He had attempted to avoid arrest before."

Walker was wanted for simple assault and obstruction of an officer after a fight in August 2005. Walker's sister said police in Marshallville had harassed her brother since he got out of jail.

"Every time a black man goes to prison or jail and comes back, they put a label on him," said Paster. She says police are now covering up their deadly mistake. "There were two many people out there that saw what was going on. It's seems like they are trying to cover it up."

An autopsy of Walker's body was going on Friday at the crime lab in Atlanta to determine what caused his death.

The sheriff says his deputies will be on alert for the next few days, but he says there won't be a curfew.