VIENNA, Ga. – A Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office deputy said an armored vehicle saved lives during a standoff with a Ku Klux Klansman in Dooly County earlier this month.
On April 15, deputies with the Dooly County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to the home of Joseph Harper, a well-known and active member of the KKK.
Family members of Harper’s ex-wife were loading furniture with deputies present in accordance with a divorce decree. Harper was standing on the front porch wearing a bullet resistant vest and holding a shotgun. Harper also had several handguns in holsters, reports the Cordele Dispatch.
At one point during the incident, Harper reportedly lowered his shotgun in the direction of a deputy. Calls for assistance then went out to the LCSO Special Response Team (SRT) and the Georgia State Patrol SWAT. Deputies also obtained an arrest warrant on Harper for aggravated assault.
LCSO Lt. Joe Dukes, responded to the scene with the department’s Lenco BearCat®, an armored vehicle obtained through a federal program that provides surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. One of the requirements of the program is to agree to assist other agencies who may need the equipment.
Dukes was the only LCSO deputy who traveled to Vienna. He served as the driver of the Lenco BearCat®, which provided a mobile protective shield for law enforcement officers at the scene.
After Harper started walking through the area with firearms and making threats to officers, a decision was made to deploy gas.
“He had a gas mask, and shortly after us deploying gas he began firing on our vehicles, taking aim at both us and the Georgia State patrol,” Dukes said. “There were four of us inside the vehicle and two that were in the back of the BearCat. So, we had six people total. I have no doubt that it saved at least two people’s lives: the two deputies that were in the back. There was no doubt that he was aiming at them. They actually got hit with some of the lead spray that came off the vehicle. If that vehicle had not been there, they would have been relying on their vests to stop those rounds.”
Harper was later found dead inside his home from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot, but an official cause of death is pending autopsy results, reports stated.
LCSO received the Lenco BearCat® in 2012 as part of a Homeland Security grant.
“We received it as an asset for this area,” Dukes said. “It’s a bullet-resistant vehicle used for law enforcement purposes, such as Special Response Team or SWAT. It’s used as a means to be able to get law enforcement officers into a scene that could potentially pose a threat to them from firearms from a suspect.”
Critics of the federal program say it “militarizes” local law enforcement agencies.
Dukes said the LCSO Lenco BearCat® and the department’s larger Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP) have been stripped of offensive capabilities and are used to transport and shield law enforcement officers and victims and to carry less-lethal weapons, such as tear gas or bean bags.