James Fryer, 59, is charged with destruction of aircraft.
(Photo credit: Georgia State Patrol)
(Photo credit: viewer Sue Lockhart)
TALBOT COUNTY, GA (WTVM) -
A Talbot County man faces felony charges of destruction of aircraft after he reportedly tried to shoot down a state chopper, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
At his preliminary appearance on June 16, Fryer's bond was set to $10,000. According to his bond terms, Fryer will not be allowed to have a gun, he will have to undergo a mental health evaluation and treatment, and he will have to surrender his passport.
With a population of around 100 people, Geneva, Georgia has that small town, down home, country feel but on Wednesday June 11th, during a drug investigation, state officials reported encountering something much more dangerous than the marijuana plants they were looking for.
As the Georgia State Patrol surveyed the area in a helicopter, they report seeing a man on the ground pointing a gun at them.
James Fryer, 59, claimed the chopper hovered over his home on Tazwell Highway creating a dangerous environment for the chickens he raised.
"This is a community where people will raise livestock, agricultural community and the choppers when they fly low, can cause a good deal of damage," Fryer's defense attorney David Helmick said after the preliminary hearing.
Fryer reportedly used a 12 gauge shot gun to fire a #6 bird shot at the Bell OH-58 helicopter. Helmick says he was only sending a warning not take the chopper down.
Helmick added the government operated aircraft did not properly identify itself.
"This was not a marked helicopter. It was not marked as belonging to the government or belonging to anyone," Helmick said. "He had no idea what that helicopter was doing there."
Authorities report the helicopter sustained damage to his main rotors.
Fryer's attorney David Helmick said several of Fryer's chickens died or ran away, costing him a financial loss.
Our cameras were not allowed inside the preliminary hearing in Federal Court Monday.
The state argued Fryer broke the law when he fired the gun whether he meant it as a warning or not.
"My father didn't deserve to be in a penitentiary. He's not a criminal," Fryer's daughter Jamie Weaver said following the hearing.
Jamie Weaver testified Fryer is disabled and suffered from several ailments. She said Fryer lived in Talbot County for decades and loved the home he shared with his wife.
After spending the weekend in jail, he was released on a $10,000 signature bond.
"We're pleased that they're letting him come home and we can take care of him and get him the care he needs," Jaime Weaver reacted.
Fryer's case will now head to the Federal grand jury.
During an initial appearance in U.S. District Court Thursday morning June 12, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles advised 59-year-old James Fryer of his rights and explained his charges. Fryer did not speak during the hearing.
Fryer is accused of firing a shot gun at Governor Nathan Deal's Marijuana Eradication Task Force, which was conducting air operations in Talbot County.
A court affidavit reports On June 11, the Talbot Co. Sheriff's Department contacted the FBI after reports of a state patrol helicopter being shot at.
A Georgia State trooper on board the Bell OH-58 helicopter reported they were surveying the area around Fryer's Tazwell Hwy home when he heard a single shot. Trooper Mark Bracewell alerted pilot Sgt. Wayne Wiley as at least two more bullets raced towards the chopper, according to the affidavit.
Bracewell reported he looked down to the ground and "observed a white male who appeared to be aiming an item towards the aircraft," the affidavit explained.
The pilot steered the aircraft out of range, setting it down in a "predesignated landing zone". The helicopter sustained damage to both of the main rotors, the report described.
Fryer told police he did not shoot at the helicopter, as they descended on his home. Fryers wife, Linda Fryer, reportedly told police she also heard two shots fired from her home.
Upon searching the couples home, authorities report finding a 12 gauge Mossberg Maverick 88 shotgun.
Linda Fryer added she saw her husband come into their bedroom, grab the shotgun off of a gun rack then head back outside, the affidavit described.
After questioning, James Fryer reportedly admitted to firing the gun but not at the helicopter. According to the affidavit, Fryer to law enforcement he was raising poultry that are worth thousands of dollars, the affidavit read.
Fryer said the helicopter hovered over his home causing the poultry to become "highly agitated."
Authorities report Fryer said he became enraged, firing the shotgun three times; however, Fryer said he only fired into the air and did not aim the gun at the helicopter.
Agents report smelling fresh gun powder at the Fryer home and finding three shot gun shell casings outside. Inside the home they reportedly found a box of shot gun bullets, and two small bags of "green leafy plant material believed to be marijuana", according to the report.
The felony charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and fines.
His family declined to comment, per their attorney's order, after the hearing. The woman we believe to be his wife spoke out loud, "I've never seen him like this before."