It is a small street made up of middle-class homes, and absent the road sign emblazoned with the “Arc Way” designation that swings above Pleasant Hill Road, the street could easily go unnoticed by those passing by. I suspect that most folks, including many of those who now live there, have no idea of just how different things were on Arc Way on April 17, 1964. This year marks the 50th anniversary, where on that very street, Arc Way, Gwinnett County Police Officers Jerry Everett, Jesse Gravitt and Ralph Davis were shot and killed after being handcuffed together. They were killed after driving up on a ring of car thieves who were in the process of stripping a stolen car in, what was then, a very desolate area.
A trio of car thieves ambushed the officers, overpowered them, and murdered them on the spot. In a time where media reach was not even a fraction of what we have available today, news of the murder of these three officers, from then rural Gwinnett County, Georgia, spread like wildfire and was a lead story in newspapers across the country as well as publications in Europe. The murder of a police officer, much less three officers at one time, was a very unusual circumstance and provided fodder for a riveting story. The arrest and eventual trials of those charged with these horrific crimes created a carnival like atmosphere at the historic old courthouse in downtown Lawrenceville. It turned into somewhat of a social affair as anyone who was anyone had to be seen in close proximity of the action. Those who could not get in the courtrooms found a prominent location in the vicinity of the courthouse and square to be a part of the conversation of these sensational trials. I remember, even as a young child, realizing the significance and consequences of this incident. All three of the defendants were eventually tried and convicted.One is still incarcerated, serving a life sentence, and is also the oldest inmate in the entire correctional system of Georgia.
The second was eventually released and the third is now deceased. Several books have been written and countless tales have been told since the murders occurred that offer every explanation of the crimes that range from conspiracy theories, to cover up, to corruption and every angle in between. None of these explanations, however, changed the results of the trials and more importantly did not change the end result of this historic tragedy. Three police officers lives were taken in a brutal fashion and created a sad and enduring footnote for law enforcement in Gwinnett County that must never be forgotten. In time, Gwinnett County’s Police Department went on to become one of the premier law enforcement agencies in the country and remains in that position today. The department has not only memorialized these officers, but has embraced this incident as a learning tool, even today, for young police officers in training. While our area continues to evolve turn into a dynamic, diverse, and global community, we must always remember the efforts,the struggles, and the sacrifices that were made by those in a time where it was undoubtedly a much different place. We surely owe it to the memory of these three officers, and to the safety of our officers who protect us today, to take note of this event. The well-being of our police officers must always be of primary importance, no matter what it takes. The anniversary of these officer’s deaths obviously provides an excellent opportunity for respective reflection and it can also serve, as a chance for us to commit all that is necessary to ensure that such an act never occurs again.
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