Several people broke into the police chief’s house and burned it down early Friday, a few hours after a man died in police custody, authorities said.
No one was home at the time, and no injuries were reported. No immediate arrests were made.
Police Chief Stephen Stewart, a Navy reservist who returned from duty in Iraq about two months ago, had left the house along with his family shortly after the death in this town of 1,300 people 90 miles south of Atlanta, authorities said.
Clarence Walker, 48, died at a hospital after officers shot him with pepper spray Thursday night while he was resisting arrest on probation and parole violations, said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
As news of Walker’s death spread, about 100 people gathered downtown near the police station. Sheriff Charles Cannon said the crowd was not unruly.
“In a small town like Marshallville, it’s a situation where people want to know what’s going on,” Cannon said. “They’re inquisitive, concerned, especially the family of the deceased. We don’t have all the answers.”
After about two hours, Cannon said, he asked Walker’s family to ask the crowd to disperse, and they did. It was around that time that several people broke into Stewart’s home and set it on fire, Bankhead said.
The FBI joined the investigation.
The home, actually a parsonage of a church, was destroyed. Stewart, police chief for about 2½ years, and his family had been living in the home temporarily after his return from a year in Iraq.
The two officers involved in Walker’s arrest were suspended with pay, the sheriff said.
James Jackson, a brother of Clarence Walker, said Walker angered the police because he often ran away from them. He said the police chief had let it be known around town that his officers would arrest Walker “dead or alive.”
The chief, who stopped by the charred ruins of his home in the afternoon, would not respond to the allegations or discuss what happened during Walker’s arrest.
“I can’t speculate. I’m not going to,” Stewart said.