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ECSO deputy wounded, but recovering after shooting
Burglary suspect shot, killed in exchange of gunfire
press briefing 1
Effingham Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie and GBI special agent in charge Cathy Sapp discuss a shooting incident involving a deputy who was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with a burglary suspect, who was shot and killed. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation continues to probe an incident Friday morning that resulted in wounds to an Effingham County Sheriff’s deputy and the death of a suspect.

James Wilkinson, a veteran deputy with the ECSO, was wounded in his upper left shoulder as he exchanged gunfire with a burglary and armed robbery suspect. The exchange of shots took place in the woods off South Laurel Circle, which is off Highway 80.

Coleman was a suspect in a several Thursday night burglaries and in a recent armed robbery, Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said.

“We got a tip about him being in the area,” McDuffie said.

Wilkinson was the only deputy to exchange shots with the suspect, the sheriff said.

Wilkinson was one of four deputies who responded to the call on Coleman. Wilkinson, who was released from the hospital Saturday, was the only deputy to trade shots with Coleman.

“He was the only one in the woods with the suspect and he was the only one who had an exchange of gunfire with the suspect,” the sheriff said.

The GBI was called in to investigate the incident because an officer was involved in the shooting. Cathy Sapp, special agent in charge of the GBI’s Statesboro office, said having the GBI conduct such an investigation is a common protocol.

“We’re looking at what led up to it,” she said of the shooting. “Bringing in an outside agency is always a good thing to do because you have that unusual investigation. Unfortunately, it’s becoming very common.”

Coleman was known to law enforcement from previous encounters, McDuffie said. He did not know if Coleman had any accomplices in the crimes he was suspected of committing.

“He was a suspect in an armed robbery, so we assumed he has access to a weapon,” the sheriff said.

Wilkinson was not wearing a bullet-proof vest at the time of the shooting.

“We provide vests for everyone,” McDuffie said. “Whether they wear them or not, that’s not a mandatory policy for us. He did not have his on.”

The sheriff also said his force does not have body cameras and he has some issues with their use.

“I’m not comfortable with body cameras,” he said, “not because of what our officers do, but there is a lot of up in the air stuff about body cameras.”

The ECSO will provide counseling for Wilkinson and the other deputies involved in the incident, should they request it, McDuffie added.

“The other deputies are shaken, but I think they’re OK,” he said. “They probably need to talk to somebody and that will be made available to them.”

Internal reviews of the incident will take place soon, the sheriff added.

“The next few days it’s going to be ‘did we do everything we could have, is there anything we could have done different,’” McDuffie said. “We’ll have several meetings and probably ask the GBI to sit in with us.”

McDuffie said Wilkinson may not require surgery for his injuries.

“I’m glad he’s going to be OK,” the sheriff said. “It’s a call that nobody wants to get. Every agency surrounding Effingham County has had an officer-involved shooting the last two years.  We were hoping to be the one not to have go through this.

“I’ve been doing this 39 years. I’ve had to pull my gun several times, but I’ve never had to return fire with anybody. I was hoping our entire department could say the same thing.”

The FBI, GBI, Georgia State Patrol and Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office were on the scene with deputies Friday afternoon.