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Justin Alan Foster testifies on his own behalf Aug. 9. “I take full responsibility,” he told the court regarding his actions on Dec. 5, 2017.

Georgia man sentenced to 40 years for assaulting officer, other felonies

BY DENISE RAY. PHOTOS BY DENISE RAY
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Gwen Foster was barely audible as she spoke from the witness stand during her son’s plea hearing. When asked if she was the mother of Justin Foster she replied “proudly”.

Dawson County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Gosselin sentenced Justin Allan Foster August 9 to 40 years of incarceration for his actions on Dec. 5, 2017 as his family and friends sobbed. He will serve 12 years in prison and 28 years under the supervision of the Georgia Department of Community Supervision.

Foster was charged with eight felonies and two misdemeanor charges stemming from an incident involving Dawson County Deputy Sgt. Randy Harkness.

He pled guilty to all of them.

Felony charges included aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer, robbery by force, aggravated battery against a law enforcement officer, removal or attempted removal of a weapon from a public officer, aggravated battery, three counts of hijacking a motor vehicle and two misdemeanor offenses of battery.

Gosselin handed down the sentence after hearing testimony from Foster’s family and friends, all begging for mercy on his behalf.

“What you did was completely wrong,” Gosselin told Foster. “It makes it harder today to sit here with all the pain and anguish there is in this room. Sgt. Harkness is a kind, gentle, caring soul. If he were a rough, horrible, creepy cop, that wouldn’t make any difference.”

Gosselin added that what the victims felt that day was “terrifying.”

“What you did was terrifying, horrible,” she continued. “It will affect everybody involved including the people who witnessed it—including the lady who shot you—for the rest of their lives.”

Foster, 31, sat quietly facing the judge as she spoke to him.

“Your family is saying that it’s not you. It was you. It was some aspect of you they hadn’t seen before. It was definitely you. And I have to address that person that acted that way on that day as well as the person that sits before me here today and the person that you’ve been for the past 32 years.”

“You will not get to see your children grow up as much as you would like but you will not be behind bars forever,” she said. “Hopefully you will find a better path that will make you a better man.”

Vehicle crash, “floating” and assault on deputy

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Caitlin Foster leans forward in prayer as Sgt. Randy Harkness of the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office testifies during her husband’s hearing. Foster is shown with her father’s hand on her back. To her right are her in-laws, Gwen Foster and Robert Alan Foster.

The Loganville resident was arrested in Dawson County last year when he attacked Harkness who had given him a courtesy ride into town from Elliott Family Parkway.

Foster had left his family days after a family vacation to Skidaway Island, telling them he would no longer work at his father’s Snellville plumbing company after the first of the year.

The father of two had told others that he has “an understanding of the Bible that no one else does” and he had to “figure this out.” He purchased a 1993 conversion van and described passing time as “floating,” giving away his possessions to Atlanta homeless and used cocaine for the first time.

He shopped at a western clothing store, Stepp said, “because he wanted to look like Johnny Cash.”

Foster chuckled and shook his head as he listened to his attorney.

Officers found him after he crashed the van on Ga. S.R. 400, Stepp said and when they asked his name, Foster reportedly said he didn’t have a name. When asked his address, he pointed to the van and said he “lived off the land.”

“I don’t live off your calendar, I live off Jesus’ calendar,” Foster told officers and spoke “gibberish.” He refused medical care and walked away.

Stepp said there isn’t much Foster remembers about that time.

His client was later found on Elliott Family Parkway by Dan Elliott who later called Harkness.

The Dawson County deputy was able to contact a family member of Foster who indicated they would drive to Dawsonville to get Foster. Harkness, Stepp said, thought it would be easier for the family member to meet them closer to S.R. 400, so Foster sat in the back of Harkness’ patrol car as they headed to the Chevron on S.R. 400S.

Harkness decided to give Foster $10 of his own money “to buy cigarettes and food” when they arrived at the gas station and that is when Foster assaulted the officer.

There were, according to Senior District Attorney Conley Greer, approximately 23 other people in the area at that time.

Foster hit Harkness so hard that the officer fell to the ground. At that point Foster straddled Harkness and continued hitting him in the face. Reaching for Harkness’ utility belt, Foster grabbed the deputy’s firearm. Witness April Adamson fired at Foster, hitting him twice, once in the liver and once in the kidney. Despite being wounded, Foster “composes himself and calmly walked to McDonald’s,” Greer said. On his way, he saw a female and attempted to hijack her car but was unsuccessful. There he attempted to hijack two cars of individuals in the drive-thru line with both individuals resisting. Unsuccessful, he went around the back of the restaurant where he encountered an elderly employee and assaulted her. McDonald’s employees locked the business to prevent Foster from entering.

Dawsonville resident and U.S. Army veteran Mike Sears approached and with four other men, subdued Foster until law enforcement arrived. Sears said Foster told him he “was going to make a statement.”

The McDonald’s employee and Harkness were transported to a local hospital; Foster was taken to a different hospital where he was under guard during his stay and described as “extraordinarily violent” by staff, Greer said.

Upon his release Foster went to Gwinnett County jail where he remained until Dec. 12. In Gwinnett he underwent further examination and was found to have an underlying psychosis, Stepp told the court.

“Six days after the event, he was delusional and had inappropriate ideation,” said Stepp.

Foster, who had several concussions due to playing football in his youth and competing in mixed martial arts competitions, spent the rest of his time awaiting trial at the Forsyth County jail where the facility officials described him as “a model inmate,” said Stepp.

Stepp told the court Foster “should not be defined by the 60-second period of time.”

His client was “not only guilty, but guilt-ridden” about his actions Stepp said. Foster takes full responsibility and is repentant.

“He scared people; people who didn’t deserve it. People who were at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Harkness, a 27-year veteran with the Dawson Sheriff’s Office, holds no malice toward his assailant.

“I’ve had people ask me if I’m mad; I’m not mad,” Harkness said. “I don’t let anger control me. It gets in your head and it gets in your heart and then I can’t do my job. I’d like to finish the job that I started.”

And with those words he handed the defense attorney money so the defendant would be able to purchase cigarettes and food incarceration.

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