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Slain Ala. sheriff’s defining arrest recalled 20 years later

Lowndes County Sheriff John "Big John" Williams was killed in a shooting Saturday night at a QV...
Lowndes County Sheriff John "Big John" Williams was killed in a shooting Saturday night at a QV gas station in Hayneville.(Source: Lowndes County Sheriff's Office)
Updated: Nov. 26, 2019 at 5:32 PM CST
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LOWNDES COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - “Big John” Williams had law enforcement in his DNA. Born and raised in Lowndes County, that’s where he would spend more than 40 years serving his community before being slain in the line of duty over the weekend.

Williams graduated from Calhoun High School in the year of the nation’s bicentennial, 1976, and knew what his calling was in life. By 1978, he was serving under then-Sheriff John Hulett as a reserve deputy. It was a volunteer role.

In the mid-1980s, Williams found an opportunity to combine doing what he loved with a steady, though part-time paycheck at the police department in Hayneville. Three years later in 1987, he returned to the sheriff’s office, this time as a full-time deputy. But he didn’t quit the Hayneville job, opting instead to work both.

A promotion came with the 1990s. Deputy Williams became Chief Deputy Williams and served in that role for 19 years before he threw his hat into the ring for the sheriff’s job. He won and served as Lowndes County’s top law enforcement official for nearly a decade.

In those 40 years, Williams investigated multiple cases and made an untold number of arrests. But one case, at what would be the mid-point of his career, would stand out.

In 2000, Williams was the arresting officer in the case of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, a 1960s black militant who was once a civil rights activist before joining the Black Panthers and famously stated: “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” He was known as H. Rap Brown before his conversion to Islam.

Al-Amin was wanted and later convicted in the fatal shooting of two sheriff’s deputies in Fulton County, Georgia. One of the officers died.

After fleeing Georgia, Al-Amin was the focus of a multi-agency manhunt that included federal, state and local law enforcement. The suspect fled to the Lowndes County town of White Hall.

On the evening of Monday, March 20, 2000, the massive manhunt came to an end at the tip of Big John Williams’ pistol barrel. He said as soon as he saw the man on some railroad tracks, he knew it was over.

“I kept my pistol on him until we got him handcuffed,” Williams told WSFA 12 News afterward. “He didn’t say anything. He was tired. He was walking normal with his head down and out of breath.”

Al-Amin was taken to the Montgomery County Jail, then extradited back to Georgia. Except for a brief escape from the Atlanta Jail in 2004, Al-Amin, now 75, remains behind bars for life.

Copyright 2019 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.