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Bibb sheriff’s deputy killed in car chase hailed ‘a hero’ at funeral

Helicopter flyover honors Bibb deputy at service

Helicopters perform the missing man formation at graveside services for Investigator Anthony ``T. J.'' Freeman
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Helicopters perform the missing man formation at graveside services for Investigator Anthony ``T. J.'' Freeman

Lean and muscular with a chiseled jaw, T.J. Freeman looked every bit the street cop that he was.

His back bore a tattoo that stretched shoulder to shoulder: “Blessed are the peacekeepers.”

It was as if he was born to be a police officer. His mother’s family name was Justice.

He was a Bibb County sheriff’s deputy, a SWAT officer, a narcotics investigator, a canine handler.

A preacher who spoke at Freeman’s funeral Monday said being a lawman “came out of his pores.”

Lying in his casket as mourners paid their respects, Freeman had on a pair of white Oakley sunglasses.

The song played at the end of the service was “Bad Boys,” the theme from the television show “Cops.”

But that was Freeman.

He was bad news for bad guys.

Freeman, 29, was killed in a car chase last Thursday morning.

Other deputies were trying to stop a man trying to elude them in a 1997 Toyota Camry.

The 3 a.m. pursuit began at a shopping center on Eisenhower Parkway on the city’s west side. It ended when Freeman, who’d rushed to help in his department-issue Dodge Magnum, collided with the Toyota in the heart of Macon’s Unionville neighborhood.

The impact pounded the driver’s side of Freeman’s car and hammered it into the side of house near the intersection of Columbus Road and Grosso Avenue, west of Pio Nono Avenue and the old Colonial bakery. The man in the Camry has since been charged with murder and a string of other crimes.

On Monday, there was a makeshift memorial at the foot of the house’s demolished stone porch. There were flower bouquets, a small white cross, a pair of heart-shaped red balloons and seven stuffed animals — four bears, two bunnies and a puppy.

At Freeman’s afternoon funeral in the Macon Coliseum, 1,100 or so mourners included police officers from across the region.

The Rev. John Sheeley of Northridge Baptist Church, which Freeman attended, said Freeman “was a great man.”

“T.J. knew that there was an evil out there, and he gave his life to stop it,” Sheeley said. “He wanted to do something about it. He was not one to just stand by and let it happen.”

For law enforcement officers, their human side is sometimes overlooked.

But it is often their unseen relationships, the connections they make in the towns they patrol that are perhaps most telling.

Everyday interactions, not so much ones born of bravery in dark alleys, are the impressions that last.

Freeman, who was known for his observational prowess, could also put folks at ease. They could tell he cared, and in turn they cared about him.

Among the mourners at his funeral was the owner of a Chinese restaurant on Vineville Avenue.

Peter Wu arrived an hour early and sat on the front row.

Freeman, he said, was a regular at the China Inn.

Freeman liked Wu’s teriyaki chicken.

“With extra sauce,” Wu said.

Also on hand were half a dozen waitresses from the Waffle House in downtown.

The waitresses were decked out in red T-shirts with Freeman’s picture on them.

“R.I.P.,” the shirts read.

Freeman worked a security gig at their Riverside Drive diner on weekend nights.

For the past three years, from midnight to 5 a.m., when the bars let out, he was their trusty protector and pal.

They served him sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches with a glass of Mr. Pibb.

Freeman, who’d been a policeman since 2009, was “someone others looked up to,” said Bibb Sheriff David Davis.

“Let us not forget that above all, T.J. was a hero,” Davis told the Coliseum gathering, which all but filled the arena’s floor.

“A hero not only because he gave his life coming to the aid of fellow deputies, but more importantly he was a hero simply by wearing a law officer’s badge and going out every day to protect us from bad things.”

The sheriff then assigned Freeman’s canine partner, a dog name Bojar, to live with Freeman’s widow, Jessica, and his children Braden and Blaiklyn as “a comforter and a protector ... for as long as they so desire.”

In closing, the sheriff turned to salute Freeman’s flag-draped casket and said, “I say to you, Deputy T.J. Freeman, job well done.”

Sheriff’s Sgt. Brad Surfus spoke next.

“When I first saw him, I wasn’t sure about T.J.,” said Surfus, who met Freeman half a decade ago. “T.J., as you know, was one of a kind.”

They grew closer as the years went by.

Last year, when Surfus’ mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and being cared for in Atlanta, T.J. and Jessica Freeman went to comfort their family.

Not long after that, one Sunday morning back home, Surfus woke up and there was Freeman.

Freeman had come to cut the grass at his SWAT comrade’s house — all 6 acres of it.

“He just showed up,” Surfus recalled. “That’s what true friends do. They don’t need to be asked. They see a need, and they shoulder the load.”

Joe Kovac Jr.: 478-744-4397, @joekovacjr

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