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SBI: Deputy was justified in shooting Kenly man

Posted March 5, 2009

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— Johnston County's district attorney says the use of deadly force was legally justified when a sheriff's deputy shot and killed a Kenly man at his home on Nov. 22.

Sgt. Joel Keith Garner shot Reginald Lee Witcher, 54, three times, including once to the chest, at his home at 2349 Glendale Road.

District Attorney Susan Doyle said Thursday that a State Bureau of Investigation probe found that Witcher raised a shotgun toward Garner with his hand on the trigger and fired a shot toward Garner that shattered a storm door. Garner fired eight rounds into the house.

"Officers often must make split-second decisions regarding their use of force," Doyle said in a news release. "In the situation observed by Sgt. Garner, his use of deadly force was both reasonable and warranted."

Doyle said the SBI analyzed evidence from the scene and found one spent  Winchester 12-gauge buckshot shell casing matched Witcher's shotgun and had been fired from the gun. The gun was also tested and was found to have been functioning properly.

Charges will not be filed, she said.

Witcher's family and friends have said they believe the shooting was unjustified and that they do not believe Witcher would have shot at an officer.

"This is not going to be the end of it. Take my word on it," Witcher's mother, Connie Sandler, said. "I know they're wrong, and they know they're wrong. I don't know how they can justify what they did."

According to 911 recordings and search warrants, Witcher and his wife were entertaining guests at their home when someone called 911 reporting that a female guest had fallen.

The deputies responded to what was described on the recordings as "an extremely intoxicated" and "belligerent crowd."

Doyle said Thursday that Garner had also been trying to keep Witcher and his wife from interfering with the EMS crew treating the fallen guest.

At one point, Witcher's stood less than 2 feet away from Garner in a stance that "caused Garner and Case to conclude that Reginald appeared ready to attack and fight."

Garner then warned Witcher that he would be arrested if he did not go inside the house.

As EMS was preparing to leave, Doyle said, Case saw Witcher standing on his front porch holding a shotgun.

Both deputies repeatedly yelled at Witcher to put down his shotgun, Doyle said, but Witcher did not comply with the commands. He eventually went inside and shut the door so deputies could not see him.

Another man inside the house then walked onto the porch and left the door open. Garner was then able to see Witcher in the living room with the shotgun on his right side, Doyle said.

"Once Garner and Reginald made eye contact, Reginald raised the shotgun toward Garner with his right hand on the trigger," Doyle said.

"Garner moved quickly out of the doorway onto the left side of the porch next to the porch railing. As soon as Garner cleared the doorway, Reginald fired one shot toward Garner."

Witcher was shot once in the left thigh and once in the back in addition to the chest wound, but neither his autopsy report nor Doyle indicate the order of the shots. The bullet that hit his chest also pierced his heart and his coronary artery.

The autopsy found Witcher's blood alcohol level to be .30, nearly four times the legal limit to operate a vehicle.

Witcher's family members and friends said he was not a violent man and that there has to be another explanation about what happened.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Alexia.1 Mar 6, 2009


    I can understand her feelings, too. And, the problem is that you can't 'prove' what happened. You can only have versions of the story told by different people with different views of what happened.

    It is an unfortunate event and, quite frankly, I wonder why shots were fired into the house. The man was not alone, after all. The officers could have killed an innocent person. Perhaps there was nowhere to go, but (at risk of having leo-nc disagree with me again) if I were there I would look for every alternative to firing a gun at some drunk man. The man with the shotgun was "cornered" whereas everybody else had room to flee to a safe distance.

  • Justin T. Mar 6, 2009

    "This is not going to be the end of it. Take my word on it," Witcher's mother, Connie Sandler, said. "I know they're wrong, and they know they're wrong. I don't know how they can justify what they did."

    I realize that there is no love stronger than a mother's love... but sometimes you have to be honest and understand your child is grown and made bad choices.

    I wish more people would vote for this story since many are so quick to bash the efforts of law enforcement. When it is proven that they acted appropriately, I think we should acknowledge it.

  • yruatwit Mar 6, 2009

    Was the party worth it? If you had to do it over again, would you drink to excess to the point you lose all rational thought process and behavior?

  • Lee Mar 5, 2009

    Better to be judged by all the legal experts on gaylo than to be carried by 6. Good shooting deputy.

  • oldfirehorse Mar 5, 2009

    "Witcher's family members and friends said he was not a violent man and that there has to be another explanation about what happened." ----- No one is considered violent until they commit a violent act. A tragic event; glad this phase is finished.

  • lorivalentine1 Mar 5, 2009

    Sad some one died BUT they were drunk and rowdy and EMS had to call for back up to help an drunken nit wit who fell and needed care. Let them try to sue the police for it..and waste all their money! Not that the guy deserved to die but when you shoot at the police you take your chances. Un fortunately the police came out on top. The police did the right and just thing.

  • ccacrabbitdog Mar 5, 2009

    i just wish all leo's knew who u people r that keep lambasting the law officers....cause they should make a list of who not to help....

  • jlh4jdj Mar 5, 2009

    This sounds like a bad situation all the way around. If this is really a good LEO then this will weigh on his mind for the rest of his life. To everyone that is wondering why people are suspicious of LEO's just think about all the cases where LEO's have abused their power. Before any of you go but, most are not, I know. You have to understand that exposing a rouge LEO is hard and the chances are you will get hurt. So the public's concern is justified, even if you don't understand it. I know that this saying is way over used but, it fits "to him which much is given, much is expected". LEO's have been given much power.

  • FromClayton Mar 5, 2009

    god bless that deputy. he was just trying to do his job. and its a dangerous one. I had rather 10 drunks with shotguns get shot than one LEO. God bless them.

  • cocker_mom Mar 5, 2009

    Listen to the 911 call it's linked to the right of the article. It really gives you a flavor of the event that is described as "Wichter and his wife were entertaining friends at their home".

    He was very drunk. He was not using decent judgment. Why the heck did EMT's need assistance when a "guest" called 911? That fact ought to tell folks that there was something very wrong with the environment.

    Could you imagine a gathering at your house where a guest would call 911 because they were concerned their spouse was DEAD and that the EMTs would not be welcomed? or - that they would feel that they needed "backup"?????

    There appears to be a lot of stuff that went on there that didn't make sense. What the police officer did is about the only thing that DOES make sense.