Decision not to charge officers in fatal shooting 'difficult' for Durham DA
Posted May 17, 2016
Updated May 18, 2016
Durham, N.C. — Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols said Tuesday that no charges will be filed in a police shooting last fall that left a Durham man dead.
La'Vante Trevon Biggs, 21, was threatening to commit suicide on Sept. 5 when police went to 1702 Angier Ave. in response to a 911 call. Officers and members of the Durham Police Department's hostage negotiation unit tried for nearly an hour to get him to put down a gun he was brandishing, but he would only point it at his head or put it in his mouth, Echols said.
"At the end of the day, your decision has to be based on facts and law and I am confident I have done that, but that doesn't mean that I don't realize that it's difficult," he said.
Biggs had been released from jail on bond earlier that morning following an arrest on a charge of injury to personal property.
His mother told police that he had been depressed about a recent breakup and not seeing his children.Biggs' roommate, Robert Tomlin, said Biggs was under a lot of stress that day.
"I came out and tried to talk to him but he didn't want to listen to nobody in the house because everybody tried to come out and talk to him and he just went into another world," Tomlin said.
Whenever Biggs did set the gun down during his conversations with police, officers were unable to persuade him to walk away from it, Echols said.
Biggs eventually pointed the gun at officers and took several steps toward them, Echols said, and four officers fired a total of 12 shots at him. He died at Duke University Hospital, and an autopsy determined he had been shot five times.
After examining Biggs' gun, police determined it was a pellet gun, but Echols noted that "outer appearances of the gun appear to be visually indistinguishable from a firearm without very close or physical inspection."
Echols referred to North Carolina statute, which says an officer is justified in using deadly force when he believes it is necessary to defend himself.
"It's a very realistic looking gun and certainly the appearance of that gun are the facts that we would be looking at," Echols said.
Echols said files from the State Bureau of Investigation do not suggest criminal, negligent or unreasonable use of force.
"It also can be harder when the life is taken even it it's justifiable by law enforcement," he said.
Tomlin said the events of that night still haunt him.
"It’s just lingered on because I remember it every night it go to sleep. It ain’t out of my mind yet. It just lingers there," he said.
Officers Richard Armstrong, Landon Harvey, Anthony Cisternas and Jason Holmes were placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of reviews of the case by the Durham Police Department and the SBI.