WRAL Investigates

Former police officer who's now defense attorney says Roxboro police shooting was justified

Posted July 30, 2020 5:05 p.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2020 6:27 p.m. EDT

— Two former law enforcement officers who have reviewed footage of a fatal police shooting in Roxboro last week said the shooting was justified.

Roxboro police chief David Hess said officers were responding to a report of an armed man walking along U.S. Highway 158 near a Dollar General store last Friday morning when they confronted 45-year-old David Brooks Jr.

Footage from a dashboard camera that was released Wednesday shows officers yelling at Brooks to drop a gun before firing at him. Brooks can be seen in the video holding a weapon.

Hess said a shotgun was found at the scene.

Two Roxboro police officers have been placed on leave during a state investigation of the shooting.

Lee Turner, a former police officer who now works as a defense attorney in Raleigh, went through the dashcam video Thursday with WRAL Investigates.

"You can see the weapon, and you hear 'Drop the gun! Drop the gun,'" Turner said, noting the fatal shot is then fired.

He said he believes that, when Brooks appears to raise a shotgun, that presents a threat to officers.

"In this case, if you apply the law, you’ve got an officer who is responding to a 911 call of a man with a gun," he said. "You hear the officer give the command for him to drop it, and as he brings it up, now you’ve reached that threshold of the statute where there’s an imminent threat. Therefore, it’s justified to use deadly force."

While the shooting provokes deep emotions – several protests have been held in Roxboro in the past week – Turner said those emotions must be set aside to apply the law.

"[It] just creates an atmosphere and a cloud over every other officer that’s trying to do their job," he said.

Wellington Scott, a retired State Highway Patrol deputy commander who now trains officers, also said he views the shooting as legally justified. But he said the officer could have used more de-escalation and investigative tactics first.

"Just because a case is legally justified doesn’t mean it’s morally justified," Scott said. "As an officer, is there anything I could have done differently to get a better outcome?"

When asked whether the Roxboro officer should have waited and tried to assess the situation before engaging Brooks, Turner said he couldn't answer the question.

"It’s not a hindsight type of decision. They’ve got to make a decision based on that second," he said.

Critics of police point to other instances, such as when armed demonstrators walked the streets of downtown Raleigh in late May and police didn’t engage. But those demonstrators didn’t point their weapons at officers.

Turner said the situation in Roxboro cannot be compared to a protest.

"He has a 911 call from a concerned citizen, so he has no choice at that point, as is his duty to go and investigate," he said, adding that the fatal shooting was easily avoidable.

"We wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this today if he’d just laid the gun down on the side of the road," he said.

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