WILMINGTON, N.C. — A grand jury on Monday indicted a former New Hanover County deputy in connection with the shooting death of a Durham teen during a raid on a Wilmington home.
Cpl. Christopher Long, 34, who was fired Friday by the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office, was indicted on a charge of second-degree murder. The charge stems from the Dec. 1 death of 18-year-old Peyton Strickland.
Strickland, a Cape Fear Community College student, was shot to death at his Wilmington home by deputies serving arrest and search warrants. Strickland and two friends were charged with assaulting a University of North Carolina at Wilmington student last month and stealing two PlayStation 3 consoles from him.
Officers knocked on the front door and watched through a window as Strickland walked away from the door. Long fired his gun after an officer used a battering ram to hit the door, which Long misidentified as gun shots from inside the house, District Attorney Ben David said during Long's first court appearance Monday.
"When the ram hit the door, he thought it was gunfire," David said. "His belief that there was gunfire coming from the inside out was not shared by others."
Defense attorney Michael McGuinness said Long made a split-second decision and the shooting was "within the course and scope of his official duties."
UNC-W police asked for support from the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office during the arrests of the suspects in the case because of the potential that they were armed and dangerous, authorities said. Strickland had an earlier arrest on a felony assault charge.
Nine heavily armed deputies accompanied UNC-W police to Strickland's home to serve the warrants. Three deputies fired shots into the home, and sources close to the case said they believe several shots were fired before Strickland opened the door.
Strickland, who was unarmed, died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Several members of Long's family were in the courtroom Monday. Long has lived in the area his entire life and is a married father of two children who has taught law enforcement classes at a local community college, McGuinness said.
"He owns a home, but can't live in that home because he has been subjected to death threats. He is widely known, respected and loved in the law enforcement community as well as the general community," the attorney said.
Long cooperated with the investigation and volunteered to testify before the grand jury but wasn't allowed, McGuinness said.
Superior Court Judge Ernest Fullwood reduced Long's secured bond from $250,000 to $50,000.
Two other deputies -- Detective Larry Robinson, 34, and Sgt. Greg Johnson, 39 -- were placed on administrative leave a week ago pending the results of investigations by the State Bureau of Investigation and the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office.
Earlier Monday, Sheriff Sid Causey and David said that shots from the two deputies' guns killed Strickland's dog but that neither deputy fired their weapons at Strickland. Having been cleared of wrongdoing in the case, Robinson and Johnson have been reinstated and would return to work soon, Causey said.
Causey and David declined to answer questions about the case Monday and said they planned to make no more public comments about it until Long's trial.
"We try to do the best we can, but we're human beings and we make mistakes," Causey said.
Strickland's family has declined to speak publicly since his death, but they released a statement Monday through family friend Don Beskind in which they thanked David and the SBI for their quick work in the case but pressed for more action.
"This indictment is an important first step in holding accountable everyone responsible in Peyton's death, but it is only a first step," Beskind said. "Still to be held accountable are those who put a SWAT team at the door of an 18-year-old college student who was unarmed.
"None of these actions can bring Peyton back to us, but perhaps they can save the life of someone else's child," he said.
A second suspect in the case, Ryan David Mills, 20, of Durham, had a loaded shotgun and a ski mask in his car before his arrest, UNC-W Police Chief David Donaldson told WRAL. Investigators also found pictures of Mills on the Internet posing with guns.
Mills and Braden Delaney Riley, 21, of Apex, have been charged with armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and breaking and entering a motor vehicle, according to warrants. Both were arrested after the Dec. 1 raid on Strickland's house.