Local News

No Indictment for Ex-Deputy in Fatal Teen Shooting

Posted July 11, 2007 10:18 a.m. EDT
Updated July 11, 2007 4:49 p.m. EDT

— A grand jury voted Wednesday not to indict a former New Hanover County deputy for the fatal shooting of a Durham teenager.

State prosecutors had asked the grand jury to indict Christopher Long on voluntary manslaughter in connection with the Dec. 1 death of 18-year-old Peyton Strickland. The charge could have carried a prison term of four to nine years.

After the 18-member grand jury's decision came down at around 9:45 a.m., Long and his relatives cried in the courthouse. One family member repeatedly whispered "thank you, Jesus" as family members hugged each other.

"It's very difficult for all concerned. We have had faith in the system and God," said Long's father, Harry Long, reading from a prepared statement after the grand jury's decision was announced. "We hope that we will be able to move forward from this situation."

Long declined to comment after the hearing. The Strickland family released a written statement shortly after the jury's decision:

"Our unarmed 18-year-old son, Peyton, was killed when Chris Long, a deputy sheriff, fired three bullets from a submachine gun through the front door of Peyton’s house while he was answering the unlocked door. The failure of the grand jury to indict Long on any charge compounds our family’s tragedy."

The grand jury's decision ends all criminal proceedings against Long, Attorney General Roy Cooper said.

“This was a tragic event for everyone involved. The grand jury has spoken, and we do not anticipate any further criminal proceedings by our prosecutors in this matter,” Cooper said in a statement.

The case was turned over to the state Attorney General's Office in February after New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David said he wanted to avoid the appearance of a cover-up or a vendetta against Long.

The Strickland family might still pursue a civil lawsuit against Long.

Strickland was shot twice as New Hanover County deputies and University of North Carolina at Wilmington police raided a rental house in search of two stolen PlayStation 3 video systems. UNC-W police asked for support because they feared the residents of the house were armed and dangerous.

Long told investigators he shot Strickland when he mistook the sound of a battering ram against the front door for gunshots. Authorities said Strickland wasn't armed.

The teen was shot once in the head and once in the chest, and at least one of the bullets passed through the front door before hitting him, according to an autopsy report.

“This is what (law enforcement officers) fear the most," said Long's attorney, Michael McGuinness. "They fear most having a split-second decision and being drug into the judicial process. They don’t have the reflection time reporters and lawyers do. We get to develop our arguments and think them out, and this is very typical of what they encounter on a regular basis.”

Still Tommy Hicks, another attorney representing Long, said the former deputy and those who support him recognize the Strickland family's loss.

“This is still a tragedy. The Strickland family has been devastated, I’m sure, by the death of their son, and our hearts go out to them,” Hicks said.

Long was fired by the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office a week after the shooting. He was later indicted on a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the shooting.

But the murder charge was dismissed a day after the indictment was returned. The foreman of the grand jury said he checked the wrong box on the indictment form and that members of the grand jury didn't find enough evidence to charge Long with murder.

Both Long and Don Strickland, Peyton Strickland's father, testified before the grand jury this week about the incident. Typically, only investigating officers are called to appear before grand juries.