SBI: Deputy was justified in shooting Kenly man
Posted March 5, 2009 12:47 p.m. EST
Updated March 5, 2009 2:36 p.m. EST
Smithfield, N.C. — 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.