Prosecutor: ‘Permissible use of force’ in May 19 officer-involved shooting
The man who was shot by an Augusta County deputy on May 19 was threatening to kill his girlfriend, then himself.
Citing audio from the scene, interviews with the girlfriend and with Deonte Harris, Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Martin ruled Tuesday that the shooting was justified.
“In Virginia, deadly force may be used in defense of another when the actor reasonably feels the defendee is in danger of serious bodily harm or death,” Martin wrote in a report on the incident that he made public on Tuesday.
“Prior to his arrival at the scene, the deputy had been informed that Mr. Harris had ‘guns’ with him,” Martin wrote. “Further, he was advised that Mr. Harris had threatened to shoot both the caller and her dog. From the deputy’s perspective, it appeared that Mr. Harris was raising a firearm in order to shoot the caller.
“In that split second, he made the decision to shoot Mr. Harris in order to save the caller’s life. That decision represents an entirely prudent and permissible use of force.”
Harris was shot three times, according to the report, outside a Stuarts Draft residence after a brief pursuit that began after a deputy had responded to a 911 call for a domestic disturbance.
It was the 11th call for service involving Harris at the location since December, according to the prosecutor’s report.
The caller had declined to press charges in several of the previous incidents, but she did pursue charges when he stole her dog on one occasion.
On the night of May 19, the caller informed the deputy who would arrive on the scene that Harris had issued the following threat: “I’ll fucking shoot you and the dog!”
After the pursuit, which reached speeds approaching 65 mph in a residential area, according to the report, Harris threatened to kill himself, putting the barrel of a gun in and out of his mouth, while reaching for an item in the front seat with his right hand.
As the deputy approached the vehicle, he saw Harris raise a weapon and appear to point it at the caller, who was on a deck attached to the residence.
It was at this point that the deputy decided to fire his weapon.
Harris exited the vehicle and moved toward the caller, who ran back into the residence and slammed the door.
After surrendering, Harris, according to the report from Martin, later indicated to hospital staff that he had been shot by police during an attempted suicide, and that he had been shot because police had suspected that he was trying to kill his girlfriend.
He also told a State Police investigator that he had “put the shotgun in my mouth, ready to kill myself. After that, boom. I was going to kill myself. Been wanting to do that.”
State Police investigators recovered a shotgun from the deck of the caller’s apartment, and another from the vehicle, along with a small axe and a wooden club, according to Martin’s report.
Story by Chris Graham