A Sampson County sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed an armed robbery suspect last month was justified in his actions due to the apparent danger posed by the man, who wielded a shotgun as he approached the deputies, District Attorney Ernie Lee said Thursday.
On April 12, Jason Lee Evans, 32, of Harrells, was fatally shot by Sheriff’s Deputy Louis M. High Jr. following a robbery in Garland that extended into a high-speed car chase and subsequent shooting on N.C. 242 near Salemburg.
“After reviewing the investigation with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, it is clear that Evans’ death, while tragic, was justified because Evans’ actions caused Deputy High to reasonably believe it necessary to use deadly force to protect the lives of (himself) and Sgt. Edward Vann,” Lee said in a lengthy statement released Thursday.
In the release, the district attorney lays out the evidence in the case and the details of the investigation that occurred in the weeks that followed.
The investigation revealed that prior to the shooting, Evans had committed a robbery of the Han-Dee Hugo’s convenience store located at 19 N. Ingold Ave., Garland, was armed with an illegally sawed-off single barrel 410 Revelation shotgun, fired the shotgun at the Han-Dee Hugo’s and engaged in a high-speed chase traveling in excess of 100 mph from Garland to near Roseboro.
After using stop sticks to cause Evans to stop his vehicle on N.C. 242 between Reeda Branch Road and Corinth Church Road, Evans exited his vehicle in the presence of two deputies, High and Vann, with his sawed-off shotgun. Vann warned Evans to drop his shotgun but Evans kept the shotgun in his right hand toward his own head and refused to follow the commands of law enforcement to put the shotgun down. High fired his law enforcement issued 9 mm handgun, hitting Evans four times.
“Although tragic that a life was lost, the shooting death of Evans is found to be justified to protect the safety and lives of Deputy High and Sgt. Vann from potential harm as perceived by Deputy High,” Lee stated.
The deputy was placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation. The SBI dispatched agents to N.C. 242 to investigate the shooting. Lee kept in close contact with SBI Special Agent Bradley Williams, the lead investigator in the case, throughout the probe.
On May 8, Lee said he viewed the video of the armed robbery at the Han-Dee Hugo’s as well as the footage from a video camera mounted on Vann’s vehicle that captured the high-speed chase and subsequent shooting.
Video footage shows that at about 11:30 p.m., as Evans entered the convenience store he fired one shot from his shotgun into the ceiling and told the two clerks he wanted the registers emptied. Evans reloaded the shotgun while in the store and obtained money during the robbery. At 11:32 p.m., one of the clerks was able to activate the silent alarm, dispatching deputies to the store minutes later. The exterior video camera system at the convenience store shows Evans leaving the store in a white four-door Chevrolet Malibu.
At approximately 11:41 p.m., Vann observed the Malibu on N.C. 411 and began his pursuit, reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph. Moments later, High placed stop sticks in the highway in an attempt to stop the Malibu. The vehicle struck the stop sticks and eventually one of his tires began to shred. High and Vann continued their pursuit of Evans, who was seen reaching into his backseat by Vann.
The tire on Evans’ vehicle continued to shred and he was eventually riding on the exposed rim, at which point he finally stopped between Reeda Branch Road and Corinth Church Road, approximately 20 miles from the convenience store in Garland.
Vann’s in-car camera video shows Evans exiting his vehicle with his shotgun in his right hand. Vann repeatedly yelled at Evans to put the weapon down and he continued to move away from his car and in the direction of the deputies, Lee stated. He inched closer to deputies with the shotgun to his head, never firing the weapon.
In a statement made to the SBI, High gave an account consistent with the video recording of the pursuit and the shooting, Lee noted. He said he felt threatened by Evans as the man moved from the Malibu and in a direction towards the deputies.
At approximately 11:49 p.m., Lee said, High fired his Sig Sauer P226 9mm service handgun at Evans, firing six rounds in total and striking Evans four times. Vann pulled his service handgun but did not fire his weapon. Evans was killed at the scene. The sawed-off shotgun was found next to Evans, loaded with one shotgun shell.
Medical Examiner Dr. Carl Barr, who conducted an autopsy on Evans, confirmed four gunshot wounds, one grazing Evans’ right forearm and another that went through his left arm, neither of which were life-threatening. The other two gunshot wounds were to Evans’ neck and his head, which was lethal, Barr said.
Lee cited N.C. General Statute 15A-401, which states that when making an arrest a law enforcement officer is justified in using deadly physical force upon another person to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force. Additionally, he said, general rules of self-defense and defense of others in North Carolina allow for the use of deadly force when the individual actually, or honestly, believed in the need to defend himself or others from death or great bodily injury, the District attorney said.
“Clearly, from the facts and circumstances of this case, the officer was justified in using deadly force to defend himself and others from death or great bodily injury,” Lee remarked. “Law enforcement officers are required to instantaneously evaluate and employ force against possible criminal suspects to thwart apparent dangers to citizens and themselves. Officers must perceive, evaluate, decide and then act often in a matter of seconds. The perceived danger to the officer must be only apparent, not actual, in order to justify use of deadly force.”
Although there is evidence of actual danger to High, under the law there was also apparent danger as perceived by him, Lee stated. From the evidence, he noted, it “reasonably appeared” to High there was sufficient basis for self-defense and defense of third persons, his fellow deputy.
“Based upon my review of the facts of this case, I have determined that the shooting of Jason Lee Evans on April 12, 2015 was justified to protect the safety and lives of Deputy High and Sgt. Vann as the threat appeared to Deputy High,” Lee said. “Deputy High perceived an apparent threat, evaluated the situation in split seconds, made a decision and acted. Deputy High’s actions appear reasonable under all the circumstances of this case.”
From all the evidence, High initially exercised restraint in the face of imminent danger as Evans exited his vehicle with a loaded weapon in a manner that could reasonably be deemed as threatening, the district attorney.
“As tragic as this incident is with the loss of life, Deputy High nonetheless was justified in defending himself from death or great bodily injury and in defending the life of fellow officer, Sgt. Vann,” Lee concluded. “There is insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to show that Deputy High acted in a manner that was not consistent with his perception of an apparent threat.”