Hendersonville, NC-- The Police Department fired an officer, suspended another and reprimanded a sergeant for their failure to follow policy in an incident which resulted in the shooting of a suspect in March.
The department also apologized to residents of the Green Meadows community where the shooting took place.
Officer Matt Lund was fired, and officer Curtis Philon suspended for two weeks without pay. Sgt. Brandon McGaha, the supervisor on duty at the time of the incident, will receive a written reprimand.
"All of these guys are good guys," Chief Herbert Blake said. "That was not a good night, and they made some mistakes. As an executive, it had to be dealt with."
Hendersonville police responded to a report of a burglary around midnight March 8 near the Green Meadows community. Police identified Fletcher Ross Smiley, 41, as the suspect. He eluded officers "several times," according to a statement from the District Attorney's Office.
The responding officers indicated they believed Smiley was carrying a handgun upon making initial contact, police said. At the time, police said they spotted him in a passing vehicle, and Smiley fled from the passenger seat when the vehicle was stopped.
As he ran, officers pursued him on foot, and shots were fired, police said. On the day of the incident, police said an officer fired because Smiley appeared to be armed and made a suspicious movement interpreted as a threat.
Blake and District Attorney Jeff Hunt requested the State Bureau of Investigation review the actions of the officers involved, and the Police Department initiated an internal investigation into the incident. The three officers involved were placed on paid administrative leave until both investigations were completed.
The city finished its investigation but withheld its findings until the SBI completed its investigation, which was submitted to the District Attorney.
Hunt does not intend to pursue criminal charges against the officers, saying in a statement "these actions of the officers involved fail to rise to the level of criminal conduct considering the entirety of the facts established in the SBI investigation."
The Police Department said in a statement, "Our concurrent internal investigation revealed obvious and severe policy and general orders violations that put the lives and safety of the public we are sworn to protect and serve in jeopardy."
Police said officers receive continual training on appropriate police procedures. In fact, just weeks before this incident, officers, including the three involved in this incident, attended training about use of force, which covered department policy, philosophy and general orders.
Residents criticized the Police Department in the aftermath of the shooting and questioned whether police needed to shoot. A witness said Smiley was carrying a PlayStation console under one arm as he tried to run away.
"The City of Hendersonville apologizes to the Green Meadows community for this unfortunate incident, the threat to individual safety resulting from these actions, and the disruption to community life that resulted from these actions," the Police Department said in a statement. "We believe we have acted appropriately in responding to the incident with this termination and disciplinary actions.
"We reiterate our commitment to keeping the citizens of Hendersonville safe. We have faith and confidence in the professionalism, preparedness and commitment of our police officers who are sworn to protect our citizens."
Officers, according to department policy, are prohibited from discharging firearms in the following instances:
* To affect the arrest of a person who is fleeing from apprehension without any apparent or perceived threat to the officer or other persons.
* When discharge of the firearm carries a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to other persons present at, or in close proximity to, the police encounter, or near a crowd.
The general policy of the department regarding the use of firearms or other deadly force by police officers, on or off-duty, is that: "an officer will discharge his weapon at another person only when he or she is legally justified and only as a last resort. Regardless of the nature of the crime or the legal justification for firing at a suspect, officers are reminded that their basic responsibility is to protect the public. Officers are instructed to be particularly cautious when firing under conditions that would subject innocent bystanders to substantial degrees."
Blake did not comment on which specific general orders were violated by each officer, citing personnel and privacy concerns. However, police did release a list of general orders that were violated during the incident.
Lund, 28, had been with the Police Department since April 2008. Philon, 32, was hired in December 2007 and will be required to attend remedial training as directed by the department. His suspension started Monday.
Based on the events on the night of March 8, police charged Smiley with second-degree burglary, larceny after breaking and entering and possession of stolen goods. Smiley suffered injuries to his left forearm and hand, believed to be the result of "one or two shots discharged by one or two of the arresting officers in connection with this suspected breaking and entering," according to the SBI report examined by the District Attorney's Office.
"Because Mr. Smiley is awaiting trial, my office is constrained to discuss in greater detail overlapping facts involving his injuries during apprehension and the alleged charges for which he awaits trial," Hunt said in a news release.
Smiley has a lengthy criminal history, with convictions dating to 1987. He spent about 10 years in prison after being convicted as a habitual felon in 2001 and was released in July 2011. Convictions included carrying a concealed weapon, assault on an officer, assault with a deadly weapon, resisting an officer, breaking and entering, larceny and possession of stolen goods, according to N.C. Department of Corrections records.
Smiley is in custody and awaiting trial. His attorneys have been provided with the SBI investigation report.