A former Concord police officer who shot a would-be car thief four times in February, called his department about the incident, then opened fire again, will not face criminal charges, the Cabarrus County Attorney General.
District Attorney Roxann Vaneekhoven said in a statement Wednesday that Officer Timothy Larson had legal justification when he fatally shot an unarmed Brandon Combs at a Concord car dealership on Feb. 13.
“After careful consideration of the facts of this case and the law that would apply to those facts, the evidence has shown that Constable Timothy Larson did not use excessive force when firing his weapon at a Speeding police SUV that was pointed at him. a few feet away, which Brandon Combs was trying to steal,” Vaneekhoven wrote.
Combs, 29, of Gastonia, was hit five times while sitting behind the wheel of Larson’s SUV. Combs had jumped into the vehicle after Larson discovered him trying to rob a nearby van.
According to attorneys for Combs’ mother who saw the video of the incident, Larson first fired five shots through the windshield at Combs, fatally wounding him.
The officer called for a shootout before firing another shot, attorneys said.
On Wednesday, they pushed back on Vaneekhoven’s decision.
“Of course, we are disappointed. But we are not surprised,” the lawyers said in a statement to the Charlotte Observer.
“It is clear that District Attorney Vaneekhoven does not care about the facts. She doesn’t care that Officer Larson shot Brandon Combs four times, stopped to call him, then shot him again just to make sure he was dead. … She doesn’t care that Brandon is unarmed or that the body camera video shows that Larson was never in the path of the vehicle, which means by law he was not in danger. She doesn’t even care that Officer Larson lied to the officers investigating that shooting.
“District Attorney Vaneekhoven thinks that kind of brutality, disregard for human life and disregard for the rule of law is fine if you wear a badge.”
According to documents received from a public records request by The Observer to the city of Concord, Larson was fired on May 20. He had been in the job for about two years when the shooting happened.
In Larson’s letter of dismissal, Police Chief Gary Gacek cited his former officer for insubordination for refusing to answer questions after the shooting and for giving misleading or false answers in other cases to his superiors and to the State Bureau of Investigation, which handled the investigation into the shooting. It is not clear from the letter if the events surrounding the shooting were discussed.
In a statement late Wednesday, Gacek said he respects the prosecutor’s decision in the SBI investigation as “we continue to send our deepest condolences” to Combs’ family.
“Police have a tough job and making sure they have the trust of the community is one of the most important,” he said. “We will continue to work every day to serve and protect our community in any way we can.”
In explaining his decision not to charge Larson, Vaneekhoven cited several factors:
▪ That Combs ignored more than a dozen commands from Larson to get out of the van, stop moving, or show his hands.
▪ That there was a police assault rifle in the SUV within Combs’ range.
▪ That Combs had spun Larson’s vehicle just before the officer opened fire, fearing it was run over.
Larson, the prosecutor concluded, was in “imminent danger of life.”
“Officer Larson, knowing that his police SUV was equipped with an AR-15 assault rifle within range of Combs, attempted to stop Combs by running to the front of the vehicle. Officer Larson immediately heard Combs revving the engine of the police SUV and feared Combs might run him over. In response, Constable Larson fired into the vehicle in an effort to stop the threat,” Vaneekhoven wrote.
A lawsuit filed in June by Combs’ mother disputes the latter point. He alleges that Larson opened fire when he was not in the direct path of the SUV, mitigating the threat posed by the vehicle.
Additionally, when asked on the video why he shot Combs, Larson replied that Combs was trying to steal his SUV and did not mention concerns for his own safety, according to the lawsuit.
Reporting the incident, Concord Police initially said the shooting happened following a “physical confrontation” at the Nissan dealership.
Family attorneys said Larson’s own video shows no such confrontation took place.
“The police cannot be judge, jury and executioner. That’s why we have a criminal justice system. That’s why we have the rule of law,” Atlanta attorney Harry Daniels said at a press conference in Charlotte following the filing of the federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit filed by Combs’ mother charges Larson and the city of Concord with excessive force, battery, wrongful and intentional death and gross negligence.
In North Carolina and all other states, police officers are justified in using deadly force if they have reasonable grounds to believe that they, their colleagues, or the public are at imminent risk of death or injury. severe.
The law is written around a landmark Supreme Court case, Graham v. Connor, who was born in Charlotte.
Police kill around 1,000 people each year, a number that has remained largely unchanged despite widespread policing reforms in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and others, according to the Washington Post, which has tracked officer shootings. over the past five years.
Criminal prosecutions and convictions of officers are rare. Critics say existing laws are too broad to hold police accountable.
On the other hand, courts have ruled that the police must be given sufficient leeway to use lethal force given the rapidly escalating situations they face and the life-and-death decisions that they face. she must take.
New details revealed
Vaneekhoven received the findings of the SBI investigation in June. His Wednesday statement contains never-before-seen details of the shooting.
The entire encounter lasted 90 seconds, she said.
Combs, she said, had been released from jail 36 hours earlier and had an outstanding felony warrant issued for him in another state.
When Larson bumped into Combs on Feb. 13 in the parking lot, he was sitting in a van, having broken into the dealership to steal several vehicle keys.
As the officer approached, Combs stuck his head through the open door and spoke.
“Hey…Take your gun away. Take your gun away,” he said, according to Vaneekhoven’s statement.
“What are you…what’s going on?” replied Larson, looking confused.
Combs closed the door. Eventually, Larson pulled out his gun and told Combs to stay put and ordered him out of the truck. Combs declined and Larson called his department for backup, the statement said.
In total, according to Vaneekhoven, Larson gave Combs 15 verbal commands to either stop moving, show his hands, or get out of the truck. Combs did not comply with any of them, the prosecutor said.
Eventually, Combs fled the truck from the passenger side, then ran to the front of Larson’s idling SUV and climbed behind the wheel.
Larson gave chase. He was standing 5 to 10 feet from the SUV toward the passenger-side front tire when he said he saw Combs looking toward the release button on the assault rifle. Seconds later, he said he heard the engine running, according to the prosecutor’s statement.
“Fearing for his life, Larson fired 5 shots in quick succession through the front windshield,” Vaneekhoven wrote. “Larson called ‘shots fired, shots fired,’ then quickly fired another shot.”
Under the Concord Police Department’s Use of Force Policy, officers are prohibited from shooting at vehicles unless they or others are targeted by “deadly physical force” other that a vehicle, or that “the moving vehicle poses an imminent and continuing threat of significant physical harm”. to the officer or other person from whom there is no reasonable means of escape.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee v. Garner in 1985 that officers cannot use deadly force to arrest a fleeing suspect unless they are placed in imminent danger.
This story was originally published August 24, 2022 4:41 p.m.
BEHIND OUR REPORTS
This is breaking news.
In a breaking news situation, the facts may not be clear and the details may change as the story develops. Charlotte Observer journalists strive to provide information to the public as quickly and accurately as possible. This story may change as more details become available. Update this page later for more up-to-date information.