DA: Deputy’s actions justified in shooting death of suspect in Watauga County

DA: Deputy’s actions justified in shooting death of suspect in Watauga County

WATAUGA COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Officials say a deputy’s actions were justified in the shooting death of a suspect in Watauga County in late March 2019, according to the District Attorney’s Office report on an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the State Medical Examiner.

According to the District Attorney’s report, the records of Watauga County Communications Center reveal that the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office got a call from emergency dispatch at around 11:25 p.m. on March 30, 2019, reporting that a suspicious male was attempting to go into a home in the area of Hardin Road in Boone.

The first 911 caller said that someone was “knocking their door down" and acting in an unruly manner.

While officers were on the way to the scene, 911 received an additional call describing a man screaming and walking on Hardin Road. A third caller reported hearing a man screaming around an abandoned home.

The report says Deputy Adam Shane Gragg was first to arrive on scene.

The report says Deputy Gragg was interviewed by the SBI on March 31, 2019, and said that upon his arrival, he spoke with the homeowners in the area who told Gragg where they last saw the man.

The report states that Gragg said he was traveling on Hardin Road, when he saw a man in the middle of the road running toward his patrol vehicle. The man, later identified as Andrew John Mason, was wearing pajama pants, a t-shirt and no shoes.

The report states that Gragg says he stopped and got out of his car with a flashlight.

“Deputy Gragg said that Mason continued coming directly toward him, while screaming and mumbling. Deputy Gragg drew his taser as Mason kept getting closer. Deputy Gragg said he identified himself as being from the Sheriff’s Office and instructed Mason to stop multiple times,” the report states.

The report states that Deputy Gragg said that Mason moved toward him and was again instructed to stop.

“Deputy Gragg had his taser pointed at Mason when he lunged at Deputy Gragg. Simultaneously, Deputy Gragg said that he deployed his taser, and as it was deploying, Mason knocked the taser from Deputy Gragg’s hand,” the report states.

The report goes on to state that Deputy Gragg said that Mason then struck him in the face, breaking the nose piece of his glasses.

“Deputy Gragg said that he defensively used one hand in attempt to protect his face and had his other hand on his holstered service weapon. Deputy Gragg said that Mason continued hitting and kicking him and also struck the patrol vehicle during the struggle. Deputy Gragg said Mason was yelling incoherently while Deputy Gragg commanded him to stop,” the report states. “Deputy Gragg said that during the struggle, Mason reached around Deputy Gragg’s back towards Deputy Gragg’s gun. At this time, Deputy Gragg used his left arm to separate himself from Mason and then drew his gun with his right hand.”

The report goes on to state that Gragg said Mason continued to scream and come toward him again, and that is when the report says Deputy Gragg fired one shot from his gun and hit Mason just below his sternum.

The report says Deputy Gragg was wearing a body camera that the report says shows Mason continuing to come toward Deputy Gragg as he is backing away toward his patrol car. The report says the video shows Mason knock the taser from Deputy Gragg’s right hand., and an ensuing struggle prior to the shooting.

The report says two additional deputies, Cody Scot Brown and Daniel Charles Plane, arrived on scene seconds after the gunshot and Emergency Medical Services was requested at 11:45 p.m.

The deputies reportedly administered first aid to Mason while waiting for transport.

The report states that during an interview with the SBI, Sgt. Plane said he heard Gragg saying “Stop it” several times upon arrival. The report states that Sgt. Plane said he observed a “mass” near the driver’s side door and then heard a single gunshot.

The report states that in a video, it can be heard when Sgt. Plane asked Mason if he had taken anything that evening, and he responded, “Yeah. Acid.”

“When Sgt. Plane began to administer aid he noticed Mason’s eyes were dilated. He observed that Deputy Gragg’s glasses were bent and that his face was red and slightly swollen,” the report states.

The report states that Deputy Brown was also interviewed by the SBI and said that he heard fighting and screaming when he arrived on scene.

“Specifically, Deputy Brown said that he heard Deputy Gragg tell Mason twice to stop or he was going to tase him,” the report states. “Deputy Brown then started running and heard a taser deploy and a single gunshot a few seconds later, but could not see anything because Deputy Gragg’s headlights were shining toward him.”

The report states that the SBI canvassed the surrounding neighborhood for witnesses and spoke with one individual who stated that she heard Mason screaming and saw him going toward the officer.

“She then heard what sounded like a taser go off and heard fighting just before the gunshot. She also stated she heard Deputy Gragg telling Mason to stop,” the report states.

The report states that Mason was transported to Watauga Medical Center at 12:17 a.m. on March 31, 2019, and was airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center where he passed away at around 3:24 am.

An autopsy was conducted on April 1, and the DA’s report states that there is no evidence to indicate whether or not the injuries noted in the report, other than the single gunshot wound of the abdomen, were a result of the altercation with Deputy Gragg.

The DA’s report states that the initial toxicology report prepared by Dr. John Brower positively identified the presence of only two controlled substances which were most likely administered after hospitalization.

“Based on the evidence presented, it is undisputed that Deputy Gragg fired his service weapon, striking and killing Mason,” the report states. “The 911 calls, body camera footage, statements of law enforcement and civilian witnesses, and evidence collected at the scene corroborate Deputy Gragg’s account of how the events transpired that evening.”

“His statement to Sgt. Plane that he had taken a substance that he believed to be acid further supports the conclusion that Mason’s actions should be viewed from the perspective that he was suffering the effects of an unknown impairing substance when he advanced on Deputy Gragg, failed to heed the deputy’s commands, and ultimately struck the deputy,” the report states.

The report states that the conclusion of this District Attorney’s Office is that Deputy Gragg reasonably believed that he faced an imminent fear of great bodily harm or death during this encounter.

“According to Gragg’s statement, which is uncontradicted by the evidence presented to this office, Mason reached for Deputy Gragg’s holstered firearm. A firearm is a deadly weapon under North Carolina law,” the report states. “When Mason reached for Deputy Gragg’s holstered firearm, Deputy Gragg was confronted with an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury—as his own firearm could have been used against him, and was justified in using deadly force to prevent the threat. Deputy Gragg’s use of force was also reasonable. Deputy Gragg fired one shot from his gun at Mason. Mason immediately fell to the ground, no longer presenting a threat to Deputy Gragg. At this point, Deputy Gragg did not fire any more shots at Mason.”

The District Attoney’s report says given the overwhelming weight of the evidence that this office reviewed, the office concluded that Deputy Gragg’s actions, were justified in the shooting death of Andrew Mason.

“Further, the evidence indicates that Gragg’s belief that it was necessary to use deadly force in self-defense was reasonable given the totality of the circumstances,” the report states.

“The evidence in this case paints a tragic picture of the last hours of a young man’s life. However, based on the review by the District Attorney’s office of all the evidence presented to us in this case as well as our review of the law of self-defense in North Carolina, we must conclude that Deputy Gragg acted lawfully and in a manner that was consistent with his duties as a law enforcement officer,” the report states.

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